Vikki L. Pryor, JD '78 and B.A. '75, of New Rochelle, Distinguished Alumni Award

By Barbara A. Byers

Release Date: March 3, 2009

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Vikki Pryor

Vikki Pryor's arrival as SBLI USA president and CEO in 1999 resulted in an immediate turnaround for the mutual life insurance company based in New York City.

Recently named one of the 100 Most Influential Women in New York City Business by Crain's, New York, Pryor led SBLI USA's conversion into a diversified national financial services firm that since 1939 had been available only in New York State. By bringing SBLI USA into 49 states, the company boasts almost $16 billion in insurance in force, more than $1.5 billion in assets and serves some 300,000 customers.

Much of that growth occurred through a commitment to diversity: women, African- Americans, Asians and Latinos, among others. Women comprise more than half the company's customer base, 57 percent of SBLI's employees and 48 percent of its management team.

The first African-American woman to head an insurance company in the United States, the Chicago native earned her undergraduate degree at UB in history and her JD three years later.

Pryor was a trial lawyer in Chicago for the Department of the Treasury specializing in tax law. Difficulty in landing a job with a law firm in Chicago resulted in her attending evening classes at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she went on to earn her MBA.

Her career has included positions as senior vice president at Oxford Health Plans and at Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Massachusetts, as well as a director at Allstate Life Insurance.

A member of the UB Law School's Dean's Advisory Council and the recipient of the school's Distinguished Alumni Award and the UB Law Students of Color Distinguished Alumni Award, Pryor created the Marie Nesbitt Promise Prize, bestowed annually on a student of African descent who has shown academic achievement and professional promise during the first year in the school. The award honors the memory of her grandmother, the great-granddaughter of slaves whose formal education ended in the third grade, but a woman of strong opinions and deeply held principles, and an inspiration to everyone with whom she had contact.

Service and social responsibility are key elements of SBLI's mission. Since her arrival, the company has donated more than $750,000 to local and national charities.