Banking & Finance, Human Resources, and Small Business & Startups

Q&A: Sheila VanZile

January 24, 2017
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Sheila VanZile
Sheila VanZile. Photo by Johnny Quirin

Editor’s note: Each Q&A in the Influential Women enewsletter will feature a woman from the region who’s influential, a rising face in her industry or doing interesting work. Submit tips on potential Q&A subjects to tgortsema at grbj dot com.

Sheila VanZile is a seasoned insurance professional whose entrepreneurial spirit moved her to start an independent property/casualty insurance agency from scratch 12 years ago.

VanZile is the owner and “queen” at Watermark Insurance Services in Grand Rapids.

Her early career focused on insurance carrier roles, including underwriting, sales, marketing, distribution and ultimately senior management roles in field, regional and home office environments.

Biggest career break? 

Working for an insurance company (CNA) that believed in promoting women into management roles

Proudest moment? 

The birth of my son, Scott VanZile. That was also my scariest, as my natural maternal instinct isn't my strong suit.

Best advice you've ever received?


How did you make your first dollar?

Well, the very first dollar was raking apples from under my grandpa’s apple tree. The first officially employed dollar came from the country club where my parents belonged in Orrville, Ohio. I did the daily receipts tally as a summer job and that was a real eye-opener into the lifestyles of the small town rich and famous.

Most-treasured possession?

My 5'10" Kawai grand piano. It's been a lifeline for over three decades.

Dream job?

I used to say cutting the greens on the golf course, but now I think it is more something like mattress tester for all the 5-star hotels in the world.

If I were president for a day, I would…?

Well, in today's political environment, that's a dangerous one. Perhaps, hold a series of meetings where folks were charged with finding common ground on which to build. 

Last book you've read? 

Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. Actually just re-read it for a second time.

Last thing you googled? 

My plumber’s phone number. Don't ask.

Your worst habit? 

I'm a nail worrier, have been all my life. Don't bite them, just worry them. That's the worst habit I'm willing to own up to, anyway.

To unwind, I like to...?

Entertain friends, enjoy great wine, travel to new places, listen to music

Dream vacation?

I have many. Travel is one of my greatest pleasures. Next big trips targeted for planning are New Zealand, South Africa and Machu Picchu, but hopefully, there will be smaller ones, like Iceland, in 2017.

Favorite food? 

Wine, particularly French wine, and especially when imbibing in France

Person you most admire? 

That's a tough one. I admire so many people for different reasons. My mother for her quiet strength. My son for his courage and sense of justice. Winston Churchill for so many reasons. Locally, people like Diana Sieger come to mind — people who want to make a difference in a meaningful and constructive way.

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