To enable insurance companies to identify and acquire best-in-class leadership, Russell Reynolds Associates recently concluded a study that profiled 65 chief executive officers at 38 insurance companies worldwide. Among this group of chief executives were 38 group CEOs and 27 divisional CEOs. The study assessed insurance leaders against their peers to determine competencies and experience needed in potential CEO candidates. Its findings revealed important information related to:
- The path to the CEO position.
- The difference in the makeup of group CEOs at leading insurance companies.
- The recent shift in CEO profiles
The Path Upward
The majority of insurance company CEOs profiled were appointed internally—a statistic unique to the industry. They have spent the majority of their careers within the sector, with nearly half the sample working exclusively in insurance. Breadth of experience tends to be gained instead through a variety of functional roles—an average of three per CEO—with the most common
mix at both group and divisional levels including business development, finance and risk/underwriting/ actuarial management. Approximately 60% of CEOs have worked in multiple countries, connoting that international experience is highly desirable. Highlighting these crucial core capabilities through the study helps companies recognize candidates with the highest likelihood of making it to the top.
DNA of Top Performers
To help understand what makes a successful CEO, the study compared the profiles of group CEOs of the topquartile insurers with the rest of the group CEO sample. The total return to shareholders, or TRS, over the past five years was used as a benchmark of performance, with top performers providing at least 150% TRS during that time. The results brought to light some interesting trends:
- CEOs at top-performing companies are more likely to have held prior roles in finance, business development and operations/IT.
- At top-performing companies, more CEOs have international experience.
- More than half of CEOs at the topperforming insurance companies were appointed between 2008 and 2009, during the financial crisis. Weakerperforming companies typically changed their CEOs more recently.
Understanding the common traits that leading CEOs possess can help companies better evaluate their candidate pool.
Shifting Insurance CEO Profiles
The past two years have seen a significant shift in insurance company CEO profiles, marked by an increased emphasis on growing business in a rapidly changing and low-margin environment; creating and implementing strategy often taking capital position into account; and driving innovation.
Moving forward, likely trends include increased focus on innovation, technology and international experience. These changing areas of focus point to an evolving skill set for successful CEOs.
Interestingly, while insurance “lifers” still dominate the C-suite, the study uncovers greater willingness on the part of companies to consider external CEO candidates, vastly increasing the talent pool and competition for the top roles.
Participating Companies in Russell Reynolds Associates Survey
Sun Life Financial