J. Harold Chandler

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Former chairman, chief executive officer, and president, UnumProvident Corporation

Nationality: American.

Born: 1949, in Belton, South Carolina.

Education: Wofford College, BA, 1971; University of South Carolina Graduate School of Business Administration, MBA, 1972; Harvard Business School, Advanced Management Program, 1986.

Career: Citizens and Southern National Bank, 1972–1990; C&S/Sovran, 1990–1991, executive vice president of corporate marketing; 1991, president of Washington, D.C., bank; NationsBank Corporation, 1991–1993, president of Mid-Atlantic Banking Group; Provident Companies, 1993–1999, chairman, CEO, and president; UnumProvident Corporation, 1999–2003, chairman, CEO, and president.

Awards: Young Alumnus of the Year, Wofford College, 1983; Manager of the Year, Chattanooga Times Free Press , 2000.

■ J. Harold Chandler was chairman, president, and chief executive officer of UnumProvident Corporation, the leading disability insurer in the United States, from 1999 to 2003. Despite having built a solid career in banking and having been credited with leading the financial turnaround of Provident Companies in the late 1990s, Chandler came under fire in the lead position at UnumProvident for failing to execute strategies to improve the company's performance. He was fired in March 2003.


Raised in Belton, South Carolina, Chandler was a high-achieving student and talented athlete. He attended Wofford College, the private liberal arts school in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and excelled academically. He graduated summa cum laude with membership in Phi Beta Kappa as valedictorian of his class in 1971. He was also the quarterback for the Wofford football team. He continued his studies the following year at the University of South Carolina, where he earned a master's in business administration. Chandler was awarded Wofford's Young Alumnus of the Year award in 1983.

In 1972 Chandler began working for Citizens and Southern National Bank of South Carolina. He completed Harvard Business School's Advanced Management Program in 1986. In 1990 Chandler's bank merged with Sovran Corporation, and he was named executive vice president of corporate marketing of the newly formed C&S/Sovran. The company sent him to Washington, D.C., in 1991 to act as president of a metro-area bank. Later that year C&S/Sovran merged with NCNB to form NationsBank, and Chandler was named president of the Mid-Atlantic Banking Group. He held that position until 1993, when he announced his resignation and accepted the position of president and chief executive officer of Provident Life and Accident Company of America. Jon Burke, the analyst with Robinson Humphrey Company, said of the move in American Banker , "Harold Chandler was a bright and rising star. I'm relatively sure NationsBank will be disappointed that he left" (November 10, 1993).


Chandler had become Provident's ninth president and CEO. The Chattanooga-based company was in a state of financial turmoil, facing significant operating losses. While Chandler's appointment was somewhat controversial given that he had little background in the insurance industry, he soon implemented a number of changes and improvements, instituting new executive management, streamlining the business structure, and changing the name of the firm to Provident Companies. In 1996 Chandler led the acquisition of the Massachusetts-based insurance-company group Paul Revere Corporation, and in 1997 he purchased the national case-management service provider Genex. Those moves reestablished Provident as a profitable company.

Chandler next trained his attention on a merger with the nation's largest group-disability writer, the Portland, Maine–based Unum Corporation. Talks began in 1998; the companies finalized a merger in 1999, creating the nation's largest disability insurer. Chandler was originally instated as chief operating officer of UnumProvident, but the sudden retirement of the chief executive officer James F. Orr III, the former CEO of Unum, just four months after the merger led to Chandler's promotion to the top position.

Chandler had high hopes for the company. He told Best's Review that he was "confident that the patience that shareholders have shown will be rewarded in due course. The commitments we've made are all future oriented and are achievable" (August 2002). Analysts and shareholders were initially heartened by the choice of CEO despite the continuing downward trend in UnumProvident's sales and stock numbers; in the Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News , David Lewis of Robinson Humphrey called the appointment "a very positive move by the board" (November 7, 1999). In 2000 Chandler was named Manager of the Year by a board of 20 Chattanooga-area organizations.


Over the next year, however, Chandler was barraged by a litany of complaints from claimants, shareholders, and analysts alike. Financial results failed to meet analysts' expectations and the company was hit with negative publicity surrounding several large lawsuits filed by claimants. In May 2002 Chandler was named the third-worst chief executive in the United States by Forbes magazine, based on shareholder return and executive compensation.

Many began to question the wisdom of the Unum/Provident merger and of Chandler's installment as CEO. Chandler defended his strategies, claiming that a rising number of claims, low interest rates, and a weak economy were major contributors to sustained disappointing results. Notwithstanding, some began calling for his replacement. Brad McCurtain, the president of the investment firm Maine Securities, told the Portland Press Herald with regard to UnumProvident's troubles, "They're earning less money today than they did before the merge. I think it's time for a change at the top or time for the company to be sold. I don't think the management team would accept that kind of performance from employees and I don't think shareholders should accept it from senior management" (February 7, 2003).

In 2003 Chandler's opposition got its wish. On March 27 the UnumProvident board of directors notified Chandler of their intentions to fire him. Lawrence Pugh, a company director, told SNL Insurance Weekly that the "announcement was not driven by any specific event—rather the cumulative effect of many things led the board to conclude that a CEO change was in the best interest of the company at this time. It's been the CEO's responsibility, specifically Harold, for the execution of this strategy and we don't think that was performed to the level we wanted it to be" (April 7, 2003). In the same publication the analyst Michelle Giordano of J. P. Morgan Securities was quoted as saying that the change was "long overdue" (April 7, 2003). Thomas R. Watjen, the vice chairman and COO under Chandler, took over the lead role on an interim basis and was later elected as the permanent president and CEO. Chandler received a $17.3 million severance package and later a $2.9 million addendum after he sued the company for not fulfilling the original agreement.

See also entry on UnumProvident Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Cline, Kenneth, "NationsBank's Mid-Atlantic Region Loses Another Exec as Group President Quits," American Banker , November 10, 1993, p. 6.

Murphy, Edward D., "Insurer's Earnings Report Prompts Precipitous Stock Drop," Portland Press Herald , February 7, 2003.

Panko, Ron, "Sharpening the Focus," Best's Review , August 2002, pp. 74–80.

Parr, Mike, "Chattanooga, Tenn.-Based Disability Insurer Looks for New Chief Executive," Chattanooga Times Free Press , April 1, 2003.

——, "Chattanooga, Tenn.-Based Insurance Firm Stumbles after Merger," Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News , November 7, 1999.

"Reaction Mixed after UnumProvident Gives Chandler the Boot," SNL Insurance Weekly Life and Health Edition , April 7, 2003.

"The Worst," Forbes , May 13, 2002, p. 112.

—Stephanie Dionne Sherk

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