Chairman, president, and chief executive officer, Hartford Financial Services Group
Born: May 27, 1947, in Kerala, India.
Education: India Institute of Technology, BS, 1969; Drexel University, MS, 1971; PhD, 1973.
Family: Immigrated to the United States, 1969; naturalized American citizen; married Louise (maiden name unknown); children: two.
Career: Hartford Financial Services Group (The Hartford), 1973–1978, operations researcher; 1978–1979, property casualty actuarial researcher; 1979–1981, assistant secretary and staff assistant to chairman; 1981–1983, secretary and director, corporate reinsurance (HartRe); 1983–1984, vice president, HartRe; Hartford Specialty Company, 1984–1986, executive vice president; 1986–1989, president; The Hartford, 1987, vice president; 1989–1990, senior vice president; 1990–1991, executive vice president; 1991–1997, president and chief operating officer, property-casualty operations; The Hartford Financial Services Group, 1997–, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.
Awards: Polaris Award, Leadership Greater Hartford, 1993; Distinguished Alumnus Award, India Institute of Technology, 1998; Forbes , one of the Most Powerful People of 2002; honorary doctor of laws, University of Hartford, 2003.
Address: Hartford Financial Services Group, Hartford Plaza, 690 Asylum Avenue, Hartford, Connecticut 06105; http://www.thehartford.com.
■ Ramani Ayer served as president, chairman, and chief executive officer of the Hartford Financial Services Group (The Hartford), one of the largest investment and insurance companies in the United States. Ayer joined The Hartford in 1973 and worked his way up from a position in the operations research department to becoming chairman, president, and chief executive officer in 1997. During Ayer's tenure at The Hartford, his hard work, intelligence, and problem-solving skills kept The Hartford technologically current and competitive as the technology and business of the insurance and financial industry changed. Employees and colleagues described Ayer as a modest yet articulate and innovative leader who challenged his employees constantly to explore new opportunities and ideas.
In India, Ayer began honing his innovative problemsolving abilities out of necessity. His father was a low-paid government servant in the accountant general's office in Bombay. In college Ayer could barely afford the materials needed for his classes. To decrease expenses Ayer developed a plan with his friend Parag Rele to share Rele's books. For five years Ayer arranged his schedule so that he could study late at night. After a night of studying Ayer would slip the books under Rele's door so that they would be ready for Rele. The book time share plan enabled Ayer's graduation in 1969 from the India Institute of Technology with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and his acceptance as an engineering student at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
After obtaining his master's degree and doctorate in chemical engineering from Drexel in 1971 and 1973, Ayer made the unusual decision to join the strategic planning team at The Hartford instead of accepting the more traditional engineering research job he was offered at Air Products and Chemicals. In 1978, after five years of hard work, Ayer did not believe he was being used to his full potential at The Hartford and brought his concerns to executives. Recognizing Ayer's potential, the executives persuaded him to stay, and DeRoy "Pete" Thomas, the chairman, offered him a staff assistant position. Ayer accepted the position and turned the role into the career boost he needed to meet his potential. Over the next 20 years Ayer honed his leadership skills and set his analytic mind to broadening his knowledge about the insurance and financial industry. Over this time Ayer became an invaluable member of the management team at The Hartford.
In Ayer's various executive roles, his scientific approach to exploration and implementation of new ideas brought a fresh and innovative perspective to The Hartford. While in the positions of senior vice president of The Hartford and president of Hartford Specialty Company, Ayer found that corporations had begun shifting the primary responsibility of buying insurance to their financial officers. Ayer noted that treasurers and chief financial officers would review the insurance policies and shop around for better prices with more frequency than they had in the past. Instead of trying to persuade companies to return to the old way of buying insurance or lowering insurance prices, Ayer recognized that corporate insurance marketing strategies and education should change with the customer's change in policy. Ayer developed targeted information projects to educate the newly responsible individuals on corporate insurance and policies. In this way he increased revenues and developed a loyal base of educated customers.
As an executive at The Hartford, Ayer developed a set of goals for keeping The Hartford ahead of its competitors. He focused on improving the ease with which The Hartford's clients could contact and work with the company, increased the efficiency of internal procedures at the company, and used technology to improve The Hartford's business decisions and practices. By concentrating on these priorities, Ayer kept ahead of The Hartford's rivals in the investment and insurance sectors. For example, in 2003 and 2004 Ayer implemented innovations that included an electronic claim submission method for agents and cooperative development of a buyer protection plan service on eBay. On the basis of Ayer's changes, The Hartford created a strong record of deploying advanced technology for improved agency interaction.
A crucial component of Ayer's success at The Hartford was his ability to complement his problem-solving with an atmosphere of interactive discussion and free exchange of ideas. In an article by Julie Gallagher in Insurance and Technology , the chief information officer of The Hartford characterized Ayer as "a real thinker … [who] loves to question, probe, and drill down, exploring options and possibilities" (June 1, 2002). By surrounding himself with other individuals focused on the development of new and innovative ideas, Ayer created a forward-looking team with the ability to adapt to the needs of the changing insurance and financial services marketplace. For example, the increasing volatility in the 2003 equity markets could have reduced the number of individuals investing in retirement funds. To encourage investors to remain in the market, Ayer and his team created a fund to help investors concerned about market volatility. The fund allowed investors to withdraw over a period of years the money they originally invested, even if the original investment funds had been lost owing to downward financial trends.
After the terrorist's attacks on September 11, 2001, Ayer expanded his leadership role beyond his responsibilities at The Hartford by joining a team of insurance chief executives invited by President George W. Bush to discuss the insurance industry and its stability after the terrorism and associated insurance claims. Although they reported to Bush that the industry could bear the financial burden of the terrorist attacks, the executives determined that legislation should be developed to protect the insurance industry if another attack were to occur. Ayer served as a strong advocate for the development of new national insurance legislation and policy development. In part as the result of Ayer's work, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act of 2002, which provided a federal backstop for terrorism insurance, was signed into legislation on November 26, 2002. Ayer continued his larger leadership role in the business community as a director of the American Insurance Alliance, the chairman of the Insurance Information Institute, a director of the Metro Hartford Regional Economic Alliance, a chairman of the American Institute of Property and Liability Underwriters, and a trustee of the Business Roundtable.
Perhaps remembering the challenges he faced obtaining an education, Ayer took his innovative problem-solving skills to a leadership role in public education. After becoming chairman, president, and chief executive officer of The Hartford in 1997, Ayer focused the company's philanthropic activities on improving educational opportunities for students in the Hartford area and helping them further their academic careers. The goal Ayer developed for The Hartford was to help ensure that by 2010 every student being graduated from Hartford high schools was academically prepared for college. To meet that goal Ayer focused The Hartford's attention on developing, staffing, and funding several new public education initiatives. In 2003 The Hartford donated nearly $3 million, and its employees volunteered 20,000 hours to Hartford city schools. The Hartford also supported two programs, the STAG and the Alliance, which provided college scholarships, employment at The Hartford, and mentoring for city high-school graduates attending specific colleges. In a speech on November 12, 2003, Ayer conveyed his commitment to education by saying, "Nothing is more important to the future of American enterprise, or indeed to the strength of our country, than providing the best possible education for all our nation's youth" (November 12, 2003). Following Ayer's lead, several other Hartford corporations began funding local education initiatives and developing partnerships with area schools. In November 2002 the Urban League of Greater Hartford presented its highest honor, The Founder's Award, to Ayer and The Hartford for philanthropic efforts to improve educational opportunities for the city's young people and for the company's commitment to making the city of Hartford a better place in which to live and work.
Gallagher, Julie, "Tech-Focused Way of Life: At The Hartford, CEO Ramani Ayer's Scrutiny of Ideas Leads to Enterprise-Wide Innovation," Insurance and Technology , June 1, 2002, p. 34. "The Hartford's CEO Ramani Ayer to Be Honored for Support of Public Education," November 12, 2003, http://www.thehartford.com/press/corpnews/2003/1068641422890.html .
Reich-Hale, David, "'Good Cop' Ayer Still Waits for Terror Insurance Fix," American Banker , June 27, 2002, pp. 1–4.
—Dawn Jacob Laney