Chairman, chief executive officer, and president, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
Born: May 29, 1944, in New York City, New York.
Education: Alfred University, BS, 1966.
Family: Married Denise V. (maiden name unknown); children: two.
Career: Arthur D. Little and Information Science, 1966–1975, computer consultant; Chase Manhattan Bank, 1975–1979, systems group; 1979–1982, vice president of technology; PaineWebber, 1984, vice president of marketing; 1984–1986, senior vice president of marketing group; 1986–1987, CFO in retail business; 1989–1995, executive vice president and director of securities operations; Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, 1995–1997, executive vice president of Individual Business Department; 1997–2004, president; 1997–, director; 1998–, chairman and CEO.
Address: Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, One Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10010-3603; http://www.metlife.com.
■ Robert H. Benmosche, a complete outsider who lacked any insurance-industry experience, would be remembered as the chief executive who attempted to remake Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. He demutualized the company in 2000, converting it from a policyholder-owned to a stockholder-owned firm. The new structure opened the doors for MetLife to win a larger piece of the financial-services pie, supplying it with the wealth to make acquisitions that would have previously been out of its league. By 2004 the level of success incurred through Benmosche's grand plan had yet to be determined.
With over $12 billion in premiums written and $220 billion in assets in 2003, MetLife was publicly traded and the largest life-insurance company in the nation with respect to total life insurance in effect and total admitted assets. Subsidiaries included GenAmerica, the independent-agency distribution network; Metropolitan Property and Casualty, for auto, home, and related coverages; and State Street Research, providing asset-management products and services to institutions and individuals. The company also had a retail-banking business unit, MetLife Bank.
MetLife's Institutional segment offered group benefits, through insurance, retirement products, and prepaid legal plans; its Individual segment offered many of the same types of products to individual consumers; and its International segment offered the same primarily to groups and individuals in Latin America and Asia Pacific. The company provided property and casualty protection through its Auto & Home operations as well as retail and institutional investment management services—such as retirement plans, mutual funds, and more—through its Asset Management segment. A sixth segment focused on reinsurance.
Benmosche spent his childhood in the bucolic Catskills town of Monticello, New York. His formative years were shaped more than anything by a single event: the death of his father at age 50. The elder Benmosche left Robert, his three siblings, and their mother struggling with a mountain of debt. They continued to run the family hotel and restaurant, the Patio Motel, where the young Benmosche took on some of the housekeeping responsibilities and helped out with the switchboard. During high school and college he funded most of his tuition through a truck-driving job, delivering Coca-Cola. His uncle Julius Cohen, who worked with the family at the hotel, told American Banker , "He always had ambition. Whatever he had to do, he did to reach what he wanted" (January 8, 2001).
After earning his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Alfred University in 1966, Benmosche served for two years as an army lieutenant. After a tour of duty in Vietnam, he spent about a year in Korea in the U.S. Signal Corps, where he set up field communications and acquired a love for technology. Benmosche then began his career with Arthur D. Little and Information Science as a consultant. In the mid-1970s he moved to Chase Manhattan Bank, where he became a vice president of technology. In BusinessWeek James C. Curvey, the Chase colleague who became chief operating officer of Fidelity Investments, was quoted as saying, "He was one of the smartest, hardest-working, most intense executives there. He's very results oriented" (December 14, 1998).
Benmosche joined PaineWebber in 1982, helping develop the Central Asset Brokerage Account, which propelled the company to second place in total account sales and first place in average customer balance among firms exceeding $200,000 in assets under management per customer within the financial services industry. In 1984 he became senior vice president in PaineWebber's marketing group, responsible for marketing IRAs, insurance, financial planning, retirement plans, and money-market funds through the firm's 4,500 retail brokers. Benmosche later became director of brokerage operations and launched a reengineering plan that relied heavily on technology. As a result PaineWebber was able to handle a fourfold increase in volume with 40 percent less staff.
Benmosche's last major assignment at PaineWebber was to lead the firm's Southern division, where he concentrated on reducing the high broker turnover at 80 branch offices employing more than 1,500 retail brokers. He also oversaw the complex merger of Kidder Peabody's operations and systems with those of PaineWebber. In 1995 MetLife hired Benmosche to the position of executive vice president, which entailed leading its forthcoming merger with New England Financial.
The toughest challenge of Benmosche's career came when he was named MetLife's president and COO, responsible for both the Individual and Institutional businesses as well as the company's international insurance operations. At the time the sales force had been hampered by a scandal; an investigation had revealed that agents in the company's Tampa office had sold life insurance to nurses under the guise of a retirement plan. The publicly aired scandal sent agents running from the company, and sales plummeted. But under Benmosche's watch the sales force rebounded. Focusing on agent retention instead of recruitment—at the time an internally divisive strategy—he visited many of the company's 428 sales offices, meeting with agents one on one and in group meetings. Agents ceased to abandon the firm, and productivity per agent increased from $19,000 to $23,000.
In July 1998 Benmosche was named chairman and CEO and took on the challenge of reinventing the 132-year-old MetLife—known by its employees as Mother Met. Benmosche, who lacked experience in the insurance industry, later commented that he had been attracted to the firm's history; it was founded in New York three years after the Civil War from the remnants of the National Union Life and Limb Insurance Company. Yet, in spite of his appreciation for the company's past, Benmosche had revolutionary plans for its future. At the time of his appointment insurance companies were beginning to recognize that customers were demanding a wider range of financial services from a single provider.
All of Benmosche's prior roles had prepared him for the ultimate test; his 14 years of experience in the securities industry would serve him well as MetLife pushed into the financial services industry. One of his primary goals would be to strengthen the sales force to which he had become so connected as president and COO—and which he called in National Underwriter the company's "strongest individual franchise" (April 6, 1998). When Benmosche took over in 1998, MetLife employed 10,500 U.S. agents; he said that he planned to increase that number by four hundred annually over the coming five to 10 years.
At both PaineWebber and MetLife, Benmosche developed a reputation as a tough manager who regarded productivity as more important than people, sometimes bruising egos in order to achieve the desired results. His military training certainly played a part in his leadership style; rather than let his troops create their own battle plans, Benmosche played the role of a hands-on sergeant who delineated exactly what to do and how to get it done. Martin A. Stein, the vice chairman at BankAmerica Corporation who worked with Benmosche for more than 25 years, said in BusinessWeek , "You love him, or you don't like him at all, because of his sometimes confrontational style" (December 14, 1998).
Indeed, Benmosche may have been most at ease when he was in the trenches with his troops. He once spent four hours convincing about 40 brand managers to start taking accountability for their problems instead of blaming the company for poor results. As described by BusinessWeek , he gave out his direct phone number and offered to meet "anyone anytime anywhere" to offer assistance with problems (December 14, 1998).
Benmosche's largest contribution to MetLife was his push to take the company public. Insurance companies had historically been mutual companies owned by the insurance policy-holders—the insured. In essence Benmosche wanted to convert MetLife from a policyholder-owned company into a stockholder-owned company. MetLife would distribute all of its shares to policyholders, who could then sell them once additional shares were issued to the public. Around the same time as MetLife's planned conversion, Prudential Insurance Company of America and John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company announced plans to convert.
Benmosche's primary justification for the dramatic move was that in his opinion MetLife's age-old business structure was stymieing its competitive potential. Washington had opened the gates for insurers, banks, and brokers to aggressively compete in one another's businesses, but without the capital that would be raised by a stock offering, MetLife's ability to expand through acquisitions was greatly limited. Benmosche told BusinessWeek , "This sleeping giant is no longer asleep. We're going to wake up the world" (December 14, 1998).
In retrospect Benmosche perhaps should have tempered his enthusiasm. MetLife did not start out of the gate from a position of strength: the company's average return on assets in 1998 was 0.38 percent, one of the lowest of any large mutual company, according to Standard & Poor's. Additionally, competition was formidable. Around the time that Benmosche announced his plans, American International Group bought SunAmerica, a growing annuity firm. SunAmerica's return on assets was 2.25 percent—six times MetLife's. Robert Barker said in a BusinessWeek Online editorial, "What's plain from its financials is that, despite a flair for friendly marketing, MetLife is a lot like the blimps that keep its name—and Snoopy—aloft: all puffed up and pretty slow" (February 21, 2000).
As the company prepared to go public, MetLife sent a strong message to its customers indicating that it was no longer their grandfather's insurance company. For nearly 15 years MetLife's advertising campaigns had featured the adventures of Snoopy and other characters from the celebrated "Peanuts" comic strip. In early 1999 the company relegated Snoopy to a supporting role, announcing a campaign that would supplant the dog with stories about MetLife's history, told by actors and actresses playing a multicultural group of agents. Snoopy made only cameo appearances at the end of the commercials and in marketing brochures. In the New York Times Benmosche said of the former campaign, "I felt it was too much Snoopy. When you talk about MetLife, you say, 'That's Snoopy's company,' and that's important. But we also want the ads to begin to remind people why to do business with MetLife" (March 12, 1999).
Benmosche took MetLife public in April 2000, adding about $2.5 billion in capital to the former mutual insurer. Benmosche promised 15 percent growth in per-share earnings, but analysts warned that beneath the lofty numbers and promises, the company was struggling, and pressure was building on its CEO. By January 2001 MetLife had made no large acquisitions and earnings were still sagging.
Colin Devine, the insurance analyst with Solomon Smith Barney who was one of six analysts to downgrade their ratings on MetLife's stock, noted in American Banker , "They're still on mutual time—to make this work as a stock they need to turn this into a growth company. They need more new blood there. You've got people thinking they're doing a great job, but the problem is they're not" (January 8, 2001).
Benmosche had his work cut out for him; one of his main priorities in restructuring the company would be to expand outside of insurance. About four months after MetLife's initial public offering he purchased a small bank based in Kingston, New Jersey, for $80 million. Customers had access to the bank's products and services through MetLife's agents and through the company's Web site. Caitlin Long, the insurance analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, remarked in American Banker , "Met's strategy is to use the bank to try to hold onto some of the $20 billion-plus per year that it pays out in the form of benefits and claims payments to its customers. It fits into the vision that Benmosche has of increasing the penetration into the customer base" (January 8, 2001).
To turn his vision into reality, Benmosche was prepared to enforce accountability. New standards placed considerable pressure on the sales force, and the lowest-rated agents risked losing their jobs. He planned to push distributors like Merrill Lynch to ratchet up sales of MetLife annuities. Priority was placed on the development of new products, such as a more competitive variable life-insurance policy and long-term-care insurance that could be sold to existing customers. With regard to the company's Institutional business, Benmosche planned to increase sales to small and midsize companies while expanding product offerings to large businesses by selling accidental-death and dismemberment benefits in addition to basic life and short-term-disability coverage.
Expenses would be reduced through advances in technology and cutbacks in noncore businesses. As he told American Banker , Benmosche felt confident that the new MetLife would succeed: "A big product of the whole demutualization was an enormous self-confidence in our company. We want to transform our culture, so people feel empowered and have the freedom to act" (January 8, 2001).
The impact of September 11, 2001, on the New York–based MetLife was extraordinary. In addition to losing employees in the tragedy, the company paid the largest amount in life-insurance claims resulting from the attacks of any insurer. Within two weeks of the attacks more than $53 million had been approved for payment to beneficiaries; the first payment had been finalized just three days after September 11. In hearings a few weeks later MetLife estimated its losses at $250 million to $300 million. During the crisis the company took steps to allow family members of victims to easily access benefits. The company waived the traditional death-certificate requirement, relying instead on communication with employers. MetLife also established a toll-free call-in number so that anyone affected by the tragedy could quickly obtain needed information.
While Benmosche focused mainly on paying claims to the beneficiaries of victims, he also responded to government leaders' pleas to take the necessary steps to strengthen the nation's economy. As part of a program to increase MetLife's investment in public equity markets, Benmosche announced that MetLife would invest $1 billion in a broad array of publicly traded stocks. As recorded in Federal Document Clearing House Political Transcripts, Benmosche said, "We have made this move because we have enormous confidence in the resilience of the country and its economy, and it's time to put our money where our beliefs are" (September 26, 2001).
In the first quarter of 2004 MetLife came one step closer to bearing the profile of a true growth company. It boasted $362.9 billion in assets under management—an 18 percent increase over the prior year period and the fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth. The company notched record annuity deposits of $3.4 billion and earned total premiums and fees of $6 billion, for increases of 32 percent and 12 percent, respectively, over the prior year period. All told, in the first quarter of 2004 the company posted a 44 percent increase in net income over the first quarter of 2003.
With respect to the auspicious quarter, Benmosche declared to Business Wire, "During the quarter, we continued to demonstrate our ability to grow premiums and fees as well as annuity deposits through our leading market positions, innovative products, diversified distribution channels and improved sales-force productivity. At the same time, we are operating in a dramatically improved credit and equity market environment compared to the prior year period" (May 3, 2004).
See also entry on Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in International Directory of Company Histories .
Barker, Robert, "MetLife: I Wouldn't Take This Puppy Home," BusinessWeek Online , February 21, 2000, http://www.businessweek.com/2000/00_08/b3669143.htm .
Elliott, Stuart, "Snoopy and the 'Peanuts' Gang Will No Longer Be Metropolitan Life's Main Representatives," New York Times , March 12, 1999.
Gjertsen, Lee Ann, "Does Bob Benmosche's New MetLife Have What It Takes to Break Out?" American Banker , January 8, 2001, p. 1.
"MetLife Announces First Quarter 2004 Results: Reports Net Income of $0.69 per Share, a 47 Percent Increase," Business Wire, May 3, 2004.
Murray, M. Christian, "Met Names Benmosche CEO," National Underwriter—Life & Health , April 6, 1998, p. 3.
Spiro, Leah Nathans, "Fighter Pilot," BusinessWeek , December 14, 1998, p. 124.
"U.S. Representative Michael Oxley (R-OH) Holds Hearing on Impact of Terrorist Attacks on Securities and Insurance Industries," Federal Document Clearing House Political Transcripts, September 26, 2001.