Editor's Note: At press time, Morales was just promoted to SVP and Head of Life Operations at AXA.

I've spent my whole life in the pursuit of learning, and I think anybody who thinks they've finished learning doesn't realize that life is about learning," says Jacquline Morales, SVP, Retirement Services Solutions at AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co. "My most important achievement is my education because neither of my parents graduated from high school."

Being one of six children on a farm in a small Illinois town contributed to her quest for knowledge and her outlook on the workforce.

In her 20s, Morales left that small town with Texas in sight. While attending Southern Methodist University to earn her undergraduate degree, a friend convinced her to interview at Great Southern Life Insurance, now a subsidiary of Americo Life Insurance Co. Little did she know that she would end up running their special services unit, which was payroll deduction life insurance, initiating her insurance career.

After working a couple years in a number of areas at Great Southern, Morales had an epiphany. "Many people spend their whole career not knowing what they want to do with their lives and I realized I like this work and I'm really good at it," she says. "At that point I was able at a very young age to set a goal that I wanted: to be someone who was in senior management at an insurance company."

The goal soon began to become reality. In 2004, a recruiter approached Morales with an opportunity to run the annuity operations at an undisclosed Fortune 500 company. She had just finished her undergraduate degree, was working at a health insurance company and was in the middle of getting her MBA in finance. "I interviewed with the company and got interested in the concept [of a Fortune 500 company] and then found out the company was Lincoln Financial Group."

While she wanted to go, there was a problem: neither Morales' tuition nor credits would transfer to another school. But it was her education-something she had to do-so during her first year at Lincoln, Morales flew from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Dallas every other weekend to complete her Master's degree. "It was rather a blurry year. I logged a lot of plane miles; I think I was platinum that year."

In 2007, after taking over all of annuity operations in multiple Lincoln Financial locations, setting up a program and an operation that was running well, creating a metrics program, streamlining its straight-through processing and new business and in-sourcing its payroll and benefits system, which required a move to Philadelphia, a former coworker approached Morales about a position in the annuity operations at AXA. "They were in a tremendous growth trajectory and needed somebody to come in and help their operations and business grow, and it's just been an amazing ride."

In just five years at AXA, Morales has made a number of significant organizational impacts including engaging distributors and customers in converting to electronic payments; expanding a socially responsible expense-reduction campaign focused on the electronification of business processes; insourcing the lockbox process to better match regulatory guidelines as well as reduce expenses; consolidating geographically dispersed expertise into focused Centers of Excellence; and, leveraging technological advances with optical character recognition. One WIL judge said the business that Morales is in is a tough one, and to have her kind of success in it is commendable.

She credits her AXA team for the success and says to have a successful team, a leader has to listen but also be strong. This is something Morales tells her mentees. "Don't compromise yourself and don't ever apologize for who you are, man or woman. Make sure that whatever priorities [in life and business] you set that you are honest about and proud of them."

Morales is involved in formal AXA internal groups, such as AXA's Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, E-mentoring and Mentoring Circles, WOW (AXA's women's employee resource group) and the Harmon Meadow Leadership Council. Formal external groups include the IRI Senior Steering Committee, the LOMA Educational and Training Council, and the Women's Bond Club.

Morales does a lot, but she's learned from it all. "I wish I'd learned earlier in my career that I wasn't expected to know everything and be perfect. When I realized I wasn't expected to be the expert at everything, I was allowed to immerse myself in areas I wasn't as strong in. And when I didn't have to be perfect it allowed me to try, fail and try again. I didn't have to worry about failing at things because I knew that I could try again."

Number of years in the industry: 20

Number of direct reports: 6

AXA's gross written premium: $17.87 billion

Nominated by: Robert E. Nolan

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