It was Wall Street that originally drew Elaine Sarsynski, executive VP at MassMutual Retirement Services and Workplace Insurance, into the insurance industry, where she has become known over the past two decades as a thought leader in the retirement and worksite markets and a champion for effective retirement plans.
An economics major in college, her first job after graduation was for Morgan Stanley — as the first female in their real estate subsidiary. “That put me in contact with many insurance companies,” she says, adding that at just 23, she began to understand that the “true powerhouses” of capital markets were in insurance. So, after receiving her MBA from Columbia University, she became a private placement underwriter at Aetna, where she lent to the same investment bankers she had interacted with on Wall Street. In addition, the role put her regularly in front of top company leadership. “It was one of the best first jobs — I quickly understood how companies operate,” she recalls.
These days, Sarsynski considers herself fortunate to lead the way in employee benefits and retirement at MassMutual — where she is responsible for the direction, strategy, growth and profitability of the business — because of the segment’s personal nature. “It’s such a noble purpose, for which i come to work every day,” she says. “We help ensure that the 3 million employees on our plans can retire on their own terms. I take that very seriously.” That focus has led to significantly-increased growth: Under Sarsynski’s leadership, MassMutual Retirement’s core sales were up 23 percent in 2014, hitting a record $9.1 billion.
As her career blossomed over the last two decades, she says she never felt held back by her gender, thanks to an early manager who let her know what was really important on the job: “I had a wonderful boss years ago who said, ‘I’m going to treat you like an amoeba — gender is just not important,” she recalls. “What’s important is that you come to meetings prepared, learn about the industry, and add value every single day.”
She certainly has added significant value to MassMutual: The largest acquisition in the company’s history, of The Hartford retirement business, was under Sarsynski’s watch; the deal closed in January 2013 and expanded the company’s footprint from being a leading provider in mid-sized retirement plan marketplace to leadership in the small-business market and niche markets. “I’m proud of the integration and the work that was done to take our company and double our retirement business,” she says of the acquisition, which added 1,200 employees and hundreds of millions in assets. “The biggest compliment we received was when an advisor commented that this was one of the most boring acquisitions he had ever seen because it was so smooth.”
Sarsynski has also been proud to lead the 2015 rollout of a new patent-pending technology tool, MapMyBenefits, which provides personalized guidance to help employees prioritize their health care, insurance and retirement benefits, she says.
The opportunities for women in the insurance industry continue to grow around the world, says Sarsynski, pointing out that the US is reaping the benefits of decades of early trailblazing. “I have three women reporting to me in leadership, SVP-level roles,” she explains. “These women are extraordinarily impactful, bright, insurance industry leaders.”
She continues to mentor younger women and peers, hoping to offer counsel about what she’s learned along the way. “I enjoy helping them work through challenges,” she says.
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