Even from a young age, Robin Lenna knew she wanted to run a business. What she didn't know was that she would ultimately be in insurance. But she's always followed her gut, which led her to her current position leading MetLife's Corporate Benefit Funding business. "I know what direction I want to go and then I'll just make my way to where I want to go," she says.
After graduating from Swarthmore College with a degree in philosophy, Lenna took a position with Hay Associates designing executive compensation and worked toward her MBA in finance from Temple University. From there, she moved on to Merrill Lynch and then Citigroup. It was at Citigroup that Lenna had a significant "aha" moment. "In the 1980s, the leveraged buyout [LBO] phase was really picking up and I realized I could do the same work that the transactors were doing. I understood what they were doing, but I needed to basically retool myself, go through the bank's credit training program and reinvent myself. I basically started over in the late 1980s and became a banker."
After Citigroup, Lenna went to FleetBoston Financial, later acquired by Bank of America, and was recruited in 2004 by MetLife to become chief risk officer. "They really wanted the experience I had from the banking side and to adapt it to the insurance company, so I took the leap," she says. "I liked the management; it looked like an interesting opportunity. At various points in my career I've taken big risks-calculated risks. And it's worked out quite well."
Two years later, Lenna had a discussion with MetLife's CFO about what she wanted. She told him she wanted to run a business, and six months later she found herself running the predecessor of the business she currently runs, which represents approximately 22 percent of MetLife's total profits. "I've been in this job six years, but I've really grown the business-created new businesses and products and entered new markets," she says. "It's been exciting and challenging."
As part of MetLife's enterprise strategy, Lenna has been working closely with executive leadership to redefine the way MetLife approaches pension risk transfer and other benefits funding business. She manages the pension business in the United States, and five years ago started an operation in the UK and Ireland, and is now chairman of the board.
Lenna is known as an innovator at MetLife, leading a number of re-engineering initiatives designed to change the way business is done and has reduced costs and audit issues for the company. Her work around the customer has led to greater satisfaction scores for her lines of business.
While Lenna is proud of these accomplishments, she, as well as the WIL judges, points to her activity with MetLife's diversity program as a success. A couple of years ago, Lenna was asked as the first line executive to run diversity for MetLife's U.S. organization, which is about 25,000 employees, and make changes to benefit both the business and its employees. "As a business person, I created a business plan for diversity. I revamped the strategy and the structure of how we ran diversity to make sure it was linked to the business strategy, not human resources, and was able to embed it into the business. So, diversity isn't viewed as something separate from the business, it was integrally part of the business."
Lenna also co-founded a global networking group for women in financial services and affiliated professions. As she looks back at her career thus far, she sees opportunities where she wishes she could have sought advice and help. Not having a mentor during her career, she makes an extra effort to be one for others, especially women.
Many women face the challenge of being heard in a group setting and promoting themselves, she says. So, she tells the women she mentors to be bold. "Take risks, take chances, don't be afraid. That's something that's served me well."
Number of years in the industry: 8
Number of direct reports: 8
MetLife's total annual revenue: $70.3 billion
Nominated by: The Jacobson Group/ejsSearch
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