After five years as chief executive of Boston financial services giant John Hancock, Marianne Harrison will retire in April and be succeeded by Brooks Tingle, who runs the company’s core insurance business.
Harrison, 60, is the first woman to run Hancock since it was founded in 1862. In a note to 6,000 employees on Thursday night, Harrison expressed gratitude. Much of her time as CEO was spent navigating a global pandemic that required a dramatic shift to running the business remotely.
“When you love what you do, a decision like this is never easy,” she wrote. “As I look back on my twenty years with the company and five leading John Hancock, I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished together, and I do mean together, as it is all about the people and I will miss you all very much.”
Hancock, one of the largest life insurers in the United States, is a unit of Manulife Financial Corp. in Toronto. Prior to taking the helm at Hancock, Harrison ran Manulife’s Canada division and served as Manulife’s corporate controller. Taking the top job at Hancock marked Harrison’s return to the Boston market; the Canadian native previously was the general manager of Hancock’s long-term care business.
In an interview, Harrison said she came in with a five-year plan to digitally transform the company and drive efficiency, all the while creating a more inclusive culture. On her watch, Hancock has grown total sales from $464 million in 2017 to $633 million in 2022.
Harrison said that in recent years she has been grooming Tingle as her successor.
“We’ve just come to the perfect spot, where I know I’m now ready to move on and he’s ready to take it,” she said.
In turning to Tingle, Manulife is promoting an executive who has been at Hancock for 35 years, working his way up from the customer service department to running the insurance business. A native of New Hampshire, Tingle studied economics at the University of New Hampshire and received his MBA from Boston University.
Tingle, 57, made his mark in the insurance division, which he has overseen since 2018, by reimagining the way life insurance is sold. Instead of a focus on death, Hancock took a behavioral approach offering customers savings and rewards for living healthy through a product line called Vitality. (Think free Fitbits to encourage people to exercise more.)
The concept became a win-win: Life insurers lose money when customers die prematurely. But if they stay healthy, customers pay more premiums because they are living longer lives.
In an interview, Tingle said he and Harrison have focused on creating life insurance products that get people excited.
“We woke up as leaders a few years ago and said, ‘Hey, we’re leaders in an industry where nobody really gets any joy out of owning our products, and they’re incredibly hard to buy,’” explained Tingle. “That’s really what Marianne and I’ve been setting out to do, is have more digitally engaging and rewarding relationships with our customers and make our solutions easier to buy.”
Tingle said he is passionate about the role insurance plays because he has seen the difference it can make in people’s lives. He recalled being approached by a college student at a career fair who recounted how a Hancock agent had been bugging his father to buy life insurance. His father kept saying no, but the agent persisted.
“I just want to thank you and your company,” Tingle was told. “He finally got it and was killed in a car crash six months later on his way to work. My brother and I would not be attending this university, going to this career fair, if it hadn’t been for your company.”
In addition to selling life insurance, Hancock offers retirement planning and manages investments for individuals. Tingle sees an opportunity in inextricably linking the company’s core business units.
“This nexus between health and wealth is today — and I think will be even more going forward — an important part of our story,” he said.
Prior to Harrison, there had been a revolving door of leaders since Manulife completed its acquisition of Hancock in 2004. Despite its foreign ownership, Hancock has remained civically engaged locally from creating thousands of summer jobs for teens through its MLK Scholars program to sponsorship of the Boston Marathon.
This year, however, Hancock is ending its nearly four-decade relationship as the Marathon’s lead corporate sponsor. That comes on the heels of Hancock severing a 30-year partnership with the Boston Red Sox at the end of last season.
Rather than a pull back in local investment, Tingle said, Hancock is reallocating money into areas that better align with the company’s mission. For example, he expects Hancock to deepen its partnerships with universities on health and wellness, such as by working closely with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab.
“There’s so much more we can do with that and helping Boston become that longevity hub,” he said.
As for Harrison, she plans to stay in Boston and sit on more public and nonprofit boards. She already serves on the board of the Boston Medical Center and Canadian aerospace company CAE.
Another reason Harrison is staying local: Three of her four adult children live in New England. Two of them are in the Boston area, while one is studying at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.
“My family probably in Canada is not going to be happy to hear that I’m not planning to move back,” said Harrison. “My kids are down here. ... Two of them just got engaged. So I’m hoping for grandkids coming soon, and I don’t want to be too far from them.”
Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.