Given the confluence of events, the story of Clark Manning's relationship with his company could have been an American tragedy. When Manning was named interim president and CEO of Lansing, Mich.-based Jackson National Life (JNL, $61.6 billion in total assets; an indirect subsidiary of London-based Prudential) in June 2001, he was handed the reins of a company coming off the best sales year in its 40-year history and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was nearing 11,100. But, as he transitioned to the job on a permanent basis in September 2001, everything changed. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks caused fear across all walks of life, business slumped and the economy entered a recession.
"When I took over in 2001, the credit and equity market recessions were the worst they had been since the Great Depression, and with a $50 billion balance sheet, we were affected," recalls Manning. But hard times brought out the best in Manning, JNL and their relationship. "I was working with a good company with favorable attributes and we returned to those roots," he says.
Whereas a number of companies were pushed to cut overhead and product development efforts, JNL continued to operate under its usual relationship-based distribution model. "We knew how to make money and we never strayed from that," asserts Manning. JNL focused on its three foundational business ideals: its distribution model, its cost model and presenting a flexible face to the market. And Manning relied on a lesson he had learned when he first started with JNL in 1995 as senior vice president and chief actuary: "You need a superior technical infrastructure" if you want to meet the demands of a profitable distribution strategy - under any circumstances, he says.
Outsourcing was the name of the game when Manning began his career at JNL. The carrier had outsourced its entire technology infrastructure. But rather than maintain the status quo, the insurer made its first technology hire in 1995, appointing George Napoles CIO and chief administrative officer. Napoles "built the entire infrastructure from scratch," according to Manning.
Home Sweet Homegrown
The advantage of developing technology in-house is being able to build it to achieve company-specific goals, notes Manning. For JNL, that meant creating an infrastructure to nurture its three fundamental business objectives: distribution, flexibility and cost.
"Being able to meet the demands of our distribution business model is critical," explains Manning. "Distributors demand a flexible product model and interactions that are not only efficient but correct, and we need to be able to do all of this cheaply."
With a close working relationship and a clear view of one another's capacities, Manning and Napoles have successfully applied JNL's ideals to their technological and business initiatives. "George and I work closely but with a great deal of autonomy because we both have a business needs-based approach," comments Manning.
In 2002, Napoles and his team built a modular platform on which Manning and his team launched JNL's first completely unbundled variable annuity, Perspective II. The entire project took just six months from conception to launch, and in 2004, Perspective was the No. 1-selling variable annuity product in the industry based on net flows, according to Manning.
"A strong, flexible technology platform is one of the core attributes you need as a life insurer, and if you outsource, you've given up on being better," contends Manning, who achieves a reliable inner company environment by balancing his actuarial background with both an IT and a distribution staff of industry experts. "It is critical to be surrounded by people who have a well-founded understanding of their areas of business," says Manning. "And it is most important for those people to be able to understand one another.
Jackson National Life Insurance
"It is critical to be surrounded by people who have a well-founded understanding of their areas of business."
"A strong, flexible technology platform is one of the core attributes you need as a life insurer, and if you outsource, you've given up on being better."
Manning enjoys spending time with his five-year-old twins - a boy and a girl.
Last Book Read:
"Conspiracy of Fools," by Kurt Eichenwald.
"I enjoy reading about business disaster, but I don't intend on being in one," notes Manning.
Manning holds a BBA in Actuarial Science and an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. Early in his career, he served as a consulting actuary with Millman and Robertson and later as SVP and chief actuary at SunAmerica. Manning joined JNL in 1995 as SVP and chief actuary.
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