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Retired, But Relentless … There Is No Stopping Fred Sievert

Retired, But Relentless...

There is No Stopping Fred Sievert
By Sam Phillips

Fred Sievert has climbed the corporate ladder to the top of two different companies. The internal drive that helped him accomplish so much in his working years has carried over to his retirement years.

Retirement for many people is a time to slow down and enjoy the fruits of their labor. For Fred Sievert, retired president of New York Life Insurance Company, taking down the pace a bit is the furthest thing from his mind. He is chairman of The Actuarial Foundation Board. He's a graduate student at Yale Divinity School. He teaches a course on leadership at Fairfield University and he continues to serve on numerous non–profit boards. He's as busy now as he ever was, and is happy he has the time and energy to support all these various activities.

Please give us a brief recap of your career and how you came about being chairman of The Actuarial Foundation. After seven years as a high school teacher, I started as an actuarial student at John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1977 and left to become the product actuary at Maccabees Mutual in Michigan in 1981. At Maccabees I was promoted several times into positions of more responsibility becoming the SVP and CFO during the company's demutualization and ultimately was elevated to SVP of individual operations, running three major product lines (life, annuity and disability income) sold through three different channels of distribution (brokers, personal producing general agents and banks).

I left the company in 1991 to join the New York Life Insurance Company (by most measures 20 to 25 times as big as Maccabees) as its SVP and CFO of individual operations. My career path at New York Life paralleled closely my career path at Maccabees as I progressively took on more responsibility in all functional areas of the company, ultimately retiring as president in June of 2007.

Dan McCarthy asked me to consider following him as chairman of The Actuarial Foundation and with the Board's approval, I agreed because of my enthusiasm for what they are doing and my personal commitment to the mission of the organization and the impact it has been able to achieve in recent years in reaching students, in providing research and scholarships and in growing its visibility in consumer education.

How active have you been in serving the industry and how has that benefited your career? Like many actuaries I know, I feel indebted to this profession for giving me this wonderful career in our great industry. As a result, I have felt it important to give back to the industry with my time and my financial resources in a generous way. As a result, over the years I have almost continuously served on multiple industry related boards and committees. I have been on the ACLI Actuarial Committee, the LICONY (Life Insurance Council of New York) board and served as their chairman, I am currently the chair of the American College board, and I have served on the Life Foundation board and the LIMRA board. I am very pleased to have served as well on The Actuarial Foundation board and look forward to my term as its chair.

In addition to allowing me to give back to the industry and my profession, these assignments have benefited my career enormously. There's no better leadership training and development than the hands–on experiences I've enjoyed in these roles over the years.

These volunteer activities have also allowed me to network with peers and colleagues across the country and even around the globe.

What are your future plans for The Actuarial Foundation? We just completed, and the Board approved, a strategic plan for 2008–2010, which incorporates expanded programs in all three major program areas (youth education, consumer education and research). The new plan focuses on increased fundraising to enable the foundation to broaden its reach through expanded mentoring, expanded partner distribution and through improved educational and research tools. During my two– year term as chairman we will focus on executing the plan and increasing our funding for program outreach.

What are your future plans for yourself? I had been planning retirement from New York Life for a couple of years and actually retired on June 30, 2007. I'm fulfilling a long–time dream of enhancing my spiritual development and education by entering Yale Divinity School as a graduate student, which I did this fall. I am also pursuing my interest in teaching by offering a business school course on executive management and leadership at Fairfield University commencing in January of 2008. I will continue on those boards for which I have the greatest ongoing interest and passion and The Actuarial Foundation clearly meets that requirement.

Please tell us a little about your current philanthropic and charity projects. My wife and I remain very involved in our church and also on the boards on which we serve in our community and around the country. I have taken on board assignments only for non–profit organizations whose missions I support with a passion.

Other than insurance industry and related boards, I also currently serve on the boards of the following non–profit organizations: the Wayne State University Foundation, the International Center for Photography, the Calvin College Advisory Council, the Stamford Museum and Nature Center and the King Low Heywood Thomas School.

What is your philosophy on life and how will you apply it to your future endeavors? When I was at New York Life I took great satisfaction in positively impacting other people's lives and I hope to continue to do so in the numerous post–retirement activities noted above. My family's values and my personal faith have been hallmarks of my career at New York Life and really represent my legacy to the company and the employees and agents of the company. In retirement, my business experience, coupled with my enhanced spiritual development and education, will allow me to carry on that purpose in my new endeavors.

What are the most significant risks taken in your career and how have they paid off? Moving from an actuarial role to a general management position (which I did at Maccabees and at New York Life) were risks that paid off. I was challenged and personally gratified to be able to move successfully from technical work to general management of multiple functional disciplines including, sales, marketing, distribution and service. I was encouraged and well supported by my superiors, my peers and my staff in making those difficult and challenging transitions.

How has your background as an actuary positively impacted your career? Having the actuarial background was absolutely essential and invaluable in all of the functional areas I eventually oversaw. Being able to understand and communicate difficult actuarial issues and the logic behind product and financial decisions to agents, employees and to outside parties (like rating agencies, reinsurers and consultants among others) was a skill that many top executives do not possess and served me extremely well.

What advice do you have for up and coming actuaries? I will be teaching a course on leadership this winter at Fairfield University and I wish I could briefly encapsulate what I intend to convey but it's not possible in a paragraph or two. I was interviewed on a PBS show last spring and I would recommend those interested go to the following Web site and view it for a more complete answer. The show can be viewed by going into the archives of the "Leaders on Leadership" show and scrolling down to the interview conducted in April of last year. The Web site is Dptv.org/.

In a nutshell my advice is to work hard, demonstrate a commitment to your company, understand the organization's strategies as well as its operations and extend your network beyond your immediate work assignment. Also, giving back to your profession and your industry through volunteer efforts and financial support can be extremely rewarding. And most importantly, conduct yourself at all times with honesty and integrity.

Sam Phillips is staff editor at the Society of Actuaries. He can be reached at sphillips@soa.org.