Reviving the Age-Old Life Insurance Industry

by Schuyler Woods, MBA ‘16

Schuyler Woods, MBA ‘16

An investor by training, Schuyler Woods steps outside of her comfort zone and into a general manager role at MetLife.

Mymother has worked in the insurance industry for as long as I can rememberreading Peanuts cartoons on Sunday mornings. And while my mother is burstingwith energy and insurance expertise, the products she expertly understood leftme wanting a nap (which in retrospect, was probably my mother’s attempt to quietmy endless chatter). Insurance was too complicated. There was “PPO” this and “network coverage”that. And what was the differencebetween whole and term life insurance? I had no clue. In fact, the insuranceindustry is wrestling with these same complexities nearly 20 years later. How canyou sell a complicated product, simply?

Ironically,I spent the past 8 weeks trying to figure that out through MetLife’s GlobalLeadership Development Program (GLDP) internship. The program is theMcKinsey-MetLife brainchild conceived after MetLife’s entry into the globalmarket through the ALICO acquisition in 2010. MetLife needed to groom general managers who could navigate not only the70K+ employee matrix but global consumer development. Over 5 years, GLDP’ersgain exposure to three different areas in any of MetLife’s vast business linesfrom retail innovation to technology development and customer centricitystrategy. To cross the finish line into the top 10% of the company, candidatesmust complete at least one international rotation. For the summer internship,interns get a slice of this experience- I landed in Market Intelligence.

Workingon social media intelligence strategies and developing customer journey surveysfor the Latin America team this summer was a huge departure from my past life.I spent the last five years plugging through financial statements and craftingpersuasive pitches on the behalf of millionaires and start-ups but was leftwith a desire to be the people Ihelped. So I transitioned to business school to build my general managementskill set. Working at MetLife this summer afforded me the great opportunity todig into the many facets of the financial services industry and bring myJohnson skills to bear.

Mycornerstone project for the summer was to provide recommendations for MetLifeto address the small business and pre-retirees consumer segments. My internshippartner, a Fuqua MBA candidate, and I tackled this problem by learning aboutMetLife’s existing practices and engaging the customer to understand prioritiesand pain points. Throughout the process, I was reminded of the importance ofiterations – something I learned through trial and error during the SustainableGlobal Enterprise (SGE) Immersion. To get the best product, you just have toput yourself out there and fail quickly. Throughout my internship, this lessonwas apparent as my partner and I tested many hypotheses and went down manyrabbit holes to ultimately drive value. And for the presentation, I found myself immediately leaning on thelearnings from the infamous Nate Peck, Johnson’s storied professor of theManagement Cases course. (By the way, I highly recommend the class to learncase-cracking skills.) When we delivered our recommendations, I felt confidentthat my analysis was thorough and my Minto Pyramid was on point.

To wrap up the summer, the interns shared breakfast withEsther Lee, Cornell alum and MetLife’s new CMO. Transformation, transformation,transformation. She emphasized her penchant for success was the ability to takeon brand challenges and transform them into new territory. This messageresonated with me. Not just because it marked MetLife’s transition into acustomer centric company but because it also marked my transition from the purefinance play to the broader world of general management. Johnson has equippedwith me the tools and network to take on complex problems… and just maybe tosell complicated problems simply.

I don’t anticipate a nap anytime soon. Thanks Mom!