July 31, 2009 marks an unsual event in the history of Philippine Life Insurance industry as presidents of the two largest insurance companies in the Philippines retire on the same day.
Here’s an article from Manila Standard Today by Maya Baltazar Hererra, in her column “Integrations” entitled “What’s Your Next Mountain?”
After reading the article, a part of me wants to work even harder so as to be able to retire at the soonest possible time like Henry Herrera.
What’s your next mountain?
Today marks an unusual event in the history of the Philippine life insurance industry. The presidents of the two largest life insurance companies in the Philippines retire at the close of business of 31 July 2009.
Jose L. Cuisia, 65, President of the PhilAmLife group, and Henry Joseph M. Herrera, 50, President of the Sunlife Financial group in the Philippines, are both retiring.
To the industry, Cuisia’s retirement had long been anticipated as PhilAm’s mandatory retirement age is 65. Outside of Sunlife and his personal group of friends, Herrera’s retirement seemed more of a surprise.
I, of course, count myself as being in Herrera’s inner circle as he is, as we often say, my ex-boyfriend and current roommate.
Three years ago, in this same column, I wrote about Henry’s 47th birthday, a birthday we called “Turning Prime”, the birthday that marked the three-year countdown to his early retirement.
As most of those who know us have always known, we plotted our financial plans almost in the first year of our marriage. And retirement at age 50 had always been one of our primary goals.
Funnily enough, very few people seemed to take us seriously. In fact, Joey Cuisia himself actually asked me whether Henry was seriously planning to retire at age 50. Being a good executive wife, I could not divulge actual dates and plans and had to content myself with my stock answer – one that was truthful but did not violate either privacy or confidentiality.
“We have always planned to be in a financial position to be able to retire at age 50. Are we on track for that goal? The answer to that is yes. Will he actually retire at age 50? I suppose that depends how you define retirement. I think the important thing is to be in a position where the choice is yours.”
In retrospect, it is an excellent thing to be able to say that Sunlife’s president is the perfect example of what Sunlife says is its mission – to help Filipino Families attain financial freedom. While there is nothing wrong with working until you are age 60 or 65 or even 70, there is something to be said about being able to truly retire early.
What I still remember vividly, though, is the common response I received. Even Cuisia commented that age 50 is too young to retire and that there is still so much that Henry can do.
And the answer to that, of course, is that retirement does not mean the end of any person’s ability to contribute.
In a sense, retirement marks one end. This is why retirement is often a moment of remembrance. Yesterday, as I was planning this column, I rustled up a paper that my eldest, Tinka, wrote about her Dad for one of her college courses. The assignment was to interview a corporate CEO and to write a paper that provided insights into leadership. Being fortunate enough to have the CEO of one of the largest companies in the Philippines actually living in the same house, my daughter decided to write about her dad.
Here I excerpt from her paper:
The Midas Touch
In 2007, Henry Herrera stepped up from his EVP position to take the reins of Sun Life of Canada Philippines, Inc. (SLOCPI), one of the two biggest life insurance companies in the country. He also became President and CEO of SLOCPI’s two subsidiary companies, Sun Life Financial Plans (their pre-need arm) and Sun Life Asset Management (SLAMC).
In his whirlwind first year as CEO, the company’s first year premiums almost doubled, from P1.032B to P1.969B, and for the first time in over four decades, they overtook their biggest competitor- PhilAm Life. Single premiums (it’s like one-time pay insurance) were up almost 400%, from P778M to P3,833M. In the same year, Sun Life also posted the biggest growth in gross sales for mutual funds in the industry, capturing 26% of the market from a previous share of only 14%.
Whew! That was a mouthful!
Sheer luck? The last time he took over something was back in 2005, and it was the Sun Life Asset Management Company that came under his command. That year, he went around Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and opened the agency force’s eyes to the unexplored opportunities in mutual funds sales. In 2005, mutual fund sales almost doubled, from P1.6B to P3.1B. Then it almost doubled again, to P5.9B the following year. Then it almost doubled again, to P11.1B in 2007, catapulting their market share from 7% in 2005 to 26% today.
It seems like everything this guy touches turns golden.
But, as my daughter was to discover, her father is more than just actuary and investment whiz. Henry truly believes that people are the key to organization success.
Henry, fondly called Mr. H by Sun Lifers, has spent a considerable amount of his first year going around the different branches in the Philippines, and is particularly notable for making an effort to visit even the farthest and smallest branches. He shared that some of the branches hadn’t gotten a personal visit by the CEO in years, and they were very excited by the visits.
“Sa tingin ko, hindi pwedeng hindi mo sila bibisitahin. Even if they’re far away, they’re still part of the company, and at the end of the day, the growth that you will be asking for will ultimately be coming from your most important resources- your people.”
What my daughter was learning is that there are things about her dad she really didn’t know. Like many people, Henry leads a multi-faceted life. One of the best things about retiring early is that he now has the time to be able to explore his many other interests. He is in the position of pondering one of the best questions that can be pondered, a question that is a favorite of my friend Jess Gallegos: “What’s your next mountain?”
Henry, who has so much to contribute, has, I know, many possible answers to that question. Perhaps the most important one is that he can now spend more time with his children, who still continue to discover amazing things about their father.
I will have my daughter have the final say about her dad.
Before this project, I knew my dad was a great guy. I just didn’t fully appreciate how cool he was. That he is in charge of so much is mind-boggling—even if he’s busy, he always makes time to have dinner with our family, or go out and watch movies with us.
This project gave me an opportunity to know my dad better. I got to ask him questions I wouldn’t have otherwise asked, and we had conversations we probably wouldn’t have otherwise had.
From this project, I have gotten a very strong and newfound sense of next-level admiration, and awe. You know that feeling of “oh my goodness” when you suddenly realize that you haven’t been fully acknowledging the amazingness of something sitting right in front of you? That’s it.
Readers can email Maya at email@example.com. Or visit her site at http://www.mayaherrera.com.
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