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Mary Jane Fortin

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Mary Jane Fortin

President and CEO
American General Life Cos.
Houston
Age: 46

In 2009, Mary Jane Fortin took on the highest leadership of American General Life Cos. during a turbulent time as its parent corporation, American International Group Inc., experienced setbacks and a highly publicized intervention by the federal government. After taking over, Ms. Fortin faced concerns from employees and used that to develop a strong vision to rebuild confidence and strength by leading focus groups at every American General site across the country. Ms. Fortin also led efforts in fixing and strengthening relationships with producers by participating in conferences and webcasts, visiting distribution partners and assuring them of American General's strength and stability with hard facts, and making sure agents realized how much she personally appreciated each partnership.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN ENTERING THIS FIELD?

I would encourage women who are embarking on their careers to always remember that their life's journey—both personal and professional—is just that: a journey. I would advise women to learn from their mistakes and setbacks; don't get paralyzed by what should or could have been. Learn from these experiences, but then put them in your past and keep moving forward.

WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING THING YOU'VE LEARNED IN YOUR CAREER?

I've learned that as you travel life's journey, you will encounter many twists and turns along the way. I look back on some of the disappointments and doors that were closed in my life and career, and I can honestly say that despite how challenging and difficult some of the events were, they made me stronger and better able to navigate the storms that life and work can bring. Indeed, it is because of these challenges that I've gained the strength and courage to take on anything the future might hold. In some ways this learning has been quite liberating, a real “aha moment” for me.

DID YOU HAVE A MENTOR EARLY IN YOUR CAREER?

I've been blessed to work for some amazing leaders. One in particular who has definitely impacted my journey is David Foy, who currently serves as CFO for White Mountains Insurance Group. David and I go back over 15 years to when I first joined Hartford Life working directly for him. He is a leader who takes incredible pride in the development and success of his team. He taught me a great deal, including the fact that success is truly about the team and not the leader. David put real time and effort into helping his people grow and flourish. In fact, he encouraged me to pursue my MBA from the Wharton School and also recommended me to take on a new assignment outside of the finance organization at Harford Life, which was running The Hartford (Financial Services Group Inc.)'s mutual fund business. I was chief accounting officer at the time, and David recognized that I would benefit greatly by spending time inside the business and getting closer to distribution, product development/management and marketing—that this experience would help me grow into a stronger executive. I remember thinking, “Is he trying to get rid of me?” But I realized that David was putting my career development needs ahead of his needs as CFO of Hartford Life. That's another key lesson—as leaders we need to be selfless and willing to give up our best people to new roles and assignments, so that they can develop and grow.

WHAT IS YOUR DREAM JOB, OUTSIDE OF YOUR CURRENT ROLE?

It's hard to say, because in all honesty I feel like that I'm living my dream job every day. But if I could no longer lead American General, I would likely be working with a nonprofit organization whose mission is focused on helping underprivileged children. I'm passionate about helping children and supporting them in a way that allows them to reach their full potential. Every child deserves that opportunity.

OUTSIDE OF FAMILY AND COLLEAGUES, WHOM DO YOU ADMIRE MOST?

One individual for whom I have an incredible amount of respect and admiration is Bob Benmosche, AIG's president and CEO. Bob is someone who continues to be a source of admiration and inspiration for me. He took on one of the most challenging and daunting business assignments in U.S. history. He has led an incredible turnaround at AIG with amazing courage, conviction and intensity, sprinkled with a great sense of humor—all traits that I admire very much in a leader. It has been an absolute privilege to work with Bob, and he will forever have an impact on how I think about leadership and driving business performance.

WHAT'S YOUR CAN'T-MISS TV SHOW?

Well, I can't miss CNBC because it's always on in my office. I really don't find that I have the time to watch much television at home. I often say that we “work hard and play hard,” so when I'm not at work, I'm usually busy with my active family, enjoying our time together.

BEYOND WORK, WHAT ONE THING DO YOU WANT TO DO OR ACCOMPLISH IN LIFE?

To be the best mother possible to my daughter, Sabrina.

DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA? IF NOT, WHY NOT?

My main use of social media is with American General's employees. I post regularly to our Senior Leadership Team blog, which allows employees to also post comments and ideas. I'm gratified by the ability to have conversations with employees in real time despite the fact that our 4,200 dedicated and talented employees are spread out across the U.S. and in the Philippines. I'm always interested in ways that we can engage in a productive and entertaining dialogue, coming up with new ideas to help improve our business, our workplace and our communities.