There have been no shortage of finance sob stories in recent months, but MetLife Inc., the country's biggest life insurer, isn't one of them.
The firm weathered the storm without any help from Uncle Sam, a sign of strength not lost on potential clients and potential employees. In fact, it closed a $2.3 billion stock offering in the dark days of October and ended the year with almost 57,000 employees, 16% more than it had a year earlier.
FINS spoke recently with Roger Taylor, days before he stepped down as MetLife's vice president of strategic staffing. Taylor detailed a big appetite to expand abroad, why MetLife gets too many resumes to count and why "blimp pilot" is probably the hardest job to land in the finance industry.
Can you detail the firm's overall growth strategy?
On the business side, there are a couple of things we're focusing on. You may have seen recently the news of a merger between our individual policy business and our institutional business. We've merged that because we're watching a trend that we're seeing develop in the market where employers are increasingly changing their benefit approach to have individuals have more responsibility for their choice and their coverage. Basically, it's a one-stop shopping kind of approach.
On our side, of course, that's a growth initiative, because it allows us to cross-sell. We can also speak to people about our life insurance policies.
There's also a new business initiative that we launched a year ago with the purchase of First Horizon, which deals in mortgage banking. There's really two lines of business there, the first is the forward mortgage business and the second is the reverse mortgage sphere. That's a large new business that is getting very fast and strong growth in the company. We've leapt into the top-10 in the mortgage banking business.
And of course we're always looking at our international side to see where there is a chance to leverage within a country.
In those sectors, what types of people are you looking for specifically?
In the bank business, we have a lot of what's called relationship managers. We're basically ongoing hiring there across the country. It's basically an experienced individual who can work with external customers either in refinancing a mortgage or opening a new account with us for a new mortgage.
We're always looking for people with strong interpersonal skills and sales skills.
And of course, we have a lot of what we call administrative support positions. Typically, that does run the gamut around the country.
Has the company been shrinking in any lines of business?
In 2008, we were starting a large strategic initiative, so we did eliminate a number of positions.
It was probably less than 1% of our entire workforce.
We are also changing some of our geographic locations in order to disperse the company more. And certainly we're seeing much more overseas growth.
How do you find talent?
We have a very strong employee-referral program and a good percentage of our hires come through that. We also have an internal executive-recruiting group and a recruiting-research group.
We do a lot of outreach to what we call passive candidates, people who are in the workplace already.
MetLife also gets a lot of best-of awards from organizations that rank the best places to work for: Working Mother, Fortune, BusinessWeek. We have a very high applicant pool that comes in because we're on those lists and also because of the company name. It's a very strong, well thought-of company.
Partly it's the economy and partly I think because of our brand, but when we put a job up on our Web site, we typically have that job up there for no more than 24 to 48 hours. We take it down after we have several hundred applicants and sometimes that takes less than a day.
What, specifically, does your recruiting research team do?
It involves going online and looking to see what people are out there either by an industry segment or a skill-set that might match what we're looking for. They also look over professional databases of names that we have memberships in.
Does MetLife use outside recruiters?
We use some, but to a minimal level. Usually it's for a very specific skill-set or a high-level position that's going to have a lot of influence in the company.
I've been at the company 10 years and my general perception would be that people like the company. There's also some pride in the fact that the company did weather the crisis well. I think we were the only large insurance company that did not take government money.
Do you get a lot of unsolicited resumes?
We don't even count any more. It's huge.
It's one of the benefits of having systems. It's not unusual for us to get several hundred to several thousand resumes for any one particular job that we post on the Web site. And it has increased over the years.
[Applicants] want stability and they want security and MetLife can offer that. One of our strengths is the MetLife name. When we contact people, they want to talk to us. They don't say 'Oh, it's a recruiter' and hang up.
Are there any positions that are demanding a premium, like risk managers, for instance?
I would say not for any existing positions. We do have a very competitive base salary positioning, but we also have a very strong performance incentive in the bonus.
In terms of hiring, I think we're being a little more creative in how we're handling that. I don't think we're offering anything out of the usual, because basically we haven't had to.
We have a very good, strong flow of individuals that want to come here.
There has been talk of MetLife buying one of AIG's foreign units, can you give any details on that?
No, I can't comment on that. We are certainly looking at international opportunities to expand and we have a very strong financial war-chest for that. We're looking at anywhere where it makes sense to expand our service platform -- certainly Asia is one area.
Has MetLife been swiping talent from other big firms?
I'd say yes and no.
Yes we are, but it hasn't been as easy as people think it is. It's a little more difficult to attract them because people are a little bit more wary or leery of making a change right now. People have a little more hesitation of leaving something that they know, even though they may not be in the best financial shape.
You have to talk to them a little bit more in terms of explaining the stability and the company's strength.
Are you in the market for any blimp pilots?
We only have two or three and they tend to be retired professional pilots, so now it's a coveted position.
There are a lot of people who query on that.
It's funny. People really like seeing them; they like seeing that Snoopy on the blimp.
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