A Career Turning Point

The turning point in my career occurred when Jules Pallone, CEO of Maccabees Mutual Life Insurance Company in Southfield, Michigan, demonstrated the faith and confidence to promote me—a financial executive—into a role in which I would run sales, marketing, and product development functions. At the same time he expressed concerns that the role might be beyond my capabilities. That was just the incentive I needed to prove him wrong. What I didn’t realize was that God was behind those words and the impact they would have on me, both then and throughout my career.

A Career Turning Point (Part 1 of 3)

In the workplace, people often “campaign” for promotions for all the wrong reasons. Instead of pursuing skills and experiences that will ultimately provide fulfillment and enable them to follow their passions, they more often seek impressive titles and increased compensation. They’re even willing to accept an assignment for which they are unqualified just to get the better title or higher salary. I suppose that’s human nature.

I’ve never campaigned for any position or promotion but have simply done my best and relied on God to find for me the next logical career move that would ultimately allow me to impact the most lives and do the most good for the company and its customers. As part of that, I also consistently prayed for a high-level platform from which to demonstrate and communicate my faith. As a result, I am convinced that my career took a path that was foreordained by God.

My eleven years at Maccabees Mutual Life Insurance Company was followed by a remarkably similar career path at a much larger company, the New York Life Insurance Company, where I worked until my retirement in 2007. In both companies I started in a financial role for a single product line and new responsibilities were added to my existing list of duties almost annually. I advanced to oversee the financial work for several product lines, then added product design and development for multiple product lines, then moved on to additionally manage the sales and marketing functions for the same product lines, and finally picked up responsibility for all service and administration. In both companies, I ultimately ended up overseeing all operational functions for multiple business units. Eventually I became a top executive.

The experience I gained in a mid-size company like Maccabees was perfect on-the-job training for my next opportunity—this time at New York Life Insurance Company, a Fortune 100 company.

As I consider my parallel career paths and the matching of my skills with the responsibilities ultimately assigned to me, it is clear to me that God had a hand in my career and was positioning me for even greater things in retirement. But little did I realize that God tailored my specific responsibilities to make that happen.

A Career Turning Point (part 2 of 3)

When Maccabees CEO Jules Pallone promoted me into the sales, marketing, and product development role for multiple product lines, I was faced with significant added responsibilities. But I knew that if I continued to hire good people and delegate effectively, I could manage through successively increasing responsibilities. I leveraged my skills by hiring and maintaining a team of superstar subordinates and by trusting them to effectively manage their functions.

I have always tried to give genius an environment in which it can flourish. I knew the people working for me were smarter and more talented than I was, especially in their chosen areas of expertise. I made sure my subordinates knew that I was aware of their knowledge and talent and I always recognized and rewarded them for it. No senior-level executive can possibly master every aspect of a business better than those who specialize. Many top executives fail because they refuse to relinquish some of their control and decision-making to talented subordinates and instead insist on micro-managing all functional areas reporting to them.

When Jules Pallone promoted, me he knew my management style and philosophy well. He had been my mentor for many years and taught me much of what I know about executive management and leadership. I’m convinced God placed me under the tutelage of Jules because I otherwise lacked the experience, management savvy, and confidence to succeed. At that early stage in my career I needed someone who would not only give solid management and leadership advice, but would also encourage me and recognize my successes. Jules provided the necessary support and encouragement on almost a daily basis.

When Jules met with me to tell me of my promotion, I’m sure he was confident I would succeed. However, he also indicated some concerns and reservations—and those very concerns provided me with the impetus to succeed in a remarkable way. As we talked that day, I never suspected that he was actually serving as God’s mouthpiece and delivering an important message to me.

A Career Turning Point (Part 3 of 3)

As we talked, Jules pointed out that I was still young and inexperienced and being rapidly promoted to a very high level. He had thought long and hard about promoting me for that very reason, and he knew he would get some backlash from many of the older executives at the company who considered themselves candidates for the job. The most obvious objection others would likely voice was the fact that I was an actuary and a financial executive who would find it difficult to effectively manage the sales and marketing functions.

In a moment of tough love from Jules, he indicated that I would have to work very hard to build the appropriate rapport and earn the respect of the sales and marketing officers and employees. Otherwise he feared I would fail. Jules was a very thoughtful, considerate, and compassionate man, and I know those words didn’t come easily. They hit me very hard; fear of failure can be a great motivator. But those words were just the motivation I needed to invest whatever time and energy it took to make it work. I’m convinced that God needed to challenge me—so He gave me a bit of a scare as motivation.

That admonition from Jules worked. My future impact, both at Maccabees and ultimately at New York Life, was greatly enhanced by his mentorship and his coaching during those important developmental years for me. Most important, God knew exactly what I needed during those formative executive training years—and He delivered the message through the voice of my boss, mentor, and friend, Jules Pallone.