Prudential CEO John Strangfeld
NJPAC’s Board Chair puts meaning behind ‘no drama, low ego, high impact.’
The irony of John Strangfeld’s statement that “I didn’t know how to learn” as a student is that he taught himself how to become a quick study.
Prudential Financial’s Chairman and CEO – and NJPAC’s Board Chair – recalled at a gathering of the Business Partners Roundtable that a self-made promise to “close the library to move the needle” on a less-than-stellar GPA helped him ascend through the class ranks at Susquehanna University, and later the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.
As his grade point edged upward, he would tutor his grad school mates and eventually conquer his own apprehensions about public speaking. As an undergraduate student, “I never raised my hand,” confessed the leader of the global financial services powerhouse, which claims $1.4 trillion in assets.
On June 22, members of NJPAC’s Business Partners – many of them leaders in the Newark community, and representing companies great and small – listened as Arts Center President and CEO John Schreiber interviewed Strangfeld about his career. The event was sponsored by PNC Bank.
The narrative covered Strangfeld’s days as a teen from Chatham, who worked for $1.70 an hour at a family-style restaurant, through his 2007 appointment to head Newark-based Prudential, just as it faced the vortex of the U.S. financial crisis. The successor to CEO Art Ryan, who is NJPAC’s Chair Emeritus, Strangfeld was challenged by the hysteria in the market, but realized there were unusual opportunities for making acquisitions and attracting talent.
“It turned out to be a very telling time and cemented relationships with Prudential’s new management team,” he remembered. “It’s a good example of what is possible. Playing offense while so many others were on defense.”
The economic stability of Japan during the market downturn gave Prudential a foothold to become the largest life insurance company in that country; today, about half of Prudential’s operating earnings and employees are outside the U.S. A principal provider of workplace retirement plans and individual retirement income solutions, Prudential began more than 140 years ago in Newark, selling insurance policies to factory workers to cover their burial expenses.
Strangfeld pointed to the company’s mantra of “no drama, low ego, high impact” as the bedrock of its diverse board, hiring practices, corporate culture and community engagement. Prudential kept its base in the city, throughout the civil unrest of the Sixties, to be “part of the solution,” he added. Strong signs of meaningful collaborations, and growing traction in community engagement and investment in the downtown, were among the factors that convinced Prudential to commit $1 billion to Newark over the past decade.
The kid who never raised his hand now extends it as a philanthropist and mentor.
Supporting diversity and inclusion is “a moral imperative as well as a commercial necessity,” emphasized Strangfeld, who assesses job candidates in part on their grasp of the importance of teamwork and their sense of place in the community. For the past three years, Prudential has held the No. 1 position in its category in Fortune magazine’s compilation of the “World’s Most Admired Companies.”
“We’re not interested in spectators at our company,” he added. “We’re interested in doers.”
July 6, 2018