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Manulife shakes up top ranks as new CEO Roy Gori readies to take reins

Manulife’s Bloor Street office in Toronto is seen in this file photo.

Glenn Lowson/The Globe and Mail

Roy Gori has yet to officially take over as chief executive officer of Manulife Financial Corp., but he's already making sweeping changes to its international executive lineup that offer insights into his strategic priorities.

The Toronto-based insurer said Tuesday that it would shake up the leadership of its major divisions such as Canada, the United States, and wealth management through internal promotions, putting in place a new team to reshape the company ahead of Mr. Gori's start date on Oct. 1. The shuffle also includes the exit of two prominent leaders and the hiring of a new head of Asian operations from outside Manulife.

Mr. Gori has stated that major change is coming to the country's largest insurer, saying the business is in need of a transformation in terms of how it invests in technology and interacts with its customers.

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"In many ways … our industry is still in the dark ages," Mr. Gori said at the Scotiabank Financials Summit in early September. "And whilst customers have evolved and have really come to engage with organizations in a radically different way over the last 10 years, our industry still engages with customers the way that they were 10, 15 years ago."

Mr. Gori said in a news release on Tuesday that the leadership shifts would accelerate change at Manulife.

The moves included the creation of a new senior leadership position to oversee Manulife's closed annuity, long-term care insurance and other less profitable businesses in North America. Naveed Irshad, a 20-year Manulife veteran who has most recently been CEO of Manulife Singapore, will be head of North America legacy business.

Analysts generally viewed this move favourably because it could mean more disclosure.

"If they're telling you that they're going to put specific accountability in place in terms of these businesses being managed – and they're going to commit to giving you greater visibility on what the trends are in this business, and more specifically, what the capital allocation or financial performance of these units are – then I think it should help the market get a better value of not only the legacy assets but the areas Manulife wants to grow going forward," said Sumit Malhotra, analyst with Scotia Capital.

Tom MacKinnon, analyst with BMO Nesbitt Burns, also said it was a positive step "as it provides greater focus on improving returns of U.S. legacy business … and potential transactions where it makes sense," he wrote in a note to clients.

Manulife Canada's current CEO, Marianne Harrison, will take a new job south of the border, becoming CEO of the company's Boston-based subsidiary John Hancock starting Oct. 1. Ms. Harrison is coming off the integration of Standard Life's Canadian operations – an acquisition she also oversaw in 2014. She has also formerly led the U.S. long-term care business, "which provides her with unique insight into the opportunities and challenges the company faces in the U.S. market," the company said in a statement.

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Switching places with Ms. Harrison is Michael Doughty. He becomes CEO of Manulife Canada after filling in as interim CEO of John Hancock since May, when Craig Bromley left the company.

To lead the Manulife Asia growth engine, in Mr. Gori's former role, is fellow Citigroup alumnus Anil Wadhwani. Mr. Wadhwani will bring a global perspective to the role, the company said, since he has lived and worked in Asia, Europe and the United States. Mr. Wadhwani spent 25 years with Citi focused largely on consumer banking in Asia, and was most recently the global head of operations for Citi's New York-based consumer bank. He will start at Manulife on Nov. 13.

Amid these changes, Kai Sotorp, head of global wealth and asset management, will leave the company to retire. So will Manulife's chief financial officer Steve Roder. Both men brought extensive experience working in Asia, which is a key market for Manulife. Both plan to stay on for three-month transition periods.

Replacing Mr. Sotorp will be Paul Lorentz, who has been with Manulife for more than 20 years and held a range of senior roles in wealth and insurance. This role is taking on greater prominence in that it will now report directly into the company's chief investment officer.

Manulife's new CFO, pending immigration approvals, will be Philip Witherington. He has served as Manulife Asia's CFO since 2014, giving him plenty of experience working with Mr. Gori, and is currently acting as interim president and CEO of Manulife Asia.

Manulife said the changes among its top lieutenants will improve the company's ability to move forward with its new strategy, accelerate its growth and heighten the company's focus on its wealth-management business.

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