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Gail Cook-Bennett Chair of Manulife Financial Corp.Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Gail Cook-Bennett will be leaving her post as chairwoman of Manulife Financial Corp. in May, the company said today.

Ms. Cook-Bennett, 71, is one of the few women to hold the chair position of a large North American financial institution, and has been a director on the company's board since 1978. She served as chair of Canada Pension Plan Investment Board for a decade until 2008 before moving to Manulife at the start of the global financial crisis.

Her successor will be Richard DeWolfe, who has been on the board since 2004 and will serve for the next six months as vice-chairman. After this transition period, he will be appointed chair at the company's annual meeting. According to the company's proxy circular, his mandatory retirement year falls in 2016.

This is the second major leadership announcement for the insurer this week. Marianne Harrison will be moving up to to general manager of Manulife's Canadian division and senior executive vice-president in January.

She has been at the company since 2003 and also came into a new role as the recession hit in 2008 when she took over as president of John Hancock Financial's long-term care insurance business in the U.S.