Women of Influence: Marianne Harrisonpar Donna Glasgow | August 18 2014 09:00AM
Thriving on challenge
In the spring of 2008, Marianne Harrison moved to the United States from Toronto to serve as president and general manager for Long-Term Care Insurance for John Hancock Financial, the U.S. division of Manulife Financial Corporation. Before the year was out, the stock market crisis hit, interest rates started to plummet and she was on the front lines of a crisis requiring a shift in strategy and direction for the product line. She relished the challenge.
“It was probably one of the most interesting times of my career where you get strong with a lot of roadblocks and obstacles and having to deal with that. We had to do a significant premium rate increase, on average it was a 40%, in some cases a 100% premium increase, quite significant for our customer base.” All this in a highly politically charged environment requiring the company to go to each state to get approval for increasing prices of a product that is extremely important to Americans. “Within six months of my starting, I actually had to testify at a Senate hearing. And, no, they’re not fun. It’s like what you see on TV. It is not a pleasurable experience by any means!”
Harrison thrived in the position. “It was great for me...It went very well.” At the end of her five-year tenure in that role, John Hancock was a leading carrier of individual long-term care coverage with one of the largest in-force blocks of employer-sponsored group long-term care insurance in the U.S.
At the end of 2012, Harrison took on a new challenge and her current role – that of senior executive vice president and general manager of Manulife Financial’s Canadian Division, and president and CEO of Manulife Canada. She also sits on the company’s executive committee.
Early in her career, Harrison had no game plan to scale to the top of the Canadian insurance industry. After graduating with a B.A. in English, she became a Chartered Accountant. Harrison then spent 12 years in public accounting at Price Waterhouse, now PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
“I really enjoyed public accounting and thought I’d stay there forever…but things change and I ended up moving to one of my clients which was Canada Trust at the time.” When that company merged with TD Bank, she moved from London, Ontario to Toronto and eventually became CFO of the wealth management division. In 2003, she joined Manulife where she held the position of executive vice president and controller until she took on the leadership of John Hancock’s long-term care business line.
Harrison says people sometimes try to map out their future career path in too much detail. “I guess I was at fault of that too. When I started in public accounting I enjoyed what I was doing…I kept saying, ‘I want to be a partner.’ I knew that’s what I wanted to be…” She changed her course and has absolutely no regrets. “I did not become a partner at a public accounting firm, but I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences and I think my career has been great, so I always say to people ‘Don’t try to plan out everything so precisely.’”