Never stop learning. Be prepared. Lead by example. Empower people. These are the leadership principles that Darryl Button, President and CEO of Pacific Life, embodies. The 15th CEO in the company’s 155-year history, Button finds inspiration in the employees at Pacific Life that he leads. He sees their commitment and passion, and he is excited to see how empowering such a strong workforce of talent will lead to innovation that sets up the company for another 150 years of trusted service to its customers.
Read on to learn more about Button’s leadership principles as well as some of the partnerships and priorities that are critical to Pacific Life and the health of our industry.
What are the leadership values that are central to who you are and how you lead? Why are these values so important to you?
I believe in leading by example, but it’s more than that. Having a clear vision of what we need to do as an organization, including crisp communication, clarity, and empowerment of employees to let them step up and solve problems and do what they need to do, is integral. I made a commitment on April 1 of 2022 to lead with integrity, embrace change and live the Pacific Life core values, which include among others, accountability, customer focus, integrity, innovation, and community.
The best career advice I’ve received is “work hard, play hard.” Working hard has always been in my DNA in terms of being very focused and disciplined to drive myself, the company, and my team. But you also need to be able to step back, reflect, and feel good about what you’ve done. It’s important to take time to process and come back to work energized and then crank it up to a new level and go again. In terms of playing hard, living in Newport Beach, I’ve taken up surfing and have enjoyed both the challenge and the freedom of being out on the water.
What makes you unique as a leader?
I have learned in my career that listening is twice as important as talking (two ears, one mouth!) and consider myself a lifelong student, driven by curiosity. That preparation is critical to execute successfully.
I’ve seen the advantages of being a curious person by nature play out across my career. For example, it’s led me to explore the industry from a variety of vantage points. I spent time working as an actuary before moving into financial leadership roles. There, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside many different teams at Pacific Life, including corporate finance, internal audit, enterprise risk management, corporate develop, and the investment organization. These experiences afforded me the opportunity to deeply understand the needs of the customer and market drivers that impact our industry. Additionally, my time living in Europe helped me appreciate different cultures, markets, and regulatory environments, including in a public company environment, which makes me appreciate our mutual structure that much more.
When you started as CEO in April 2022, you said your priority across your first 100 days would be to listen. What did you learn from that listening tour and did anything surprise you?
I learned so much about Pacific Life’s culture. Our employees are our life blood, and their commitment is what’s made us a strong enterprise for decades. I’m excited about the long-term impact this generation of employees will make on this company over the coming years. It’s exciting to think about.
I also heard that we could lean in more on learning, speed and agility, and decision making at the right level, which I would translate into empowerment and accountability. These are the skills that will be required to ensure we’re adaptive to a changing environment. We have to be able to adapt to the changing trends in front of us to make sure we’re as successful and as relevant in the future as we have been for more than 150 years.
We hear a lot about the modernization of the industry. What does that mean to Pacific Life and how are you ensuring the company differentiates itself given the changing needs of customers and stakeholders?
We’ve committed to some significant investments that are helping us innovate, create, ideate, and change the status quo. We have a chance to reinvent ourselves for the next decade to make Pacific Life as successful as it can be.
Technology is having a profound, fundamental impact on the industry and plays a major role in our overall strategy. We’ve made some structural changes, including the addition of a new chief information and digital officer position on Pacific Life’s core leadership team. This role will be led by Mary Beth Eckert who comes to us with extensive insurance experience and a proven track record in leading technology transformations.
Technology as an enabler is one of our core tenets and involves changing the customer experience that we offer and the way we’re underwriting our business. We’re also focused on enabling our employee base to dig deeper into analytics and will be driven by statistics, data, and analysis. It’s fundamental in every corner of our business, from acquiring customers to pricing product to servicing them on the back end.
Pacific Life sees the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). One of the ways you’re acting on that priority is through participation with the Association for Wholesaling Diversity (AWD) and Coalition for Equity in Wholesaling (CEW). What are the desired outcomes that these partnerships support?
Pacific Life believes a broader range of mindsets and backgrounds leads to better thinking and innovation along with an improved ability to truly connect with our customers. That’s our goal, and the wholesaler profession is a critical component of the financial services ecosystem. While many companies have increased focus on diversity within their employee ranks, there is a representation gap in the wholesaler profession that requires specific focus.
Sponsoring AWD is important to Pacific Life because we employ a large wholesaling team, and AWD is dedicated to the ongoing success, support, and development of Black financial services wholesaling professionals and partners with firms that recognize the need to improve DEI within their organizations. AWD, which values and supports diversity in all respects, helps us connect with diversified and highly skilled wholesalers.
In addition, CEW offers a great opportunity to join efforts with other industry organizations to focus on attracting, developing, and retaining diverse candidates in our distribution organization.
Through both of these partnerships, we’re able to tap into a diverse group of skilled candidates and also support our current Black wholesalers. DEI continues to be a primary focus for Pacific Life. These partnerships help us move toward that goal of employing a wholesaling workforce with broad mindsets and backgrounds to improve our ability to connect with our customers.
The end of 2022 saw passage of Secure 2.0, the second piece of overarching retirement legislation in the last four years. What issues do you hope to see Congress take up in the future that will benefit Americans as they save for retirement?
The enactment of Secure 2.0 into law demonstrated a profound collective effort across the industry, including ACLI’s Protecting Every Future initiative, which included more than 32,000 participants from within the financial protection sector as well as grass roots campaigns, including several hundred letters sent by Pacific Life colleagues to their Congressional delegates.
While these landmark bills have provided tax incentives for saving for retirement, afforded some legal certainty to the industry as they help people navigate retirement planning, and provided a greater array of retirement options, more needs to be done to enhance retirement security. Guaranteed lifetime income is an area where we hope Congress will continue to do more and continue to provide more optionality for consumers who increasingly want and need the security of guaranteed income. We do think there should be a SECURE 3.0, or perhaps legislation by another name, that facilitates greater adoption of annuities as a retirement option.
IRI has been a tremendous leader in this space, and I want to underscore the critical role the team has played in building the intellectual capital around these ideas and also advocating for those ideas to Congress.