In the Nation's Interest
2018 Leadership in the Nation’s Interest Spotlight: Thomas McInerney
Thomas McInerney is the President and CEO of Genworth Financial, Inc. He is the recipient of this year's Leadership in the Nation's Interest Award. You can view his bio here.
Is there a particular public policy that you believe business leaders are especially well-positioned to make a difference in?
The fiscal outlook for our nation is rather troubling. The federal deficit soon will exceed $1 trillion, with cumulative annual budget deficits projected to surpass $8 trillion in 10 years; the national debt of $21 trillion, and over $110 trillion of unfunded future liabilities from Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the future health obligations of the Veteran’s Administration. Given our rapidly aging population, the government will be forced to consider dramatic changes and/or seek additional revenues through higher taxes to honor its commitments to American citizens in connection with these social programs. Each day, 10,000 people reach age 65 in our country, and the numbers of Americans age 85 and older will triple in the next 30 years, placing enormous burdens on society to finance the healthcare costs and retirement benefits of millions of aging middle-class Americans.
The private sector and public policy makers must work together to find innovative solutions to these enormous challenges. Genworth is focused on helping Americans plan for the enormous cost of long term care services and working with federal and state governments to improve retirement security. In partnership with government and other business leaders, we believe we can make significant strides toward a more promising fiscal outlook for the country while enabling seniors to live their very best lives.
What has been the best career advice that you’ve received?
In one of my previous roles, I was approached with an unusual offer. Two of the company’s most senior executives called me in one afternoon and explained that they wanted to round out my experiences and help me become a more successful leader…by offering me a demotion. They described a role, junior to the one I held at that time, that would permit me to interact frequently with the company’s senior management and its Board of Directors. I swallowed hard but fully embraced the opportunity. It occurred to me that a short-term step backward had the potential to enable a giant leap forward. Ultimately, I learned an invaluable lesson - the path to career growth is not always a straight one.
What advice do you have for those who aspire to careers in leadership, or have just started to serve in a leadership capacity?
Leadership is rarely about the leader, it’s all about the team.
Build the strongest, most diverse team possible with the understanding that you do not need to have or even identify all the answers yourself. Seek and embrace talent with different experiences and perspectives – colleagues who are not afraid to challenge your thinking. Together, you will reach the best decisions and avoid the big mistakes.
James T. “Jim” Lynn, who was Chairman and CEO of Aetna and previously served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Ford Administration, was one of my mentors.
Known for his intellect and affable nature, I most admired Jim’s tenacity and his quest for continuous improvement. When things were going well, he would challenge his colleagues to think about what potentially could go wrong to prevent reasonably foreseeable issues from derailing progress. Moreover, this thinking has enabled me to look beyond the obvious to see what’s possible.
Which aspects of business leadership attracted you to aspire to become a CEO?
Quite honestly, I did not initially aspire to become a CEO. Early in my career, I was very fortunate to work closely with and observe several different CEOs. While none was without flaw, they all shared common attributes that made them particularly effective leaders - a strong work ethic, unwavering integrity, a sense of empathy, and a genuine desire to make a difference.
Upon realizing that they simply were regular people, just like all the rest of us, the role of CEO seemed much more attainable to me. Those common attributes still serve as my guiding principles and undoubtedly propelled me to the CEO ranks.
Which aspect of your company’s culture has made the biggest contribution to its success?
My colleagues at Genworth have demonstrated tremendous resilience in responding to a myriad of business challenges that have impacted both our industry and our business. They have sought to identify and implement innovative solutions to improve both short and long term prospects for our business. I am extremely proud of the work that our team has done on behalf of Genworth’s policyholders and its shareholders.