Female CEO to lead Penn Mutual Insurance Co.

“To rise to the rank of CEO is quite an accomplishment. It’s something I’m very proud of and I’m very excited about.” -- Eileen McDonnell, president of Penn Mutual

I've made a big deal recently that the Philadelphia area soon will be home to three Fortune 500 companies with women as chief executive officers.

Three doesn't sound like a lot, but considering only 13 of all the Fortune 500 companies currently have a woman in the CEO role, I would almost call this region trend-setting.

After all, in the news business, three is a trend. So what does four make? A movement?

Well, we'll find out in 2011 because Penn Mutual Insurance Co. on Thursday said its president, Eileen C. McDonnell, will succeed CEO Robert E. Chappell, who will retire in February.

"To rise to the rank of CEO is quite an accomplishment," McDonnell said. "It's something I'm very proud of and I'm very excited about."

Now, Penn Mutual is not publicly held the way DuPont Co. and Sunoco Inc., which have been led by Ellen Kullman and Lynn Elsenhans since 2008, are. Nor is it as well-known as Campbell Soup Co., which last month tapped Denise Morrison to become its next CEO in July of next year.

But review each woman's career path and you'll see the similarities in experi-

ence and accomplishment that anyone aspiring to be the boss needs. "I feel honored to be sitting shoulder to shoulder with them," McDonnell said.

With a history that dates to 1847, Penn Mutual is as quiet and conservative as Philadelphia-area companies get. Choosing McDonnell as its next CEO is highly unusual for an industry that wouldn't remind anyone of a bastion of gender equity.

In an interview, McDon-

nell, 48, acknowledged the great shortcomings of her industry: discounting women as customers and straying from its bread and butter - life insurance.

"For the last decade and a half, the insurance industry got very excited by the broader investment community and lost its focus on core life insurance," she said.

In 2008, about a year after McDonnell, a native New Yorker, joined Penn Mutual, she headed the launch of a sales and marketing effort aimed at providing women with information about financial planning and helping Penn Mutual tap an underserved market.

For example, the company's Worth for Women website includes a calculator that figures out the "economic value creation" of a woman in a household by putting a "nonoccupational value" on daily tasks, such as cooking meals and doing laundry. It then determines a minimum amount of life insurance that a woman should consider buying to protect her household.

OK, maybe you just rolled your eyes at that obvious sales pitch. But ignoring 50 percent of the population has rarely made sense, and ignoring U.S. women who earn an estimated $2.4 trillion annually would be foolish.

That's why McDonnell, who lives in Doylestown and moved up the ranks of several other financial-

services companies over the last 23 years, said she believes in tailoring finan-

cial education and planning for women.

Chappell has led Penn Mutual for 16 years and would seem to be turning over the reins in fine financial shape. The company had net income of $28.7 million on total revenue of $1.41 billion in 2009. The previous year, it reported net income of $43.0 million on total revenue of $1.38 billion.

As she prepares to make her mark on this company owned by its policyholders, McDonnell made sure to differentiate Penn Mutual from the industry pack. It has other women among its executive ranks. Also, four of Penn Mutual's 11 board members are women.

"This is certainly a shining example of how succession planning is done well," she said.

Besides selling life insurance and annuities, Penn Mutual owns the Janney Montgomery Scott L.L.C. brokerage firm and Pennsylvania Trust Co. In Horsham, Penn Mutual employs about 600 people.


Contact Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews.com. See his blog at www.phillyinc.biz