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There are few leaders of her caliber in the insurance industry. Over the past 25 years, Jackie Hunt has made a name for herself as one of the sector's eminent financial experts. It’s no surprise that she was courted by many potential employers after leaving Prudential last November. The native South African ultimately chose Allianz, where she will be responsible for asset management and the life insurance business in the United States from July.
Hunt, who studied business in Johannesburg and started her career at Deloitte & Touche, knows the financial and insurance sector like the back of her hand. She has worked in South Africa, New Zealand, the US and Europe, held the position of CFO at Aviva, Norwich Union and Standard Life, and spent two years successfully heading up Prudential's insurance business in the UK, continental Europe and Africa.
Employees and business partners alike complement her calm and reserved demeanor, which some commentators mistakenly viewed as a lack of assertiveness early in her career. They were soon forced to recant. "I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver than be known for talking big and not being able to deliver," says Hunt, whose dream was originally to become a geologist.
She is fully aware of her special position as a woman in a male-oriented domain. "I know what it feels like to be one of only, say, three women in a conference hall filled with hundreds of men", says the 47 year old. And she is also familiar with the pressure that comes with it, the expectations placed on her shoulders, the special attention that a woman on the Board of Management receives from the media. "While it's obviously an honor to be able to play this sort of pioneering role for women, it also means that you come under a lot more scrutiny. It's a big responsibility to live up to."
The opera enthusiast, who enjoys traveling with her family, earned success through a combination of skill and endurance. Those who know her testify to her "quiet steeliness" in pursuing an objective. Hunt describes herself as rational, target-oriented and level-headed. "But being rational doesn't mean that you are incapable of showing empathy", she says. As you talk to her, you very soon realize that she offers a convincing combination of both.
Hunt is familiar with the daily problems faced by working parents. "I've been through it all myself", says the mother of a 17-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter. The fact that she was able to forge a career while raising children is due not only to her abilities but to real team work with her husband and parents-in-law. But she is well aware that not all working women have the same support network. Helping these women is very close to Hunt's heart.
"But it's not just about women", she adds. "It's also about men who want to spend more time with their children. It's about people who have relatives to care for. We have to use a much broader definition of what it means to strike a balance between work and family commitments."
By appointing Jackie Hunt, who will take over responsibility for Asset Management and US Life Insurance, Allianz will welcome a proven expert into its ranks, someone who can really make a difference – and not just in asset management.
Considering Günther Thallinger is responsible for 640 billion euros – a figure twice as big as the federal budget of Germany – it's remarkable how few people have heard of the 44-year-old Austrian. That's likely to change soon: Thallinger will replace Maximilian Zimmerer as head of investment management at Allianz SE on January 1, 2017, making him the youngest member of the Board of Management.
Thallinger left McKinsey in 2009 to join Allianz.. As head of Allianz Investment Management, Styrian-born Thallinger has been in charge of investing the entirety of Allianz Group insurance funds since 2012. However, he's not fond of being described as the "top man" by the media.
"We're a team," he emphasizes, "an investment team that operates in six locations in Europe, Asia and the US. Our portfolio isn't managed by just one person."
Thallinger holds a PhD in mathematics – he wrote his thesis on non-linear equations. He has witnessed several financial crises in recent years. Add to that the current interest rate slump, and he clearly has his work cut out. Still, being appointed to the Board of Management is testament to his ability to deliver outstanding results even in the most challenging of circumstances. "It's worth noting that this is only possible because we are ten people who sit down every week to have an intense discussion about which strategy is likely to generate the most successful result," Thallinger says.
Millions of insurance customers around the globe trust that he and his colleagues will choose the right path. Thallinger, a father-of-three, is acutely aware of the responsibility that goes with this. "We don't see our investment volume of 640 billion euros as some abstract number," he says. "There are people behind this figure, people who want to provide for themselves and their families. If you keep sight of this fact, it's hard to lose your grip on reality." Since he describes himself as someone who grew up in the mountains and enjoys hiking, climbing and skiing, he clearly knows a thing or two about keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
Contrary to the stubborn mathematician cliché, he is not just well-versed in dealing with numbers. He also gets on well with people, enjoys throwing himself into discussions and places the utmost importance on teamwork. "That's the only way you can succeed in this job," he says. "No one can manage a 640-billion portfolio single-handedly." Thallinger is well-equipped to take over Investment Management and Global Life and Health from Maximilian Zimmerer in January of next year. "I'm lucky because I've been able to learn from a lot of people at Allianz," he says. "And Maximilian Zimmerer was definitely one of my best teachers."
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