Empowering workers to invest in themselves

MassMutual President and CEO Roger Crandall addresses 130 audience members at Northeastern’s CEO Breakfast Forum on Tuesday.

Roger Crandall, chairman, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, began his address at Northeastern University’s CEO Breakfast Forum on Tuesday with the story of a friend whose portfolio was crippled in 1999 when the dot-com bubble burst and again in 2008 with the financial crisis. “I can’t afford to get crushed again,” Crandall recalled the 63-year-old saying.

“That’s a key thing we as business leaders need to think about: what can we do to help not just our clients but our employees solve problems,” Crandall told 130 attendees and others watching live online through Northeastern’s Facebook page.

Northeastern’s CEO Breakfast Forums recognize leading CEOs who are invited to speak to an audience of other chief executive officers and senior executives from the Greater Boston area.

In introductory remarks, President Joseph E. Aoun noted how both universities and companies like MassMutual must take a long-term view to ensure success. Crandall followed on that theme throughout his keynote address. The key, he said, is for employers to empower their employees by providing them with the tools to make good decisions about managing their financial futures. By investing in people and striving to provide solutions rather than products, Crandall said, people can then invest in themselves.

Crandall said this is important now more than ever, as the federal budget deficit continues to grow, the aging population increases and people cannot depend as much on the safety net of programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Crandall pointed to results of surveys MassMutual has conducted with American families in recent years that found nearly 40 percent of people say they aren’t prepared for the future. While individual ownership of life insurance is at a 50-year low, the surveys found that roughly 75 percent of those polled say they should probably have it. “The bar for providing solutions is higher than ever,” he said.

At the end of the program, Crandall fielded questions from audience members as well as through social media. One Facebook user asked about advice for students to successfully rise through the ranks at their future employers. Crandall said along with hard work, young employees should not only aim to become experts in specific areas — “You want to be the go-to person,” he said — but also learn how to motivate experts to come together to achieve common goals.

As he put it, “That’s leadership.”

Watch the full version of the CEO Breakfast Forum below: