Joe J. Plumeri

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Joe Plumeri
Joe J Plumeri.JPG
Personal details
Born (1943-07-07) July 7, 1943 (age 71)
Trenton, New Jersey, U.S.
Political party Republican
Alma mater College of William and Mary
New York Law School
Religion Christianity

Joseph J. "Joe" Plumeri II (born July 7, 1943, in Trenton, New Jersey) was the chairman and CEO of Willis Group Holdings (Willis), a New York Stock Exchange-listed insurance broker, until July 2013.[1] The company has 17,000 employees in 400 offices, located in 120 countries.[2][3][4] As of June 2010, Willis had the third-highest insurance brokerage revenues in the world.[5][6]

For the first 32 years of his career, Plumeri was an executive with Citigroup and its predecessors.[7] During that time he was variously President & Managing Partner of Shearson Lehman Brothers, President of Smith Barney, Vice Chairman of Travelers, Chairman & CEO of Primerica, and CEO of Citibank, North America.[7] He was appointed Chairman & CEO of Willis in 2000.[8]

Plumeri is also the co-owner of the New York Yankees' Double-A minor league team affiliate, the Trenton Thunder. The team plays in Samuel J. Plumeri, Sr., Field, named after his father. In addition, he funded the construction of Plumeri Park, the stadium of the William & Mary Tribe baseball team.[9][10] A philanthropist, he has made multi-million dollar gifts to The College of William & Mary and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.[3]

Early life[edit]

Plumeri is the son of Samuel J. Plumeri, Sr. (a Trenton city commissioner and local businessman, who died in 1998) and Josephine Plumeri (who died in 2012).[11][12] His grandparents immigrated to the United States from Villalba, Sicily.[9][11][12][13][14] He was raised in a blue-collar, ethnically mixed, middle-class neighborhood in North Trenton, New Jersey, in a working-class family.[9][12][15][16][17][17] Speaking of his father, he said: "He never quit, and he always saw the good in everything. He was a dreamer, and because of my father ... I have an affection for people who are passionate."[18]

Plumeri attended Trenton Catholic Academy and Bordentown Military Institute (1962).[3][9][15][19][20][21] He then studied at The College of William & Mary, graduating in 1966 with a B.A. in History and Education.[3][9][15][19] While an undergraduate, he played on the William & Mary Tribe football team (on scholarship as a halfback for Lou Holtz) and baseball team (as a second baseman and outfielder).[9][22][23]

Upon graduation, he first taught History for two years at Langhorne's Neshaminy High School in Bucks County, in rural Pennsylvania.[19][24] There, he also coached football and two other sports.[19][24][25]

In 1968, he was in the Army Reserve for six months at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.[25] After he was released, he enrolled in New York Law School in 1968.[3][15][19][25]

Business career[edit]

Plumeri spent 32 years as an executive with Citigroup Inc. and its predecessors, before becoming Chairman & CEO of Willis in 2000.[7]

Carter, Berlind & Weill/Shearson Lehman Brothers (1968–93)[edit]

While in law school, one afternoon in 1968 he decided to look for part-time employment, and began knocking on doors in the Wall Street area.[25][26] Entering 55 Broad Street, he looked at the lobby directory and noticed the name Carter, Berlind & Weill.[25] Assuming (incorrectly) that if a firm had three names or more than it must be a law firm, he spoke to the receptionist who forwarded him to see a member of the very small firm.[25][27] The man took the time to listen patiently to Plumeri's story.[15][19] When Plumeri finished his speech, as to how he wanted to study at law school in the mornings, but learn about the practical side of the law by working part-time in the afternoons (since his last classes ended at noon), the man said it was a great idea—but asked: "What makes you think you'll learn the law here?" Plumeri replied, "Well, this is a law firm." The man corrected an embarrassed Plumeri, saying that actually it was a small brokerage house.[19][25][26][27][28]

The man was Sandy Weill. Weill was a founding partner Carter, Berlind & Weill and at the end of his career became CEO of Citigroup, Inc. with 200,000 employees,[29] Weill hired the 24-year-old Plumeri as a part-time clerk and gofer, took the door off a closet and had him sit there, and mentored him.[27][30] The two ended up working together for many years, with Plumeri as one of Weill's top lieutenants.[15][19][25][26][31][32] Plumeri said: "Sandy has been my role model. He's the shrewdest, smartest businessman I've ever seen, and he's also the sweetest."[31]

Soon after starting to work at the brokerage firm, Plumeri dropped out of law school.[15] At Carter, Berlind & Weill, he rose through the retail ranks with a reputation as a hard-working, market-savvy manager.[15] The small brokerage ultimately became Shearson, and Weill sold it to American Express in 1981 for stock valued at $930 million ($2,412,000,000 today).[15][19][33] By 1985, Plumeri was a Senior Executive Vice President and director of national sales and marketing.[34][35]

Plumeri became the president & managing partner of Shearson Lehman Brothers in 1990.[7][15]

Smith Barney (1993–94)[edit]

In 1993, Weill bought Shearson back from American Express. He paid $1 billion ($1,633,000,000 today), and merged it into its fellow stockbroker Smith Barney.[15][36]

Weill then offered Plumeri the presidency of Smith Barney.[15] "That was the most satisfying moment of my life," recalled Plumeri. "I cried—as usual—and I remember that Sandy shed a tear, too."[15] That year Plumeri became the President of the merged company (the predecessor of Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney unit), and managed the merger.[8][37]

Plumeri only lasted a year as President, as his gung-ho style failed to impress Smith Barney executives.[15][31] In August 1994, Weill abruptly removed him. Plumeri said he was dismissed because he was uncooperative with fellow Smith Barney executives.[15] He noted: "I was so intent on getting the job done, that I eliminated the input of other people. If I'd done better at nurturing relationships, who knows how it would have turned out?"[15]

Weill made Plumeri a Vice Chairman of Travelers Group Inc. almost immediately thereafter.[7][15][31]

Primerica Financial Services (1995–99)[edit]

Plumeri was then made Chairman & CEO of Travelers Group's Primerica Financial Services division (Primerica), a position he held from 1995 to 1999.[7][8][37] He gave 10 to 20 evangelistic-styled speeches a week around the country rallying his 153,000 salespeople, urging his audiences to reply loudly and repeatedly to his exhortations.[15][31][38] He made a five-hour speech at one meeting, pausing only to change his sweat-soaked shirt.[38][38] He also hosted his own monthly TV talk show, which was beamed from Primerica headquarters to thousands of agents nationwide.[15][31]

In 1997, Plumeri earned at least $3 million ($4,410,000 today) in compensation.[15] In 1998, Primerica had net income of $398 million (on net sales of $1.65 billion), nearly double its 1994 $209 million net income (on net sales of $1.28 billion).[31] Speaking of his approach in business, Plumeri said:

I am an emotional person with a lot of drive, and that has caused some problems in my career. But I come from the view that you've got to be yourself, for better or worse. And what got me where I am today was my emotion.[15]

Citigroup (1999–2000)[edit]

Plumeri headed the integration of the consumer businesses of Travelers Group and Citicorp after the $70 billion ($99,099,081,000 today) 1999 merger of the two to form Citigroup Inc.[8][39]

Following the integration, he was appointed CEO of Citibank, North America by Citigroup co-Chairmen Weill and John Reed. He oversaw its network of 450 retail branches.[7][39][40] J. Paul Newsome, an analyst with CIBC Oppenheimer, said: "He's not the spit-and-polish executive many people expected. He's rough on the edges. But Citibank knows the bank as an institution is in trouble—it can't get away anymore with passive selling—and Plumeri has all the passion to throw a glass of cold water on the bank."[31]

It was conjectured that he might become a leading contender to run all of Citigroup when Weill and Reed stepped down, if he were to effect a big, noticeable victory at Citibank.[31] As CEO of Citibank N.A., Plumeri boosted the unit's earnings from $108 million to $415 million in one year, an increase of nearly 400%.[18][41]

He retired from Citibank unexpectedly, however, in January 2000.[27][42][43]

Willis (2000–2013)[edit]

The early years[edit]

In Paris on vacation, window-shopping with his wife on Rue Saint-Honoré, he ran into Henry Kravis whose leveraged buyout firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR), had purchased the Willis Group in 1998 for $1.4 billion.[25][30] When Kravis asked what he was doing, Plumeri's wife jokingly said: "Find him a job".[27] Kravis called him two weeks later, and suggested that Plumeri run Willis.[25][27][44]

Initially, Plumeri had no interest in the position.[27] He said: "I really didn't want the job. I didn't know anything about insurance. I certainly didn't know anything about London. And I didn't know if my act would fly in London, to be honest with you."[30] But the more he examined it the more appealing it became, and Weill advised him that he should definitely take the position.[27][29]

Plumeri assumed the post of Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at Willis on October 15, 2000. He replaced John Reeve, who retired, and became the company's first non-British CEO and first non-insurance industry CEO.[8][15][29][45]

The staid, nearly 200-year-old, tradition-laden British-based company (established in 1828) was being run like a British gentlemen's club. It had suffered through hard times, having just incurred a loss in 1999 of $104 million ($147,000,000 today).[17][18][46] Visiting Lloyd's of London (the world's biggest insurance marketplace) for the first time, rather than finding a modern sophisticated operation with high-speed technology, he saw: "men with big folders walking back and forth, and then waiting in line in a box to place insurance.... Pigeons are faster".[47] Referring to Willis's majestic London headquarters, with monolithic colonnades, sculpted marble angels, and sweeping staircases, Plumeri said: "There are statues and paintings of dead people all over the place. And what good are they?"[18]

"This is exactly the kind of leadership opportunity I've been looking for to focus the next stage of my career," Plumeri decided.[40] His five-year contract provided for an annual base salary of $1 million, guaranteed bonuses of $1 million annually, further incentive bonuses, and stock options for 5.2 million Willis shares at approximately $2.80 per share.[48] Plumeri pledged to his employees that as long as he was CEO, he would not sell a single share of his Willis stock.[29] He said: "Maybe I'd give it to charity, but selling the stock for my own benefit, I think is wrong. I'm supposed to be the chief cheerleader of the company, not only to investors but to my employees, and to exhort them to buy my stock, while I'm selling it, is wrong."[29]

He began his Willis career without much background in insurance brokering.[49] Plumeri admitted, "I don't know what I don't know, so I've asked a lot of questions," but noted that "When you are in virgin territory without any baggage, sometimes that is better because you don't have a sense of what you can't do."[49]

Changes[edit]

Plumeri did a number of things when he arrived at Willis to change the company's staid culture.[17] To encourage a common identity and unification of purpose among the company's 13,000 employees spread over 100 countries, he had everyone wear Willis lapel pins, reportedly buying more than 33,000 of them, to emphasize that the company was a team.[17][23][29] The Sunday Times reported that once when Plumeri had a breakfast meeting with two of his executives at a New York hotel, he noticed that one was not wearing his Willis lapel pin. The paper described it as "probably a sacking offence".[50] Thinking quickly, the executive responded: "I'm sorry, sir. I must have left it on my pyjamas."[50]

To encourage communication and cooperation, he ordered that all office doors remain open (or had them removed—including the door to his own office; a contrast to the prior chairman, who had his own floor and his own elevator).[23][28][29] He cut down the walls of office cubicles to half-size.[23][28][29] He himself flew about 400,000 miles (640,000 km) a year to meet with people, to help build the company.[28] He also recruited 1,000 new brokers and acquired smaller brokerage firms, especially in markets felt to be critical to long-term success.[17] The CEO of the company's global markets division, Grahame J. Millwater, said: "The sheer dynamism of the individual took us a little bit by surprise. We had a very different management style before."[29]

Plumeri believed that he had to share a vision of a common goal in order to motivate his employees to work together towards something in the future, and to feel excitement and energy.[18] He observed:

Many companies do not articulate to their employees why they are there. You’ve got to figure out what the home run is. What we are doing here is creating a company whose value grows, and that value is measured by the price of our stock. That’s the scoreboard.... Once people understand and buy into the vision, it’s amazing what one can do.... If you don’t give people a vision, they don’t enjoy the trip because they don’t know where they are going.[18]

Avoiding cutting the staff he inherited, he instead moved some to what he viewed as better-suited roles.[18]

At Willis, he has been an outspoken supporter of banning contingent commissions, and a vocal advocate of financial transparency.[17][51] He supported regulations to ban contingent commissions, launched a public awareness campaign against them, and made Willis the first company to publicly disavow the practice.[52]

Within several months of his arrival, he announced that he intended to bring the company public.[18] In June 2001, he brought the company back to public ownership in an IPO, and had it listed on the New York Stock Exchange.[27] At the time, its stock price was $13.50.[29] Within two years, by May 2, 2003, it was $31.27, an increase of 132%.[29] On February 27, 2004, it was at $38.35.[18]

For 2002, the company's net income was $210 million.[18] In 2003, it rose to $414 million.[18]

Skyline view with Tower 42,
the Willis Building, 30 St Mary Axe,
and the Broadgate Tower, London

Through February 2007, he had grown the company at an annual rate of 12% per year.[17] In 2008, Plumeri headed Willis' $2.1 billion acquisition of U.S. rival Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs Co. (HRH).[3][30] By August 2008, Willis was worth $4.5 billion.[30] In his first eight years at Willis, the company's net worth doubled, its margins rose from 7% to 32%, and its stock price rose from $3-per-share to $32-per-share.[46]

In 2008, he directed the sale of Willis's landmark London headquarters at 10 Trinity Square, and relocated in May to a modern Willis Building at 51 Lime Street, the fourth-tallest in the City of London.[53][54][55][56] Locals referred to the new headquarters as "Plumeri's Palace".[54][57] The building incorporates Plumeri's "no-doors" policy; a policy which applies to his own office.[58]

Willis Tower, Chicago

In 2009, he struck a deal that led to the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago, the tallest building in North America, being renamed the Willis Tower, as the company rented 140,000 square feet (13,000 m2) of its office space.[59][60] He and Mayor Richard Daley unveiled a sign with the new name in a ceremony in July.[61][62] Plumeri said: "You can call it anything you want... you can call it the 'Big Willie' for all I care. As a matter of fact, I wish you would."[63]

Plumeri received compensation of $8.1 million in 2007, $19.9 million in 2008, and $10.9 million in 2009 (consisting of a salary of $1 million, bonus of $1.7 million, restricted stock awards of $7.3 million, and other compensation of $.9 million).[7][64] Willis extended his contract in January 2010 until July 7, 2013.[7][65] As of March 2010, Plumeri owned 3.8 million shares of the company, representing 2.3%.[64]

By 2010, Willis had 17,000 employees in 400 offices located in 120 countries.[3][66]

Speaking of his philosophy of life, Plumeri said: "I’m from the school of anything’s possible. I’m from the group that says it doesn’t matter where you are from, but that it does matter how big you dream."[12]

Post-Willis (2013-present)[edit]

On August 19, 2013, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. LP announced Plumeri's appointment as Senior Advisor.[1]

Boards[edit]

Plumeri's concurrent board responsibilities outside of Willis have included the boards of Telex Communications (from 2000), Commerce Bancorp (from 2003), the Council on Foreign Relations, and the American Institute for Chartered Property Casualty Underwriters.[41][67][68][69] Now he serves on the boards of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Jackie Robinson Foundation, Carnegie Hall, and the Churchill Centre and Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms in London.[70]

Sports interests[edit]

Plumeri co-owns the Trenton Thunder, a Double-A minor league team affiliated with the New York Yankees (since 2003; following an eight-year affiliation with the Boston Red Sox).[10][71][72][73] The team plays at Samuel J. Plumeri, Sr. Field, the 6,341-seat stadium he named after his father in 1999.[10][19][74][75]

He is also co-owner since 2001 of another New Jersey minor league baseball team, the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Single-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.[72] It is located in Ocean County, on the Jersey Shore.[3][11][76]

He also invested £100,000 towards a minority interest in the Plymouth Argyle Football Club in the United Kingdom, giving him an indirect ownership interest in the club of less than 1%.[64] He was introduced to the team by its chairman Sir Roy Gardner, who is also on the Willis board.[77][78]

Plumeri was commissioner of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority from 1997 to 2004.[3]

Restaurant[edit]

In December 2001, he opened a family restaurant named "Plumeri" in TriBeCa with his son Jay.[25][30] In 2010 his son opened a restaurant named "Race Lane" in East Hampton, New York, at the site of what was formerly known as the Laundry and briefly as the Lodge.[79][80][81][82]

Philanthropy[edit]

"Plumeri Park" is the 1,000-seat baseball facility of the William & Mary Tribe baseball team since 1999, constructed in large part on the basis of a donation by Plumeri in the autumn of 1996.[9] He had it named in honor of his father.[22]

In 2008, he committed $2 million to establish the Plumeri Awards for Faculty Excellence at William & Mary.[83] He also funded the Joseph J. Plumeri Business Scholarship, the Joseph J. Plumeri Endowment Fund for baseball scholarships for the school, and the W&M/Plumeri Pro-Am Golf Tournament.[9]

He funded with a $2 million gift the construction of the "Samuel & Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place", the headquarters of the New Jersey Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation (named in honor of his parents).[3] It was the largest gift ever to the Foundation, nation-wide.[76]

He also contributed $1 million to the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York, for the development of the school’s new Christian Plumeri Sports Complex. It was named in honor of his deceased son.[3][84][85][86]

Plumeri is a board member of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University (since 1998), Mount Sinai Medical Center, the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, and Churchill Museum in London.[3][7][87] He is a member of William & Mary's governing Board of Visitors, Business School Advisory Board, and Sir Robert Boyle Society, as well as a lifetime member of the President’s Council and a trustee emeritus of the William & Mary Endowment Association.

Plumeri was also the commencement speaker at the College of Saint Rose in 2006, Richard Bland College of the College of William and Mary in 2008, and the College of William and Mary in 2011.[88][89]

Awards[edit]

Family[edit]

With then-wife Nancy (née Walton) Plumeri,[12][19] he raised three children: Christian J. (now deceased), Jay, and Leslie.[3][9][94] He currently lives in New York City.[19] In February 2010, it was reported that he had gone into contract to buy a 15th-floor apartment at 995 Fifth Avenue on New York's Upper East Side, which had listed for $23.5 million.[95]

Speaking of his son Christian, who died in November 2008 at age 39 from drug addiction, he said: "You deal with it, but it’s so difficult. I think about it all the time; think about it every day. You always think about what you could have done differently."[12][94]

His brother Paul Plumeri, Sr., is a blues guitarist.[96] His brother Samuel J. Plumeri Jr., is vice chairman of the New Jersey State Parole Board and chairman the Capital Health Board of Directors.[26] He also served as a Trenton police officer, Mercer County (New Jersey) sheriff, and for a decade was superintendent of Police/Director of Public Safety for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.[26] His nephew Paul Plumeri Jr., is a graduate of Columbia University and a brand strategist at Dow Jones & Company.

His mother, Josephine Plumeri, died on January 20, 2012, at the age of 97.

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