Excellence Hall of Fame – Eileen McDonnell
“I want to congratulate Eileen on her induction into the Excellence Hall of Fame… I had the pleasure of interviewing Eileen for the role of Chief Marketing Officer at Penn Mutual in late 2007. During our time together it became clear to me that Eileen possessed not only the requisite experience to fill the role, but the vision and charisma to successfully execute a growth strategy. Eileen has surrounded herself with a talented team, expanded the vision for what is possible for the company, and has executed with precision despite challenging business conditions. As an entrepreneur myself who has owned and operated over 40 companies, I value the entrepreneurial spirit that Eileen brings to a 170-year-old company. She has the right balance of identifying market opportunities, employing financial rigor, pragmatism and the courage to lead with her gut.”
Joan Carter President, UM Holdings
“What really makes Eileen unique is her ability to manage a diverse group of employees and independent contractors. She has the uncanny skill to take the fear away from those who work for and with her. Allowing them to perform beyond what they ever thought they were capable. Congratulations Eileen for helping blaze the trail for other women in business and on this well-deserved honor of being inducted into the Excellence Hall of Fame.”
Joe Jordan Author of “Living a Life of Significance”
Eileen attended Molloy College (Rockville Centre, New York) on a scholarship to study nursing. While there, she developed an interest in computers and so relinquised her scholarship to switch majors and study mathematics and computer science – funding her studies by working in the public library and as a babysitter.
After graduation in 1984, Eileen was offered a job at IBM but opted to work with Wang Laboratories as she felt the smaller company offered more opportunity for growth. At Wang she developed an interest in finance and embarked on her MBA in Finance and Investment at Adelphi University (Garden City, New York). Subsequently, when Wang began experiencing difficulties, Eileen joined the finance department of Equitable Life Insurance (now AXA). There, she completed her MBA and was appointed as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for the Northeast region at the age of 27, the youngest person at Equitable to achieve the title of Vice President.
After nine years with Equitable, Eileen joined The Guardian Life Insurance Company as Vice President of Group Marketing. A few years later she was promoted, making her the first woman in the company’s 150-year history to become a Senior Vice President. In 2002, Crain’s New York Business named her as one of New York’s 40 Under 40 Rising Stars.
Eileen was with Guardian for eight years before joining MetLife in 2003 where, later that year, she was appointed President of its subsidiary, New England Financial, to lead the company through an SEC investigation into accounting irregularities.
In 2005, Eileen left the corporate world to adopt her daughter, Claire, from Russia. While Claire was very young, Eileen founded ExecMPower, a strategic planning and executive coaching consultancy, and used her wide business network to help build the company. Soon after, she fulfilled her dream of teaching college and joined the Master’s Degree faculty of The American College of Financial Services (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania), where she was appointed the first Chair of Women in Financial Services and authored a book, “Marketing Financial Services to Women.”
By her mid-40s, Eileen had achieved great success in the corporate world, as a small business owner, and in academia. She hadn’t planned to return to corporate life but, in late 2007, she was approached about an opportunity at Penn Mutual and liked what she discovered. She joined Penn Mutual in 2008 as Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, and Chairman of its broker-dealer subsidiary Hornor, Townsend & Kent. Within months of joining Penn Mutual, Eileen was presented with a daunting challenge when the global financial crisis hit. As Chief Marketing Officer she was determined that the company was “not going to participate in the recession” and set out to ensure it. By setting this tone and by giving associates something to rally around that was positive — Penn Mutual focused on what it could control rather than what it couldn’t — and the company was successful in delivering on Eileen’s vision.
In 2010, Eileen was appointed President of Penn Mutual, the first women ever appointed to this position, and the following year she became its CEO when her predecessor retired. She has also served as its Chairman of the Board since 2013 and is a member of the Board of Managers of Penn Mutual’s wholly owned subsidiary, Janney Montgomery Scott LLC. Under her leadership, Penn Mutual has experienced an exceptional period of growth and since 2010, during a flat period for the industry, “whole life sales” have nearly tripled. The company has increased or maintained its dividend for eight consecutive years, a feat none of its competitors can claim, and it has achieved record GAAP earnings for six straight years while paying out more than $700 million in benefits to policyholders and beneficiaries last year. This growth earned Penn Mutual its entry into the Fortune 1000.
Eileen was instrumental in the launching Penn Mutual’s sponsorship of college rugby in the United States through The Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship and The Penn Mutual Varsity Cup. This forward-thinking sponsorship is building significant brand awareness for Penn Mutual among the next generation of advisors and customers. Eileen was also the driving force behind the establishment of The Penn Mutual Center for Veterans Affairs at The American College, making the field of financial services an option for veterans and their spouses.
In 2011, Molloy College presented Eileen with an honorary doctorate (LLD). Later that year she was named by Irish America magazine as one of its “Wall Street 50”. In 2014, she was honored by the magazine as one of its “Business 100.”
In 2015, the American College of Financial Services awarded Eileen its highest honor, the Huebner Gold Medal (named after the College’s founder), in recognition of her leadership and accomplishments within the financial services industry and her contribution to the College. In 2016, Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business named her its “2016 Business Leader of the Year”. Also in 2016, the Chinese American Insurance Association honored Eileen as its “Executive of the Year,” recognizing her career-long commitment to advancing diversity in the industry, and the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations presented her with its “Ellis Island Medal of Honor” in recognition of her accomplishments and her service to the nation.
Eileen has served as a non-executive director on the board of Universal Health Services (NYSE: UHS, a Fortune 500 healthcare and hospital management company) and as a member of its audit committee since 2013. She has also served on the Board of Directors of the American Council of Life Insurers (2012 -2015), the Board of LL Global LLC, Inc. – formerly known as the LIMRA “Life Insurance Marketing and Research – (2009 – 2013), and on the Board of the Insurance Marketplace Standards Association (2003 – 2005) before it was superseded by the Compliance & Ethics Forum for Life Insurers.
She is also currently an advisor to Drexel University’s Corporate Governance Center and “Vision 2020” initiative which aims to see women achieve economic and social equality in the US by 2020.
In addition to her many industry and civic duties, Eileen is deeply committed to education and to the advancement of women’s education and health. To that end, she personally endowed a scholarship in her late father’s name and an annual conference in early childhood education in her mother’s name at Molloy College. She also endowed a scholarship at the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business at Adelphi University for a woman seeking a Master’s degree while working full time, as Eileen did. In addition, Eileen has funded community education at Abington Hospital for women and their risks for cardiovascular disease. She is a member of the Red Circle of The American Heart Association and actively speaks to women’s groups about the link between heart disease and financial stress.
Eileen calls home a three-generational household, with her mother and her daughter, Claire. Her interests include traveling and spending time with her friends and family.
In recognition of her pursuit of excellence, her many achievements, and her contribution not only to the organizations in which she has worked but also to society at large by demonstrating women can succeed even in traditionally male dominated industries, Eileen was nominated for inclusion in the Institute’s Excellence Hall of Fame by its Inaugural Member, Jon Prusmack, and was elected unopposed by its Fellows in November 2016. She was inducted to the Excellence Hall of Fame on February 15, 2017, at a ceremony held in the Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin, Ireland.