CEO Profile: Andrew Arnott of John Hancock Investments

This post was written by Taylor Mikell ’18

Late in 2017, I interviewed Andrew Arnott, CEO of John Hancock Investments. I am fortunate to be acquainted with Mr. Arnott through the school where I worked for the past eight years, and as the leader of a large, high profile organization, I was curious to hear his perspectives on the concepts of leadership and teamwork that we’ve discussed in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

Mr. Arnott describes his background as somewhat atypical among public company CEOs in that he had lots of operations experience, but relatively little formal leadership training, when he started as CEO. His style is therefore largely self-taught, but I was not surprised that his sentiments echoed what The Sustainable Innovation MBA has taught us so far.

A theme that recurred throughout our conversation is that Mr. Arnott sees his role much more as a people-managing job rather than a task-managing job. From his stated goal of assembling his core team so that he can (humbly) say “I’m the dumbest one in the room,” to insisting that “our business can’t be successful unless our customers are successful,” Mr. Arnott stressed in all his answers that maintaining personal relationships and strong organizational culture are key pieces of his job description. He underscored this point by repeating that his goal was to create a family-like atmosphere. For example, on the day I spoke with him, he had been to an office holiday party at a branch office in Portsmouth, NH in order to “stay visible and accessible to the people there.”

One challenge for him is that, since he has intimate knowledge of his business’ operations, he has to consciously work to not get too far “down in the weeds” with minutiae because, although he cares deeply about these details, “if you come across as too frantic or intense then you become unapproachable and you lose touch with people.” For me, this idea harkened back to Joe Fusco’s oft-quoted line that “leadership is a love affair with the truth.” In order to make the best decisions for his organization, Mr. Arnott’s strategy is to carefully manage all the personal relationships his job presents so that he knows he has the best possible information — the truth. Very consistent with The Sustainable Innovation MBA worldview!