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D'Alessandro, David F. 1951–

David F. D'Alessandro
1951

Former chairman, chief executive officer, and president, John Hancock Financial Services; former president and COO, Manulife Financial Corporation

Nationality: American.

Born: January 6, 1951, in Utica, New York.

Education: Utica College of Syracuse University, BS, 1972.

Family: Son of Dominick D'Alessandro and Rosemary Pallaria; married Jeannette (maiden name unknown), 1996; children: three.

Career: Daniel J. Edelman, 19721974, account supervisor; Control Data Corporation, 19741977, information programs manager in service bureau; 19771979, commercial manager of data services; Citibank Commercial Services, 19791980, assistant vice president; Muir, Cornelius, Moorecq, 1980, marketing representative; Citibank Commercial Services, 19801984, general manager of commercial credit; John Hancock Financial Services, 19841985, vice president for communications and marketing; 19851988, senior vice president for communications and marketing; 19881991, president of corporate sector; 19911996, executive vice president of retail sector; 19962001, CEO and president; 20012004, chairman, CEO, and president; Manulife Financial Corporation, 2004, president and COO.

Awards: Marketer of the Year, Ad Week, 1986; 50 Best CEOs, Worth, 2001; Four Best New CEOs, Money, 2001; 100 Most Powerful People in Sports, Sporting News, 2002.

Publications: Brand Warfare: Ten Rules for Building the Killer Brand (with Michele Owens), 2001; Career Warfare: Ten Rules for Building a Successful Personal Brand and Fighting to Keep It (with Michele Owens), 2004.

David F. D'Alessandro served as the chairman, chief executive officer, and president of John Hancock Financial Services from 2001 to 2004. He had joined John Hancock's communications and marketing team in 1984, where he successfully revitalized the company's image. Over his 20-year career with the firm he applied his marketing skills in unique ways, increasing the company's growth and competitive positioning in the financial services sector. In April 2004 D'Alessandro spearheaded the merger of John Hancock Financial Services with the Canada-based financial services group Manulife Financial Corporation. Coworkers and analysts described D'Alessandro as a passionate, nontraditional manager who rewarded his employees for innovative ideas, honesty, and integrity.

GAINING EXPERIENCE

D'Alessandro learned the importance of an innovative marketing plan in his first position out of college at the Daniel J. Edelman public-relations firm. As an entry-level employee D'Alessandro felt that the only time an executive noticed him was when he vomited on one of them during a meeting. After realizing that he did not want to be associated solely with such unpleasant experiences, he developed a plan to be recognized for more positive accomplishments.

D'Alessandro studied corporate management structure and found that as an entry-level employee one needed to carve a niche for oneself through the development of a personal marketing plan. At Daniel J. Edelman, D'Alessandro found that his personal marketing plan would center around his development of innovative ideas about tough client problems. For example, one of his early accounts was with Mobil Travel Guides. In order to increase the guides' prestige and recognition, D'Alessandro looked for a unique feature to marketwhich he found in their often-overlooked practice of giving awards to restaurants that received their highest ranking of five stars.

D'Alessandro expanded the awarding of the prize into a publicity opportunity for the travel guides as well as for the restaurants they honored. By releasing press statements and asking local television food critics to interview the award-winning chefs, D'Alessandro led the award, the restaurant, and the travel guides to become more valuable and glamorous. By extension D'Alessandro himself developed a reputation as an innovative thinkerand was always able to get reservations at the honored restaurants. He expanded the concept of a personal marketing plan for success into the development of a marketing campaign for companies that needed to develop positive reputations among current and potential customers.

In addition to the important lesson learned about the strength of a good marketing plan, D'Alessandro learned a second lesson about truth in the business environment. When applying for a position at Control Data Corporation in 1974, D'Alessandro lied about his age on his resume, making himself two years older. When he was offered the position, he realized that he had to put his true birth date on multiple personnel forms. He admitted to his lie to his new supervisor; the company somewhat reluctantly still hired him on probation.

Through this experience he learned a valuable business lesson: the earlier one admits to a falsehood, the less time it has to increase in size and destroy one's reputation. He found applications of this principle for corporations as well as individuals when looking at the development of "emergency cleanup plans" following the exposure of corporate wrongdoings. In the 1990s D'Alessandro applied this lesson at John Hancock when it was revealed that some agents had used deceptive practices in selling insurance policies. Adhering to the strategy he had conceived, he quickly acknowledged the agents' deceptive sale practices, created an ethics board to review questionable cases, settled the lawsuit filed by irate policyholders, and changed the agents' commission structures.

ALTERING A STODGY IMAGE

D'Alessandro's reputation as a successful advertiser had led John Hancock to hire him to revitalize its corporate image in 1984. In order to develop a successful marketing campaign, D'Alessandro took a close look at the overall goals of the company and developed two strategies with which to convey those goals to John Hancock's existing and potential customers. He directed the marketing team to think of real-life situations that could convey the company's goal of connecting with clients; the team created a marketing campaign referred to as "Real Life, Real Answers." In this campaign short, realistic dramassuch as a brief clip of two brothers talkingwere used to convey John Hancock's understanding of clients. The underlying message was that through the development of relationships with individuals, John Hancock could better help with personal financial needs. In 1986, the first year of the ad campaign, Hancock's life insurance sales rose 17 percent, and Ad Week magazine named D'Alessandro its Marketer of the Year.

To further boost John Hancock's image, D'Alessandro looked for an event to sponsor; in 1986 he chose the Boston Marathon. In order to attract more world-class runners, the marathon needed to offer prize money to race winners. D'Alessandro pushed John Hancock to back the marathon knowing that the action would make the company somewhat of a hero for its support of a city tradition. John Hancock signed on as a sponsor for 10 years, and the resulting positive press served the firm well.

SHIFTING FROM MARKETING TO MANAGEMENT

In 1988 D'Alessandro was invited to lead John Hancock's group insurance business, which provided insurance plans to companies and organizations. Although he did not have traditional management experience, his capacities to learn and quickly solve problems would make him a successful executive. One New York advertiser who worked with D'Alessandro noted in Boston Globe Magazine, "He knows what people want, and it's scary, beyond intuition; his ability to read people is Martianlike, their aspirations, goals, what they hope to attain" (April 16, 2000). Coworkers saw D'Alessandro as a strong, focused leader who worked with his employees to develop and implement innovative ways to increase corporate profits.

By 1991 D'Alessandro had become executive vice president of John Hancock's retail sector, which focused on selling insurance, annuities, and mutual funds to individuals. From 1991 to 1998 net profits in the division increased from $117.3 million to $337.8 million. D'Alessandro helped increase profits through expansion of sales outlets and enhanced comprehension of client needs. He understood that more customers wished to work directly with John Hancock and eliminate local agents as middlemen. Thus D'Alessandro ensured that customers could communicate with the company in a variety of ways, including through direct mail, over the telephone, and on the Internet. When John Hancock's chief executive officer retired in 1996, D'Alessandro took on the title, becoming John Hancock Financial Services' youngest CEO.

SHARING THE EXPERIENCE

In keeping with his background, D'Alessandro found multiple ways to apply his practical knowledge about developing marketing skills. The most visible examples of his outreach were his two books, which were coauthored by Michele Owens. The first book, Brand Warfare: Ten Rules for Building the Killer Brand, discussed the need to create and protect a company's image. The second book, Career Warfare: Ten Rules for Building a Successful Personal Brand and Fighting to Keep It, served as a primer instructing individuals in navigation through the business world.

APPLYING HIS PRINCIPLES

D'Alessandro's books, public statements, and actions underscored his willingness to speak out about his concerns and offer concrete solutions to solve problems. In 1998 he voiced his deep concern over the scandal involving bribes paid to members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), cancelling John Hancock's scheduled television advertising for the Olympic Games in Atlanta. In 1998 and 1999, when financial improprieties continued at both the IOC and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), D'Alessandro wrote letters in which he provided several concrete suggestions on how to eliminate the IOC's and USOC's financial problems, such as by initiating structural changes and making alterations to business operations. D'Alessandro requested financial audits of IOC and USOC operations and offered funding to help defray the costs, threatening to discontinue John Hancock's sponsorship of Olympic events unless the correct changes to business operations occurred.

D'Alessandro was criticized by the NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol as an attention-seeking bully because of his demands and the accompanying threat of financial withdrawal. D'Alessandro rebutted critics by noting in Boston Globe Magazine that he did not want John Hancock associated with the Olympics if the allegiance would conjure up visions of "financial improprieties, questionable business practices, and perpetual instability" among consumers (April 16, 2000). By the conclusion of the battle in 1999 the IOC had made major changes to the ways in which members of the committee could conduct themselves and in which money was spent. Additionally a "Hancock clause" was added, which stated on behalf of the company, "If the Olympic movement conducts itself in a manner that is detrimental to our brand, we can cancel our contract at any time" (April 16, 2000).

MERGERS AND TRANSITION

In 1998 D'Alessandro transformed John Hancock into a publicly traded business, leading its initial public offering. He believed that this move would help the company to stop losing money. By 1999 John Hancock had $126 billion in assets under management and annual revenues of $10.1 billion. Along with the company's increased profits D'Alessandro increased his own salary, making himself one of the highest-paid executives in financial services. His compensation of more than $21 million in 2003 placed him 79th on Forbes 's list of best-paid CEOs and increased debate at John Hancock over discrepancies between CEO compensation and shareholder returns.

In 2002 D'Alessandro perceived his company's size to be a vulnerability and began a search for a merger partner that would allow John Hancock to grow from a medium-sized company into a large one, such that it might avoid being marginalized or taken over by industry giants. In 2004 D'Alessandro spearheaded the merger of John Hancock Financial Services with the leading Canada-based financial-services group Manulife Financial Corporation. Upon completion of the merger D'Alessandro became chief executive officer of Manulife, with his stated position being to help lead the integration team. Late in 2004, in order to help smooth the merger of the two companies, D'Alessandro retired as chief operating officer and president of Manulife. He continued to serve as the chairman of John Hancock's advisory board and as a member of the Manulife board of directors in order to oversee John Hancock's charitable and philanthropic activities and to continue to provide strategic direction to Manulife.

See also entry on John Hancock Financial Services, Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.

sources for further information

D'Alessandro, David, Brand Warfare: Ten Rules for Building the Killer Brand, with Michele Owens, New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

, Career Warfare: Ten Rules for Building a Successful Personal Brand and Fighting to Keep It, with Michele Owens, New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Mehegan, David, "Doing It His Way," Boston Globe Magazine, April 16, 2000.

Dawn Jacob Laney

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