Rising star

When Donald Guloien succeeded Dominic D’Alessandro as CEO of Manulife last month, Warren Thomson was promoted to replace Guloien as chief investment officer. In turn, Jean-Francois Courville has just been named to replace Thomson as CEO of MFC Global Investment Management, putting him in charge of about $100 billion in client assets.

Courville has an interesting connection with Guloien. Both are members of the Young Presidents’ Organization, a worldwide group of business leaders who became presidents before they turned 40. In Guloien’s case, he was invited to be a YPOer in 1993, when he was president of Manulife America. At the time, corporate members were uncommon. Most YPOers were entrepreneurs or members of the “lucky sperm club” who’d inherited their roles in family businesses.

Courville joined Manulife in 2007 from State Street Canada where he’d been president and CEO for two years, a position that met the criteria for the exclusive YPO admission. Guloien and Courville are the only YPOers among Manulife’s 24,000 employees.

YPO has international meetings where members meet political leaders and attend seminars held in luxurious hotels, but the most useful aspect is the local chapter. Each member participates in small discussion groups that are like group therapy where everything is confidential and members help each other solve work-related problems.

YPOers used to be kicked out of the elite organization at age 50. For some, the experience was traumatic, commemorated by a rocking chair with their name on it. “I’d gotten mentally adjusted to the fact,” Guloien told me. “A couple of years away it was sort like one of those big things, like kids moving away. I was thinking, ‘I’m getting old.’ But I got mentally ready for it and thought, ‘This is a transition.'”

Just as Guloien was about to turn 50 and get the rocking chair, YPO changed the rules. He was allowed to stay for another five years.

As for J-F, as everybody calls Courville, at 41 the rocking chair isn’t even a blip on the radar screen of his life. He’s a decade younger than Guloien and it’s not too soon to say that he’s a possible successor as CEO of Manulife after Guloien has had his ten-year run.

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