Where Are They Now? Bob MacDonald
After working in the industry for years, Bob MacDonald set out in his 40s to not only build another life insurance business, but to create a new way of business life for his employees and customers by providing shared ownership, organizational transparency, and speed paying commissions to agents and writing policies for customers.
Six years after he launched St. Louis Park-based LifeUSA Holding, Inc., in 1987, the company was generating nearly $200 million in annual sales and $15 million in net income through its relationships with more than 50,000 independent agents nationwide—making it the country’s second-largest independent insurance agency. Twin Cities Business profiled MacDonald in 1994.
Another trailblazing feature of LifeUSA was its products. While other insurance companies were selling products that protected people in the event of death, MacDonald recognized that retirement would soon become the biggest demand in the industry. LifeUSA developed products that rewarded people for living, such as policies that could be converted into income they couldn’t outlive. “If we had tried to compete with [the bigger insurers in the industry], they would’ve killed us,” he says. “We were in a market where nobody was at.”
Growth continued until the company was acquired by Allianz North America for $540 million in 1999. And LifeUSA employees made out well: Approximately 500 received $20.75 per share, which for most added up to a payout in the six-figure range. MacDonald stayed on with Allianz as CEO and president for three years and as director for nine.
Although he has been retired for five years, MacDonald still remains active in the financial services sector, providing “sage advice for superior business management” on his personal blog. Business aside, he and his wife spend their winters in Key West and fly home for the summers to see their nine grandchildren. He also is the author of three books: Cheat to Win: The Honest Way to Break All the Dishonest Rules in Business; Beat The System: 11 Secrets to Building an Entrepreneurial Culture in a Bureaucratic World; and Old MacDonald’s Ethical Leadership Farm: Growing New Leaders for New Times.
Asked what advice he’d give to entrepreneurs, he advises them to keep their goals and targets focused on the future.
“We all have the ability to reminisce about the past, and when we do that, we do that visually,” he says. “What really separates the visionaries are those who have the ability to reminisce about the future as if it were the past.”