News Column

MetLife Ramps Up to Hire for Charlotte Hub

April 23, 2013

MetLife has begun posting jobs and making hires as it prepares to bring 1,386 jobs to Charlotte, the company's top N.C. executive said Monday.

Eric Steigerwalt, executive vice president of MetLife's U.S. retail operation, said it remains unclear how many of the jobs will go to current MetLife employees who will move to Charlotte from New Jersey, California and elsewhere.

"There's going to be a lot of jobs filled by people down here. Period," Steigerwalt said in an interview with the Observer.

He said the Charlotte hub for the company's U.S. retail division will house a variety of jobs.

"There's going to be product-development jobs here," he said. "There'll be operations jobs here, client service-type jobs here."

Finance, legal and compliance jobs will also be based in the hub, he said.

Steigerwalt, who will be moving from New Jersey, said he has already bought a home in Waxhaw.

The New York-based life insurance giant announced this month that it will set up the hub in Ballantyne Corporate Park. The company will occupy the entire Gragg Building and part of the Woodward Building built by The Bissell Cos. MetLife has declined to disclose the terms of its leases.

MetLife also plans to bring 1,300 jobs to Cary, where it will operate a global technology and operations hub.

Interviews have begun for the Charlotte jobs. By the end of this year, 600 job openings will be posted by the company for Charlotte, MetLife spokeswoman Meghan Lantier said, adding that 328 jobs for Charlotte are posted now.

"We're encouraging everyone to check our website all the time to look for jobs, because they keep getting posted," she said.

She said she did not immediately have a figure for how many people have already been hired to work out of the Charlotte hub.

Lantier said the Charlotte jobs will pay roughly $58,000 on average. The Cary jobs will pay roughly $80,000 on average, she said.

MetLife cannot yet move into its Ballantyne digs. The Ballantyne Corporate Park buildings are still being outfitted for MetLife, Steigerwalt said, adding that MetLife in the interim is opening two "incubator spaces" in Charlotte. He expects to start moving into the Ballantyne Corporate Park buildings before the end of the year.

One of the incubators has opened at 6302 Fairview Road, across from SouthPark mall. The other, opening in July, will be at 13515 Ballantyne Corporate Park, in a building known as Ballantyne Three.

Steigerwalt said the SouthPark incubator is already being used for job interviews, "mostly concentrating on sales desk jobs."

MetLife's job creation in Charlotte is part of a plan to consolidate operations that are scattered across the country as it also seeks to reduce overhead by $600 million. The Charlotte jobs announcement, made earlier this year, also comes as the company is battling a low-interest-rate environment, which poses challenges to the insurance sector in general.

In 2012, MetLife's profit fell 80 percent to $1.2 billion from $6.1 billion in 2011.

"The low-interest-rate environment continues," Steigerwalt said. "I'd have to say that's the biggest drag on the company right now.

"It's difficult to price products. It also is a drag on our earnings from products that are already on our balance sheet."

He added that the company's life insurance and annuity business has been losing market share.

"We are working on what I'll call a little bit better balance between top line and bottom line," he said. "Top line is great, but it's got to translate into bottom line."

Steigerwalt said his division sold roughly $28 billion in variable annuities in 2011 and about $18 billion in 2012. The company's target is $10 billion to $12 billion for 2013, he said.

He said the motive for moving retail division leadership to one site in Charlotte is to create synergies between people who have been spread across the country, which could help the company become more competitive.

"There are clearly big advantages for all of them being in one place," he said. "It's very easy to see that everybody's rowing in the same direction."

The MetLife officials declined Monday to discuss other the cities and states that MetLife considered for the hubs, saying only that St. Louis and North Carolina were the finalists.

The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have approved roughly $3 million in incentives for the company, and the state has approved about $95 million. The size of the state incentives caused some business recruiters to worry about the continued availability of state incentives for other companies, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press.

Steigerwalt on Monday said the incentives "were very important" for MetLife.

"My job is to run a profitable business," he said. "We needed everything that we could get that would help us increase over time what we were attempting to do, which is to create this culture down here, to continue to get more and more profitable, etc."

Lantier said MetLife expects to be involved in philanthropic activities in Charlotte, but the specifics haven't been worked out. She said MetLife has a foundation that gives about $50 million in grants annually. Mostly, the grants have been geared toward education and community-improvement projects, she said.

Also, the company's employees are fond of volunteering, she said.

"You can expect to see a lot from MetLife," she said.

Source: (c)2013 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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