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Great-West 'likes' technology

Social media play big role in connecting with customers

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He may not be on Twitter, but Paul Mahon, CEO of Great-West Lifeco, is tuned in to the importance of social media.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

He may not be on Twitter, but Paul Mahon, CEO of Great-West Lifeco, is tuned in to the importance of social media. Photo Store

Paul Mahon doesn't have a Twitter account, but that doesn't mean Great-West Lifeco isn't active on social media.

The president and CEO of Manitoba's biggest public company was promoted to the top job last year for multiple reasons, but one of them was to help the insurance giant embrace technology, something that isn't exactly the industry's strong suit.

"The accelerating pace of technology and how it changes things is astounding. People probably said that 100 years ago when buggy whips were out of favour and cars were coming in," he said.

"We're using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for connecting with communities but also for advisers connecting with existing or prospective customers. We're also using it as a means of doing a lot of our recruiting," said Mahon, 50, following the company's annual meeting, which was attended by a couple hundred shareholders at its Osborne Street headquarters.

The financial-services giant derives half its business, as measured by 2013 earnings, from its Canadian operations, with 30 per cent coming from Europe and 20 per cent from the U.S.

Mahon said the biggest opportunities for growth lie south of the border and overseas.

The likelihood of Great-West Lifeco making another monster domestic acquisition such as London Life (for $2.9 billion in 1997) or Canada Life (for $7.3 billion in 2003) is remote, he said.

"I don't think that's in the cards," he said.

"We want to grow both organically with strong performance in the U.S. and through acquisition, and similarly in Europe, I think we can see good organic growth, but I think there are acquisition opportunities (there)," he said.

Last year, Great-West Lifeco bought Irish Life Group from the Irish government for $1.75 billion.

About the only unscripted moment during Thursday's festivities came when one female shareholder questioned chairman Jeffrey Orr about the gender makeup of the newly elected board. (There are only two female directors out of 18.)

"I've never seen a board so dominated by men," the woman told the meeting.

Orr conceded she was right and said the company had spent a "huge amount of time" trying to recruit women this year but was ultimately unsuccessful.

"The board is generally not pleased with the progress we've made on that front," he said.

Great-West Lifeco also announced its first-quarter results Thursday. It reported net earnings attributable to common shareholders of $587 million ($0.587 per common share) for the three months ended March 31. That's up more than 13 per cent from $517 million ($0.544) for the same three-month period a year ago.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 9, 2014 B5

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