Voya Financial CEO Rod Martin Prioritizes Parity

When Voya Financial spun out of Dutch-based ING Groep NV in 2013, CEO Rod Martin found himself essentially building a name—and a culture—from scratch. Hived off and rebranded, the retirement and investment firm felt more like a 7,000-person startup than a trusted financial institution, he recounts. “In many ways that was a huge advantage,” Martin says. “We got the chance to kind of dust off the vision and values and think about what kind of company we wanted to be.”

Early on, this answer emerged: a company at the leading edge in diversity and inclusiveness. Even today, the financial sector is famous for a lack of gender parity, and the company Martin inherited was no exception. At the time, only two of his direct reports were women and none were minorities—something he and his board aimed to change.

“We started at the top of the organization with strong support from our lead director and our board that our leadership needed to really reflect the marketplaces that we serve,” says Martin, who credits that effort for boosting performance over the ensuing years. “That, along with the brand we built, has been a differentiating factor for us.”

Since its IPO, Voya’s share price has risen at roughly twice the rate of its industry peers, up 140 percent since its IPO, and the company returned nearly $5 billion—roughly the amount of its IPO market cap—to shareholders in the form of share buybacks. Return on equity is also up by 700 basis points since the company went public. On the diversity front, seven out of nine of Voya’s business units are now run by women, half its executive committee members are women and women make up 38 percent of the company’s independent directors, reports Martin, who sees a direct link between those metrics.

“I don’t think it’s an accident that our results are a multiple of the S&P,” he says. “Having diverse points of view has enabled us to see around the corners with the challenges and issues we face. It forces us to have a more complete, thorough and thoughtful conversations rather than jump to, ‘I’ve seen this before and I know the answer,’ as we make decisions. That’s important because a lot of the challenges business are facing today haven’t been seen before so we don’t always have the answers.”

Martin has little patience for peers who claim to struggle to deliver on diversity due to the paucity of qualified candidates for board seats. “That’s baloney,” he says. “We accomplished this in two and a half years. We have absolutely demonstrated the ability to find people with diverse backgrounds and experiences who have been highly additive to our board.”

While Voya tackled the candidate challenge by being highly “prescriptive” when working with search firms and seeking referrals, the company did not need to compromise on criteria. “In each and every case, we have had a deep set of options from which to pick,” says Martin. “You will find that not all candidates will have board experience, but everyone has to have their first chance at bat—including male CEOs.”

The $8.6 billion company’s commitment to inclusiveness also yields a trickle-down talent effect, garnering accolades that make it an employer of choice among women and minority talent.

In 2018, Voya was one of the only two financial companies on Bloomberg’s gender equality index list, and the workplace inclusion nonprofit Catalyst includes Martin on its roster of CEO Champions for Change.

For Martin, however, the rationale extends beyond potential business benefits to a broader societal goal. “I really wanted to demonstrate that not only that it can be done, but what can be done with it,” he says, noting that he, like many CEOs, wants to see a world of equal opportunities for his daughter. “I’m personally passionate about it. It needs to change, and we have demonstrated in a relatively short time that it can change. It’s time.”

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" Jennifer Pellet : As editor-at-large at Chief Executive magazine, Jennifer Pellet writes feature stories and CEO roundtable coverage and also edits various sections of the publication.."