* CEO Stewart to retire in Nov; COO Connor replaces him
* Connor to continue growth strategy in US, China, India
* Analysts see little strategic change
(Recasts with comments from incoming CEO)
By Andrea Hopkins
TORONTO, July 4 Sun Life Financial (SLF.TO)
will focus on expanding its business in the United States,
China and India rather that pushing into new markets, the man
set to be the next chief executive of Canada's No. 3 life
insurer said on Monday.
Sun Life Chief Operating Officer Dean Connor, 54,
reiterated the company's growth strategy after it announced he
will succeed long-time CEO Donald Stewart, 64, on Dec. 1.
Connor, who has worked at the Toronto-based life insurer
since 2006, said Sun Life's footholds in China, India and the
United States already offer great opportunities.
"I would say our main focus is to get bigger and stronger
in the markets in which we currently operate as opposed to
planting new flags in new countries," Connor said in an
interview with Reuters. "We have a lot of runway in all of the
markets in which we operate."
Connor, who was a consultant for 28 years before joining
Sun Life under Stewart five years ago, said his business style
is different from that of Stewart, but declined to specify how
that might manifest itself.
"We will be different and those differences will appear
over time," Connor said. "When it comes to strategy and goals
and aspirations for the company, I'd say I've certainly
participated in the development of the current strategy and
will now, starting in December, lead the development of that
strategy in the future."
Connor said Sun Life faces the same obstacles as all life
insurers: low interest rates, volatile equity markets, fragile
European markets, a slow recovery in the United States and
global regulatory change.
"I'd balance that with the three significant trends that
are benefiting Sun Life," he said, listing the retirement of
the baby boomers, the downloading of government
responsibilities on to employers and individuals and the
"astonishing" growth of the middle class in China and India.
The retirement of Stewart did not come as a surprise, and
one analyst said the choice of his replacement was
well-telegraphed by Sun Life.
"(The move) likely suggests nothing transformational on the
short-term horizon for SLF," BMO Capital Markets insurance
analyst Tom MacKinnon said in a research note.
MacKinnon said Connor had been considered the likely
replacement for Stewart since Sun Life announced the retirement
of Jon Boscia last year. Connor has run the Canadian division
since 2008, while Boscia had been president of SLF and ran its
U.S., Asian and British divisions.
Stewart, who led Sun Life for 13 years, saw the company
through demutualization in 2000 and expanded its operations
beyond Canada to the United States and Asia. But the insurer
has been buffeted by the financial crisis, as low interest
rates hurt returns and stock market losses cut the value of its
Connor was also named to the company's board of directors.
In addition, Sun Life said its chairman, Ronald Osborne,
will step down as of Nov. 30 and retire from the board in 2012.
He will be replaced by James Sutcliffe, who heads the company's
risk review committee.
(Additional reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by John Picinich
and Peter Galloway)