Mutual of America Financial Group’s Senior Executive Vice President and CFO Chris Festog was majoring in accounting and minoring in finance, real estate, and English at the University of Colorado at Boulder when he took a masters-level information technology class. It was there he learned early computer programs like WordStar and SuperCalc.
“That was very significant, ultimately, because when I went to Arthur Andersen in 1983, no one else had those skills, and they had just gotten their first PC,” he explains. “I would run those PC applications because I was the only one who knew how to do it.”
That class and the computer work he handled set the stage for his career.
“It’s always fascinating when you look back on your life,” Festog says. “My technological mindset was shaped early on in my career. At first, I ran simple programs and eventually started teaching classes about those programs. Then, I started testing software, which quickly evolved into much more.”
As Mutual of America’s CFO, Festog is involved in day-to-day operations and long-term financial strategies. Key to his work is teaming up with Chairman, President, and CEO John Greed and providing direct and essential support to Greed as he leads the organization.
“Mutual of America is focusing on transformation,” Festog explains. “I’m helping to drive and support that work.”
The defining attribute of his leadership philosophy is taking on the role of steward. “I have been given an opportunity to play a significant role in the company’s life,” he says, “so I’m invested in uplifting those around me to come together and make Mutual the best company it can be.”
Passionate about his work, Festog is determined to pursue practices that can both innovate Mutual of America and honor the company’s long-held traditions. “Every day, there is an opportunity to build something new using the strong foundation and successes that have always existed at Mutual,” he says. “I take great care to build and maintain a skilled team that is dedicated to continuing to get better every day.”
Something that goes hand-in-hand with innovation is Festog’s work in embracing and encouraging transformation.
“The reason that I have such a strong technology background is because I took the basic technology skills that I learned in that IT class, and I kept adding knowledge and taking on new responsibilities, learning how to integrate that year after year,” he explains. “Embracing transformation and change is at the heart of technological advancement. Technology is changing at the speed of light, and you have to be comfortable with continuous change. It’s essential to success.”
One transformational initiative was the task of building out a data warehouse and layering businesses intelligence tools around it, which allowed the company to learn more about its sales and customers. The sales and reporting process went from thirty days to about one day.
Festog describes himself as “strategy-oriented,” adding that before he does anything, he thinks about how any given action may affect the broader picture.
“That’s really essential when you’re helping to lead a company or working with people—the company needs to know where it’s going and so do people,” he explains. “And in order to bring the technology, people, and processes together, you need to prioritize the company’s strategic purpose and vision both for the short term and long term.”
Festog first worked at Mutual of America from 1999 to 2000. He returned in 2009, serving in several capacities before taking on his current role in May 2017. There are myriad reasons as to why the company is the right fit for him, including its work providing retirement products, related services, and investments to nonprofits and small businesses.
“Mutual of America captures the best that the United States has to offer,” he says. “The nonprofits we serve embody the charitable heart of the nation and the small-to-midsized businesses that make up the core of our for-profit clients truly exemplify the entrepreneurial and can-do spirit of America,” he declares.
Festog is also thinking about Mutual of America’s future and is playing a role in building a diverse, capable, and innovative team.
“Change does not happen on its own,” he says. “True change happens when you have people who respect the past and look forward to the future. One of the legacies I want to leave behind is a leadership team that is empowered to use their skills to really take the company to the next level.”
Thoughts from Guest Editor Tasker Generes
I respect and admire Chris Festog’s approach to enterprise transformation. It isn’t simply to transform the analog into digital—it is the ability to be strategic as well as focused on outcomes that matter both for the company and the people the company serves. This suggests the ability to leave this world a little better than we found it. Chris not only eliminated complexity, taking the sales and reporting process from thirty days to one day, but also built new forms of intelligence and set the tone for how the company can drive innovation while being a socially conscious enterprise. Kudos to Mutual of America!