In college, Joyce Phillips was a fine arts major and aspired to become an architect. Instead she earned a masters degree in business administration and went into banking. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that Phillips believes her artistic bent has helped her rise to the top of her field, and that she finds a creative outlet in her work. "Part of my success is due to my ability to find solutions to difficult problems, which requires a great deal of creativity," she says.

Phillips' track record is certainly impressive. In nearly two decades in financial services, she spent more than ten years working in Japan before becoming Citibank's head of global retail banking in 2005. Since taking the helm of American Life Insurance Company, an international affiliate of insurer AIG, in July 2007, she's set a course for aggressive expansion by overhauling the business and customer strategy. In the first quarter of 2008, ALICO's gross assets jumped 18 percent over the same period in 2007; conservatively measured statutory premiums and annuities grew 37.5 percent, while statutory income rose 10 percent.

With an eye for opportunity, Phillips is opening new distribution channels, forging joint ventures, and rolling out new products tailored to customer needs in diverse cultures and market segments. These range from Sharia law-compliant life insurance products to serve the burgeoning Islamic financial services market, to wealth management products for the swelling ranks of high-net-worth individuals around the world.

Phillips is fortunate in that ALICO, one of the biggest international life insurance companies in the world with gross assets of $102 billion in 2007, operates in 55 countries but has no business in the U.S., so its direct exposure to the economic and financial woes in the U.S. market is limited.

In her work, Phillips is motivated by her "passion and commitment" to finding innovative ways to serve customers by focusing on their needs, nurturing talent, and building partnerships with local regulators. "I never give up and I stay positive despite setbacks," she says. She credits her grandmother, an immigrant entrepreneur who thrived in the U.S. despite facing hardship, with inspiring her to achieve, and instilling in her the values of compassion, integrity, perseverance, and grace that have served her so well.

There's no question Phillips is devoted to both employer and career. But it's when she talks about her involvement in Girls Inc., an international charity that gives disadvantaged girls educational opportunities, that she becomes truly excited. "We help young women from New York's inner city schools break the odds of getting in to college. This year we got 25 girls into college, including a few into Ivy League schools," she enthuses. As a board member of the New York chapter of Girls Inc., Phillips helped organize a "shower" for the group that recently headed off to college, giving them school and dorm room supplies that would otherwise have been beyond reach for these young women.

Between negotiating deals from Saudi Arabia to Japan, Phillips relaxes by playing her wooden baroque flute. Key to balancing life and work, she says, is to "prioritize both, and focus on the moment." Still, she wishes she had more time to play.

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