Most Powerful Women in Finance: No. 22, Aon's Cary Grace

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CEO, Global Retirement & Investment Solutions. Aon

Being able to recognize when your business is beginning to shift in a fundamental way is an essential skill for any leader, but the most successful ones are those who see change coming early and take steps to be prepared. It’s a process Cary Grace, the CEO of global retirement and investment solutions at Aon, takes very seriously.

“Our client needs are changing and our mission is that we want to be a couple steps ahead of them,” she said. “So we’re going to continue to evolve.”

Over the past year, that evolution has led to some major changes at Aon. The company either divested or restructured nearly half of its business in 2017, and made major acquisitions to restructure the kind of services it can offer clients.

“Historically, we were an investment consultant, and so you had clients who were looking for consultants to give them advice on how they constructed their investment portfolios, and then [they] had asset managers to manage the investments,” she said.

However, over the past few years, there has been a significant change in what some clients are looking for. Specifically, she said, “They don’t actually want to be the everyday manager of some of their investment portfolios.”

Increasingly, she said, Aon’s large corporate clients are looking to farm out the management of their investments — pensions funds and the like — to “outsourced chief investment officers,” or OCIOs.
Already one of the bigger players in the OCIO field, Aon cemented its place in the market last year with the acquisition of The Townsend Group, an investment management and advisory firm specializing in real estate and other real assets.

The results so far are promising. After the deal was announced last year, Aon posted first quarter earnings per share growth of 26% and saw double-digit growth in adjusted free cash flow. That’s the kind of evolution any business will love.

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