Christine Marcks recalls working in her father's pharmacy as a 13-year-old, growing up in Western Massachusetts. The work was minimal. The pay was minimum, about $1.60 an hour — and there was one non-negotiable condition.
"We were expected to save three-quarters (of what we were paid) towards college,'' said Marcks, the second oldest of her parents' five children. Though she was able to secure scholarships, loans and part-time jobs to pay for undergraduate and graduate work at Assumption and Georgetown, respectively, the $8,000 in savings from the drug-store job supplemented Marcks' education.
Her father had planted a seed about the power of long-term saving, a concept he himself didn't fully adhere to when it came to his retirement. Establishing a dedicated savings plan and leveraging time against compounding interest would eventually become the focus of Marcks' professional life.
For the last 10 years, she has been president of Prudential Retirement, a subsidiary of Prudential Financial Inc. The retirement division is headquartered in Hartford, employs 2,700 people in Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Iowa — and manages $386 billion in investments.
Marcks understands that many of her 4.1 million clients are working-class people or small business owners, such as her dad. The experience working at his pharmacy taught her patience, discipline and how to live below her means.
"It just started a pattern where I became very good at figuring out what my basic living expenses were — and socking away everything else,'' said Marcks, 61. She lives in Bloomfield with her husband, Richard, a retired chief actuary of the state of Connecticut. They have two adult children. An example of her frugality: She drives a 10-year-old four-wheel drive Infinity G25 "and it works just fine,'' she said with a smile.
"In our business, we're trying to get people to recognize their own behavior in the way they think about finances, and trying to get them to adopt those good behaviors," Marcks said. Prudential Retirement's strategy is to set up programs that demystify the nuances of investing. It is also working with young people, through a partnership with Junior Achievement, to promote financial literacy. An exercise for many clients is to have them visualize how they see themselves in 30 years.
"Living below your means is a really good way to save," Marcks said. "And it gives you more freedom from financial stress. It gives you more options."
The key to the company's growth, however, is not so much its clients, Marcks said, but its employees.
"Grow the people and that's what drives success," she said in a Prudential meeting room several stories above Hartford on Trumbull Street.
Shortly after Georgetown, where she earned a master's degree in international economics, Marcks worked for the U.S. Treasury for eight years. An avid world traveler — she has visited most of Europe and beyond — Marcks is also conversant in French, Spanish and some Russian.
In 1987, she landed a job at Aetna, as a corporate economist. She worked for 17 years there, elevating to vice president, then serving in a similar capacity at ING.
In 2004, Marcks became a vice president at Prudential Retirement and was promoted to president in 2007.
"I moved around a lot at a young age and understand that you don't get anywhere without taking some risk," Marcks said. She describes her management style as engaging and inclusive. "I've learned to be a delegator," she said, conceding that wasn't always an area of strength. "I have definitely learned the power and freedom of delegating to smart people. I try to focus my time on the things that only I can do and pass along to others [the rest]. It's so interesting to see people rise to the opportunity when you give them a challenge or stretch assignment.''
Her daily routine includes rising at 5:30 a.m, working out and arriving at the office at 7:30 a.m. From there, the day is filled with meetings. An hour each day is slotted for "think time" in which Marcks can decompress, review company priorities and reflect about where the company needs to be in the future.
The commitment to employee personal development, financial literacy and corporate citizenship are at Prudential Retirement's core. Employees volunteer their time for initiatives that involve the arts, education and urban transformation.
"When you're the CEO it can be a hard job; it can be lonely and it's very demanding from a scheduling standpoint,'' Marcks said. "But it's also thrilling when you work with really good people who can get you the impact you want to have. It's been wonderful for me.''
Stan Simpson is the principal of Stan Simpson Enterprises LLC, a strategic communications consulting firm. He is also host of "The Stan Simpson Show," on Fox 61.