“I never set out to be a CEO,” Julio Portalatin says after over thirty years in the insurance industry. The CEO of Mercer insists that his path was not predetermined. “I simply set out to be the best at what I did.”
Portalatin’s penchant for achievement can be seen in the company’s reputation. From being voted the best consultancy group by Vault.com for over ten years to being named one of the best American employers by Forbes, Mercer is at the top of its game.
The company is also dedicated to being at the cutting edge of its industry, recently launching a product using software that gamifies the job search process. The technology, called Mercer Match, was very well-received at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt event in New York.
Recalling that achievement, Portalatin says with a laugh, “It’s not often we’ve been called cool before!”
The global consulting firm’s focus on innovation is also evident in its recent successes. Over the past few years, Mercer has achieved an elusive business trifecta: increased revenue, increased profitability, and increased employee engagement.
Portalatin believes this success is, in part, due to Mercer’s approach. The firm is dedicated to using data to drive insights, offering top-notch analytical advice for clients. He notes that Mercer employees are always asking, “How does that information inform us about the future?”
This data-first approach is one reason Mercer has been able to achieve success with its gender equality initiative and study, “When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive.”
Through this research, Mercer found that diversity schemes offer a “substantial economic advantage” to companies and countries that work towards inclusivity. Additionally, the study offered real, actionable insights into the issues of inequality in the workplace, finding that diversity initiatives need to go beyond hiring. To create an inclusive workplace, companies must take a holistic approach, examining their healthcare policies and retirement plans as they pertain to specific gender and other differences.
At the World Economic Forum this past year, gender equity was the topic of the event, in part thanks to Mercer’s successful campaign.
“Mercer is an organization that is very purposeful,” says Portalatin, explaining what sets it apart from other consulting companies. “We make a difference in people’s lives.”
In addition to offering advice to others, Portalatin is proud to say that Mercer’s executive leadership team is nearly 50 percent female.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Portalatin has targeted a new sphere in need of a shake-up: the world of pensions. After nearly thirty years at both AIG and Allstate Insurance, he is motivated both by his expertise and passion for the topic.
“The issue of having adequate retirement savings is of great interest to us,” says Portalatin, who is a proponent of the Pension and Budget Integrity Act. “The act would improve retirement plans for the country.”
The act—which works to disallow double counting of premium payments to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. to offset general federal spending—would work to make plans more affordable again for the private sector.
Portalatin enjoys consulting because it is an intersection of his varied interests.
“Consulting is not telling a client what you think they want to hear,” Portalatin explains. “It is about listening and learning and delivering a point of view.”
JULIO PORTALATIN’S HABITS FOR SUCCESS
DO INSTEAD OF SAY
Portalatin believes it’s important to try to achieve something meaningful that makes a difference every day. He says that “takes more than just saying it, it requires doing it.” He is a big advocate for charity work. In addition to serving on the Hofstra Board of Trustees, he is also a very active program participant throughout the year with Covenant House, an organization that helps impoverished and at-risk youth in cities across the Americas.
PUT YOURSELF IN THE GAME
A longtime basketball player, Portalatin believes that in order to excel, you have to seize the opportunity to, as he describes it, “put yourself in the game.” No one will do that for you.
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO THINK DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU
Portalatin strongly believes you need to surround yourself with people who make you better personally and professionally by challenging your thinking.
NEVER STOP READING
For Portalatin, books help with both everyday and workplace issues. A personal favorite of his is In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr.