CEO faces greater task

Job: Aegon USA Chairman Donald J. Shepard will oversee the combined operations resulting from the Transamerica purchase.

February 19, 1999|By Sean Somerville | Sean Somerville,SUN STAFF

Donald J. Shepard's job just grew.

Aegon NV's $10.8 billion purchase of Transamerica Corp. will give the chairman and chief executive officer of Aegon USA substantial responsibility over what will be the nation's third-largest life insurer.

The deal calls for Transamerica Chairman Frank C. Herringer to take a seat on Aegon's board and oversee consumer finance, leasing and real estate for the group. Shepard, 52, will oversee the combined insurance operations in the United States and the rest of the Americas, comprising about 13,500 of the new company's 20,000 employees. Aegon USA employs about 10,500.

"It doesn't change much," said Shepard, who has spent his entire career in the insurance business. "It just gets bigger."

An Iowa native who holds a master's in business administration from the University of Chicago, Shepard is active in Baltimore charitable and business circles. He serves on the boards of Mercantile Bankshares Corp., the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Walters Art Gallery; and is a trustee of the Johns Hopkins Health System Corp., Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University.

"He is one of the heavyweights on those Hopkins boards," said Edward K. Dunn, a member of Aegon USA's board who serves on other boards with Shepard. "He is one of those people you know is going to understand the issues quickly, and you know he's going to get the job done."

The headquarters of the combined U.S. operation will be in San Francisco. Shepard, who hunts and goes fly-fishing to relax, will stay in the Baltimore region, close to his two children and two grandchildren.

What turned out to be a huge international deal was sparked when Shepard called Herringer, which didn't surprise Dunn. "He has a strategy in mind, he knows where the goal line is, and he keeps working to get there," Dunn said.

James T. Brady, former state secretary of economic development under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, saw Shepard's resolve almost two years ago when the state was trying to keep 360 Aegon jobs that could have been moved to Louisville, Ky.

"I found Don to be a very easy person to deal with," Brady said. "He's very direct. He doesn't play the smoke-and-mirror games. And he's very flexible in coming up with the solutions to issues that need to be overcome."

The 360 jobs, which became an issue when Aegon NV acquired Louisville-based life insurer Providian Corp., stayed in Maryland. Brady said Shepard, a supporter of Republican Ellen R. Sauerbrey in last year's gubernatorial election, could easily have decided to move the headquarters to Kentucky. "His commitment to Maryland came through clearly," Brady said.

Shepard began working for Life Investors Inc., an insurance holding company, in 1970. He served in various management positions, becoming executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1985. Shepard held that job until 1989, when Aegon consolidated its other U.S. operations with Life Investors to form Aegon USA.

After that deal, he was named president and chief executive of Aegon USA.

Shepard strikes a modest tone about his career. "It was clear I wasn't going to be a mechanic, a computer operator, a physician or a journalist," he said. "I had to take what was left."

Sun staff writer Bill Atkinson contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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