Peter Tedone’s seen things.
Three decades working as a volunteer EMT in Hartford and Simsbury have taken him to scenes of car crashes, drug overdoses and house fires. Pretty much every emergency situation.
Three decades at Vantis Life Insurance Co. in Windsor â€” including 18 as CEO â€” have taken him through highs, like growing the firm from a $48 million company doing business in Connecticut to a $1 billion enterprise with clients in 50 states, and lows like the 2008 financial crisis, when it wasn’t clear Vantis Life would survive.
Tedone recently retired as an active duty EMT. Now he’s preparing to exit the boardroom as well. In August, he announced he’s retiring as president, chairman and CEO of Vantis Life, a seller of individual life insurance products. The jobs have a surprising amount of overlap, he says. Both require leadership, and failure to act decisively can be fatal â€” literally, or figuratively, depending on which job.
“Companies tend to flounder if they don’t have strong leaders, because nobody really understands what initiatives are there that (they) should be following,” Tedone said. “If you’re going to be the kind of EMT responder who gets to the call and waits for someone to tell them what to do, you’re not much use to anybody.”
Initially, Tedone planned to work as a hospital administrator. He earned a bachelor’s degree in health services and administration at Quinnipiac University, before taking a job at the American Cancer Society, followed by a stint at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.
But in his late-20s the instability of his grant-funded position led him to take a job at United States Life Insurance Co. The move was an unexpected one, he said.
“Having grown up in the city of Hartford, where everybody I knew, their parents worked in the insurance business, I always said to myself, ‘I will never work in insurance, there is nothing interesting about that at all,'” he chuckled.
In 1987, he moved on to Vantis Life as assistant vice president of marketing. It was a much smaller company, but he figured he’d work there a few years, and likely move onto someplace else.
“Only I didn’t,” Tedone said. “I saw an opportunity to get promoted along, to take on more responsibility, to wear more hats, and I enjoyed that, very much; it was very satisfying for me.”
He eventually took the helm at Vantis Life as chief executive and chairman in 2000. When Tedone first started at Vantis Life, the company had done all its business in Connecticut, Tedone said. But as the head of the firm â€” which employs about 90 people â€” he engaged in an aggressive expansion. It now does business with about 150 U.S. banks.
As he worked toward expanding the business, Tedone also took an adjunct faculty job at the University of Hartford, where he continues to teach courses on leadership.
“There’s a big difference between management and leadership,” Tedone said. And the people who understand that distinction will become leaders of companies, of divisions and initiatives throughout their entire life.”
The difference, Tedone says, is that managing consists of overseeing projects and operations to make sure objectives are met. But leadership requires vision. He teaches his students that a manager must know what needs to be done and how to do it, but a leader has to know why tasks are necessary, and how they can lead toward greater goals for a firm.
It was attention to longer-term goals that led Tedone to spend about four years searching for a larger life insurance company to acquire Vantis Life.
“Vantis Life was growing, we were growing across the country, and we needed to have additional capital to fuel that growth,” Tedone said.
Two years ago Vantis Life was acquired by Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. in a $73.3 million deal. The partnership has worked out well so far, Tedone said. Penn Mutual serves an upscale market, and was interested in tapping into Vantis Life’s middle-market customers, who earn between about $50,000 and $150,000 per year.
Considering Vantis Life’s growth during his tenure, and his confidence in his successors, Tedone said he feels good about retiring now.
Penn Mutual Vice President of Product Management Ray Caucci, a 31-year veteran of that company, will step in as chief executive and chairman, while Tedone’s current No. 2, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scott Smith, will serve as president and chief operating officer.
“I expect that (Smith) and (Caucci) will work very closely together, as (Smith) and I have worked very closely together,” Tedone said.
As he gets ready to depart Vantis Life, Tedone says his positions on nonprofit boards like the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation and competitive pistol shooting, will keep him busy.
He’ll also continue to teach, advising students what he tells new employees. A larger firm isn’t necessarily a better choice, it depends on the person. He’s never regretted staying at Vantis Life, he said.
“I’ve always said, ‘I really enjoy being a big fish in a small pond,'” Tedone said. “To me, that’s a much better way to be.”
Check out a video clip of Peter Tedone’s interview at hartfordbusiness.com.