Deanna Mulligan on Leadership and the Opportunity Gap

Deanna Mulligan
Photo by Andy Katz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Today on the Getting Smart Podcast we’re talking with Deanna Mulligan on leadership and the opportunity gap.


Deanna Mulligan grew up in a small town in Nebraska, earned an MBA from Stanford and, after 8 years at McKinsey, launched a career in insurance where, after a two-year sabbatical, she became the CEO of Guardian, one of the 10 largest life insurance companies in America. She also served on the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans.

In 2018, Fortune named her one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business” and in 2019, Crain’s New York Business recognized her as one of “The 50 Most Powerful Women in New York” — the fifth time since 2011.

In her new book, Hire Purpose: How Smart Companies Can Close the Skills Gap, Deanna shares how companies and education institutions can work together to close the skills and opportunity gap.

Book summary: The future of work is already here, and what this future looks like must be a pressing concern for the current generation of leaders in both the private and public sectors. In the next ten to fifteen years, rapid change in a post-pandemic world and emerging technology will revolutionize nearly every job, eliminate some, and create new forms of work that we have yet to imagine. How can we survive and thrive in the face of such drastic change?

Deanna Mulligan offers a practical, broad-minded look at the effects of workplace evolution and automation and why the private sector needs to lead the charge in shaping a values-based response. With a focus on the power of education, Mulligan proposes that the solutions to workforce upheaval lie in reskilling and retraining for individuals and companies adapting to rapid change. By creating lifelong learning opportunities that break down boundaries between the classroom and the workplace, businesses can foster personal and career well-being and growth for their employees.

Key Takeaways:

[:10] About today’s episode with Deanna Mulligan.
[:55] Tom welcomes Deanna Mulligan to the podcast.
[1:00] About Deanna’s life and early education in a small town in Nebraska.
[1:18] How Deanna came to work at McKinsey & Company after graduating from Stanford.
[2:29] The lessons Deanna learned and the experience she gained during her eight years at McKinsey.
[3:22] What drew Deanna to insurance.
[4:04] About the two years Deanna took off prior to launching a career in insurance.
[7:33] How Deanna came to work for Guardian.
[8:11] Did Deanna’s two-year sabbatical shape her views on family leave?
[9:44] Deanna shares her reflections as the CEO of Guardian for nearly 10 years; how she thought about her role, as well as the biggest takeaways and lessons from her time as CEO.
[12:03] What Deanna learned about talent development as CEO of Guardian.
[13:26] Where Deanna’s idea for her book, Hire Purpose: How Smart Companies Can Close the Skills Gap, came from. She also shares how she connected with Greg Shaw, her co-author.
[17:40] Tom shares his experience with Greg Shaw and Deanna touches on what the overall process of writing Hire Purpose was like.
[18:22] How companies and post-secondary can work together to close the opportunity gap, and examples of organizations that are already doing this.
[21:54] While writing Hire Purpose, did Deanna and Greg have the chance to touch on the pandemic before it was released?
[23:12] Now that we’re deep in the midst of the pandemic, are there any additional footnotes Deanna would include in Hire Purpose if she were to release it now?
[23:56] While writing, did Deanna have any changes in opinion on certain topics or areas?
[25:55] Both Deanna and Guardian are very purposeful and values-based. Would Deanna say that establishing partnerships with shared values is the way to overcome and power through any challenges?
[26:35] Deanna gives recommendations and advice for young adults and professionals thinking about a career or starting a career during the pandemic.
[28:19] Tom thanks Deanna for joining the Getting Smart Podcast and congratulates her on her success with Guardian and her new book.

Mentioned in This Episode:

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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