Buying in at Unum: Martha Leiper returns to company as chief investment officer

Photography by Tim Barber / Martha Leiper, Unum's chief investment officer
Photography by Tim Barber / Martha Leiper, Unum's chief investment officer

Martha Leiper says she starts each work day catching up on the news on the CNBC morning program "Squawk Box" before heading into Unum where she's the insurer's chief investment officer.

Overseeing the Chattanooga-based company's massive $51 billion portfolio, Leiper says she meets with her team to review what opportunities may exist to invest. She also meets frequently with other senior leaders at Unum as she keeps up with the company's business strategy.

"It's a lot of money to manage and make sure we're on top of," says the executive vice president who returned to Unum about six weeks ago and is embarking on her second stint with the company.

The 57-year-old Chattanooga native joined the insurer shortly after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1985, joining the business in the statistical analysis area.

Leiper, who also holds a master's in business administration, moved into Unum's investment department where she stayed for next 20 years doing research, trading and gaining the expertise to rise to deputy chief investment officer.

Next, she was recruited to join USAA, a financial services group of companies serving people and families who serve, or had served, in the United States Armed Forces, and moved to San Antonio. There, she became that company's senior vice president for corporate finance and enterprise money movement.

Leiper stayed there most of this decade until earlier this year when she was recruited back to Unum to serve in her current post.

She says that Unum's portfolio is "holding up well," even though low interest rates aren't good from an investment standpoint.

But, Leiper says, the economy has stayed out of a recession. Impeachment proceedings around President Trump in Washington D.C. don't seem to be dinging the markets, she says, and she believes trade may be more of an issue.

In her second time around with Unum, she applauds the company's move while she was away into dental insurance and growing more internationally with the acquisition of a Polish company.

"It's nice to see us expand into other group benefit products," Leiper says.

Richard P. McKenney, Unum Group's president and chief executive, says Leiper brings deep experience in the financial services sector and has successfully managed investment strategy through mergers and acquisitions and times of economic uncertainty.

"Martha has a proven ability to leverage investment opportunities across an organization and then allocate capital to drive and accelerate growth strategy. It's great to have her back on the team," he says.

Married with three children, Leiper says she likes to unwind away from work with family, running and cooking. She says she'll open up a Southern Living magazine and find recipes, noting that "it's fun cooking something new."

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