First generation CEO

As John Doyle walked across the stage to receive his bachelor’s degree from the School of Management in 1986, little did he know that his journey would take him from being the first person in his family to graduate from college to becoming president and CEO of Marsh McLennan — the world’s leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people.

John Persons.

His career began on Wall Street, just days after his graduation, when he was hired by the finance and insurance company American International Group (AIG). 

There, his exposure to the insurance industry sharpened his understanding of corporate risk and established the foundation of leadership that has defined his career. Doyle’s extraordinary rise took him from trainee to second in command during his tenure.

“In 2008 as AIG was facing the challenges of the financial crisis, I got a couple of battlefield promotions and found myself all of a sudden playing a part in orchestrating the recovery of the company,” he says. 

After nearly three decades at AIG, Doyle joined Marsh McLennan in 2016 as president of Marsh (the firm’s global insurance broker and risk advisor), then led Marsh as president and CEO from 2017 to 2021. Prior to his current role, Doyle served as group president and chief operating officer of Marsh McLennan, where he was responsible for the strategy and operational objectives of the company’s four global businesses.

Under his leadership, the company has expanded its international presence — it has more than 85,000 colleagues serving clients in more than 130 countries — while also deepening its impact on critical global issues. His leadership philosophy is deeply influenced by his understanding of the insurance industry's critical role in enabling sustainable economic growth — a perspective he says is often underestimated.

“People tend to contextualize risk and insurance around their personal lives, like the home or auto insurance you may have,” he says. “But looking at Ukraine as an example, where grain is a critical part of their economy, insurers withdrew when the war ensued with Russia. It was a big hit to their economy at a critical moment, so we’ve been working with their government, collecting data and building confidence with stakeholders and we ultimately developed a public/private partnership to enable grain to be shipped through the Black Sea again.”

Doyle remains connected to his roots and credits his time at the School of Management for preparing him to navigate the complexities of global business. 

“I grew up 30 miles north of New York City and attended a modest-sized high school, so I wanted to experience something bigger,” he says. “A significant part of my experience at UB was that you had be a self-starter and that it was competitive. Coming to school in an environment like that and seeing the diversity of the students and faculty gives you a broader perspective on life.”

Doyle's advice to current students and recent graduates is to embrace the unpredictability of career paths and to find joy in the challenges and opportunities of their journeys.

“There’s going to be lots of ups and downs, but it’s all about how you learn from the downs and how you pick yourself back up,” he says. “One of the things I've discovered over the years is to enjoy the grind, which isn't necessarily intuitive to a lot of people, including me. Once you do, you find that’s the rewarding part. The satisfaction of getting it done right.”

Written by Kevin Manne