President's Message

From International Student to CEO: A Conversation with Lisa Sun, FCAS

For my President’s Message columns, I have been talking to distinguished actuaries who embody the new Envisioned Future for the CAS. Videos of these interviews are available as Web Exclusives on the Actuarial Review website and the CAS YouTube channel.

Special to this issue, AR has included a Chinese translation of the column.

Lisa Sun is a warm, relatable CEO — those are not words you find together very often. But talking to this head of AIG Insurance Company China felt like talking to an old friend. She started out as an actuarial intern at Liberty Mutual. That sounds so normal! She made triangles in Excel and checked the data. So did I!

Lisa Sun fell into the actuarial profession through her college career fair. She spent most of the time fruitlessly searching for internships, but the last company she visited told her that her math major was exactly what they were seeking. It was Liberty Mutual and they were looking for actuaries. “What is that word?” she asked. “How do you spell that?”

Since then, Sun has made some great decisions throughout her career, taking her from actuarial intern to CEO. Development and risk are two things that have enriched her work life.

Value your career development

When it came time to decide on her first full-time job, she chose Liberty over another, higher paying job offer in life insurance. The choice was easy because she had seen how much the P&C firm valued the development of their actuaries. “The company had a great training program … that was the biggest thing for me. I wanted a job where I could learn and grow.”

Take a chance

A while ago, when her husband moved to Hong Kong, Lisa’s job search led her to the opportunities to either transfer to Liberty Mutual’s international business or join AIG in Asia. She initially wanted to turn down the AIG offer because relocation and switching companies seemed too much change to handle.

Following her decision but before accepting Liberty’s offer, an unusual thing happened. The AIG President of Worldwide Accident and Health wrote her a letter, saying: “Lisa, I don’t often write to a potential candidate after they have made their decision (in fact this may be the only time that I have done so) but in this case I thought it was appropriate as I truly believe you are making a mistake … your knowledge and passion for your work would serve you well at AIG and put on in a good position to maximize career opportunity.” This extraordinary letter got her thinking: “I’m young, I can afford to be bold and take a calculated risk … I can give it a try and do something new.”

Leadership abilities are critical and so transportable. Companies are always looking for great leaders.


Taking the AIG job was one of the best career decisions she’s made. “The company really throws you in the deep end of the water and you learn to sink or swim, and you learn very quickly … the company wants to see you be successful…you were surrounded by many experienced professionals from whom you can learn.”

Follow the Sun

Lisa Sun has some good advice for other actuaries who are looking to grow into leadership positions.

  1. Be passionate — You have to love what you do in order to do it well.
  2. Be professional — Know who you are and what your weaknesses and strengths are. Under pressure a person could revert to type; you need to know where your pressure points are and what your potential weaknesses are.
  3. Have perseverance — Actuaries already possess this. They have finished their exams and have committed to being actuaries. This perseverance can translate to their leadership goals.
  4. Know the fundamentals — You have to understand and “sweat” the technical stuff.
  5. Connect the dots — Take what you’ve learned and translate that into your work.
  6. Know the business — Knowing your business allow you to drive proper insight from your data that can advise the company to make informed business decisions and take calculated risks.
  7. Develop leadership and communication skills — Leadership abilities are critical and so transportable. Companies are always looking for great leaders. Great leaders can communicate to get people excited and engaged, which can lead to happier employees and happier customers.

So, how do you accomplish all of this? Lisa Sun stresses self-knowledge as the key: You have to know where your gaps are. Then, you need to have deliberate practice. You can read leadership books, but pick a few things to focus on and put the concepts into practice.

What I’ve learned

This is the last of my interviews and columns as president of the CAS. Every actuary I’ve interviewed has had an impact on me in ways I wasn’t expecting:

  • Frank Chang showed me how actuaries can succeed in Silicon Valley. He forged this path for others to follow.
  • Katherine Antonello showed me how you get from chief actuary to CEO. Her advice? Be curious and contribute to the leadership team beyond your actuarial skills. It’s OK to have an opinion on marketing!
  • Adam Druissi answered the question of “how to crack the nut” and truly have significant business impact through data and analytics. Research for the innovative products and tools they provide for their clients, among them Walmart and Facebook.
  • Brian Duperreault helped me put my work challenges into perspective. Imagine me stressing about a hugely challenging thing that I’m doing at work, but then I think, “Duperreault grew ACE from a company of 50 people!” OK, no. What I’m doing is not that challenging.
  • Sarayyah Baksh made me more comfortable in sharing my career goals. (For those whom I’ve shared them with — you know who you are — thank you!)
  • And finally, Lisa Sun. Thank you for showing a truly relatable pathway to leadership and giving me the confidence to continue my journey.

Thanks to all six remarkable actuaries and to all the readers of AR and watchers of the YouTube videos. Thanks for liking, commenting and reviewing.

I have one last request as president: I’d love to know just one thing you took away from these interviews. Please share via my LinkedIn profile or through!