O’Connell termination was a ‘non-financial event’

The abrupt dismissal earlier this month of Robert J. O’Connell from his posts as president and chief executive officer of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company was definitely a “non-financial event,” said a Standard & Poor’s rating analyst.

“We were not made privy to any additional information that had not been disclosed,” S&P analyst Kevin Ahern said. “But we have had further discussions with the company, and we have been able to assess that.”

MassMutual, Springfield, Mass., issued a statement on June 2 saying O’Connell’s contract was terminated “due to certain issues, subject to his rights under his employment contract.”

O’Connell had been appointed CEO in January 1998.

Stuart Reese, who had been executive vice president and chief investment officer, replaces O’Connell as CEO and president. James Birle will become non-executive chairman of the board.

MassMutual’s announcement about O’Connell’s firing “speaks for itself, and we have nothing further to add,” said company spokesman Mark DiGiorgio.

O’Connell issued his own statement through a public relations agency noting the strong financial performance of the company during his 7 years as CEO but saying it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the termination.

Ahern noted that the company has S&P’s highest rating and always has met revenue and earnings expectations. While there was some pressure from policyholders in recent years to demutualize, the analyst said that the company’s access to capital is adequate now.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that MassMutual terminated 2 more top executives.

Susan A. Alfano, executive vice president for enterprise systems and services, and Ann F. Lomeli, senior vice president, co-general counsel and secretary, are no longer with the company, according to a report in The Republican, a Springfield, Mass., newspaper.

Alfano had worked for MassMutual since 1971 and was promoted to her last position in 2001. She previously had been the company’s head of human resources.

Alfano was escorted from the company’s headquarters the same day the company announced O’Connell’s termination, and Lomeli was let go the following day, the newspaper said.

The newspaper also quoted a company e-mail notifying employees of the changes that used such phrases as “ethical leadership” and “standards of behavior [that] must be set from the top.”

The e-mail also stated MassMutual’s board “fully investigated certain matters that required” O’Connell’s termination. The appointment of Reese to replace O’Connell “signals the beginning of a new era of greater transparency, clear accountability and meritocracy at MassMutual,” according to the message quoted by the newspaper.

Stuart Reese replaces O’Connell as president and CEO