John Simmers, who in his 30-year career helped consolidate ING’s roster

of broker/dealers into the four B/Ds

that comprise the ING Advisors Network, has retired from the company. Simmers, 58, had been chairman and CEO of ING Advisors Network; his “official role” with the company was to end on April 16, saidING spokesman Phil Margolis, though he said Simmers will continue to “play an advisory role” with ING while the company conducts a search for his permanent replacement.

In an interview, Simmers said that he was neither “dying,” nor “walking away from a business that isn’t successful; we’re very successful.” However, he felt that a “lot of the good” he could do in speaking with regulators and politicians lay outside of his role at ING, where he could express his opinions more freely and “not be the CEO.”

ING has named Mark Marr, current executive VP and chief administrative officer at the ING Advisors Network, who heads finance, risk management, technology, and operations, to serve as interim CEO.

He called his interim successor a “very good executive” with “credibility” with both ING executives and with advisors. Simmers said he and Marr had worked together for 11 years, that he “knew his mind very well,” and that the leadership of the ING Advisors Network had “never been a one-man show,” though he admitted that he had been the “face of the network.”

Catherine Smith, CEO of ING Retirement Services, called Simmers “one of the patriarchs of the modern day independent broker/dealer industry” in a prepared statement on April 3, and said that “over the next few weeks, we will select his successor from a deep list of experienced and talented internal candidates.” As of press time on April 17, however, no successor had been named by the company.

A Good Year

Simmers said his decision had “nothing to do with ING,” pointing out that the company had had “a good last year,” which is continuing in 2009 with trading activity increasing. In fact, he said he was healthy, that he had given notice “some time ago” about his plans to retire, and praised ING the company, which he said “gave me the chance to be a CEO.” Moreover, Simmers said that in preparation for his move, he had “pulled out of the market 13 months ago,” and that his decision reflected his penchant for planning “his whole life in advance.” That proclivity, he joked, had gone as far as deciding that in planning his family, he wanted two children–a boy and a girl–”and that’s what I have.”

Simmers was appointed to a three-year term in 2007 to the FINRA Board of Governors as the Independent Dealer/Insurance Affiliate representative. Simmers said he would stay on the board through this year. “I’m clearly an advocate for the independent broker/dealer space and the independent advisor,” he said, and “whatever influence I can have with FINRA on the independent side, I will dedicate myself to that.”

“I’ve always been an active advocate,” Simmers said, “and I intend to still do that.”

Looking at the big picture for the independent B/D universe, Simmers waxed philosophical: “Whoever regulates us is immaterial in the long run. It’s all about the day-to-day rules and regulation and the products we sell, and making sure there’s an understanding and appreciation for the effort it takes to make changes inside the industry, and that they [the regulators] are truly protecting the public and not merely creating a bureaucracy.”

Simmers began his career as an examiner with NASD, and later helped found Financial Network Investment Corp., which was acquired by Aetna in 1997, and by ING in 2000. He became CEO of ING Advisors Network in 2001.

As for Marr, Simmers praised his efforts “to provide benefits to our brokers here,” citing as an example his efforts on forgivable loans for recent recruits.

“Over the past few years, we’ve set targets for them to achieve,” but Simmers, said “we’ve been working to adjust the measures to the markets so people aren’t sitting there with these huge targets to reach to make their loans forgivable. Mark worked within the system to in effect adjust the loans to the new market realities and still give them targets, but achievable ones. That’s a big coup.”

As of April 1, 2009, ING Advisors Network had 8,509 registered representatives. In 2008, ING Advisor Network had $1 billion in revenue, with FNIC the leader with $369 million in revenue.