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MetLife keeps CEO Kandarian to manage ‘dramatic change’

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MetLife Inc., the largest U.S. life insurer, extended Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian’s term by lifting the age-65 retirement policy as he works to simplify the company and fights to avoid stricter government oversight.

The move is a vote of confidence in the 64-year-old even as the stock is trading for less than at the end of 2013. Kandarian is seeking to separate a capital-intensive U.S. retail unit, possibly through a sale or public offering, so he can focus on businesses with better cash flow. He won a court decision in March to overturn the government’s designation of MetLife as too big to fail and is seeking to defeat a U.S. appeal.

“With the company in the midst of dramatic change, we believe Steve’s continued leadership will serve MetLife’s shareholders, customers and employees exceptionally well,” Cheryl Grise, MetLife’s independent lead director, said Tuesday in a statement. “In the face of unprecedented regulatory and macroeconomic challenges, he has taken bold action to position the company for profitable growth and strong cash generation.”

MetLife has been pressed to publicly discuss succession planning after announcing last year that William Wheeler, who was president of the Americas, was leaving the New York-based company. Wheeler, the former chief financial officer, had been considered by many to be the most likely candidate to replace Kandarian as CEO. Kandarian took the post in May 2011 and his promotion to that role was announced weeks earlier when then-CEO Robert Henrikson was 63.

Overseas Growth

Kandarian has purchased a Chilean pension manager as part of an overseas growth push and sold U.S. banking assets to help limit regulatory oversight. The CEO, who is also chairman, has sought to focus on segments such as dental and disability coverage, while scaling back sales of products like variable annuities, where results can be tied to fluctuations in financial markets.