Ted Mathas walks into the venerable conference room decorated with a long, oak table and leather chairs. A giant grandfather clock looms over the entrance.
Decked in a dark sport coat, gray shirt, slacks and bereft of a necktie, he boasts an infectious smile and a congenial demeanor that highlight his sparkling green eyes. He is the head of New York Life, the country's biggest mutual life insurer.
Mathas leads the Manhattan-based firm, which is headquartered in a classic, 40-story, gothic-revival styled skyscraper with a golden pyramidal roof. Designed by Cass Gilbert (the architect who designed the U.S. Supreme Court Building and the Woolworth Building) and completed in 1928, the edifice stands out amidst the cluttered landscape of the island--it speaks of old school Beaux Arts elegance and restrained clout.
Vivacious, imbued with a joie de vivre, Mathas, 48, is fronting what could be one of the company's largest diversity recruitment efforts in its 170-year-old history. Via social media, the Internet, ads and word of mouth, New York Life, which has nearly 9,000 employees and 12,000 licensed reps, is looking for bilingual candidates.
The influx of Latinos into New York Life grows every day. The corporation has nearly 200 Latinos in management positions; Ralph de la Vega, Vice Chairman of AT&T, sits on its board.
"Ten percent of our current agents are Latino. That's double what it was perhaps even six, seven years ago. Looking at our current agent recruits, 18 percent are Latino," Mathas says. "We are driving that activity, and there's still plenty of room to grow."
But New York Life's diversity efforts aren't just about numbers, Mathas says. The company is looking for people who share its values.
"The growth in America is in the diverse communities of America, where there are young families, people with family values who want to take care of their kids and make sure they can continue on, whatever the circumstances," says Mathas, who lives in Westchester County, New York with his wife, Keryn and their three children. "We want to lean in to the future of America. The future of America is diverse."
Mathas, born Theodore A. Mathas, grew up in Norfolk, Virginia. A third-generation Greek, Mathas was raised in an extended family. His parents ran a small business, which afforded them an upper middle-class life, he says.
Life for the Mathas family revolved around their Greek Church, he says. From his father, who by means of his business was able to provide for his family, young Mathas learned the philosophy of noblesse oblige (nobility obliges), the French phrase that signifies that those who have more should make the most of their gifts.
"He basically instilled upon us we had it better than he had it, so there's an expectation that we do more with that. That was a very powerful lesson," Mathas says. "We used to sit at the dinner table and have conversations about business and...