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Northwestern IBD taps women for key roles following executive shakeup

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Northwestern Mutual aims to make good on its CEO’s pledge that the firm “will not waver” in its efforts to advance women in the executive ranks. After five women left their executive positions earlier this year, the insurer promoted two others to top roles at its broker-dealer.

The firm stands out as one of only six large IBDs led by a woman — but former Chief Innovation Officer and LearnVest founder Alexa von Tobel stepped down in January to launch a venture capital fund. Four other women in executive posts said they would leave in May.

CEO John Schlifske acknowledged their exits were “a step backward” in an email to employees at the time, the Milwaukee Business Journal reported. Northwestern has now tapped IBD president Evamarie Schoenborn to lead the firm’s overall retail investment business.

As president of Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management, Schoenborn will also manage regulatory strategy and the board after taking over from Christian Mitchell. The firm appointed Lori Brissette, vice president of risk and investment client services, to Schoenborn’s prior role.

Mitchell had been serving in two roles since becoming chief customer officer last November. Now he can instead focus on overseeing planning and the client experience. Schoenborn is also taking on his earlier duties managing the firm’s investment products and services division.

"Evamarie and Lori have the leadership capabilities, passion, and industry expertise that will carry our long-term vision for Northwestern Mutual's investment products and services forward and continue our sustained growth," Mitchell said in a statement.

Schoenborn and Brissette — who is now president of Northwestern Mutual Investment Services, its FINRA-registered BD — only joined the firm last year. Schoenborn had spent 20 years at Ameriprise, while Brissette left an executive post in the protection experience unit at USAA.

Just a handful of firms participating in Financial Planning’s annual IBD Elite survey listed women as their head executives. However, Northwestern and 23 other firms didn’t disclose the share of producing representatives who are women — a mere 17% average at other IBDs.

The promotions also come after the departures by von Tobel and Emilia Sherifova, the former chief technology officer of Northwestern and LearnVest. Northwestern acquired the digital investing service in 2015 for $250 million, but it shut down the firm’s direct retail offering in 2018.

Sherifova left the insurer last month for a gig as chief information and innovation officer at global investment firm KKR. Their fellow LearnVest alum, Chief Marketing Officer Aditi Gokhale, has driven change in Northwestern’s marketing by creating ads and other content aimed at women.

“We’ve found success engaging women through content about real women who are reaching their financial goals and key life moments such as planning a family vacation, preparing for maternity leave or starting a business,” Gokhale told Digiday last month.

On the other hand, the firm also lost Chief Transformation Officer Beth Rodenhuis, Head of Public Investments Leslie Barbi and Vice President of Communications Courtney Reynolds in addition to Sherifova in the May exits. Their departures were not related to one another, the firm says.

“While we have made progress in advancing women at all levels, there is more to do,” Schlifske said in the company email, according to the Business Journal. “These departures are a step backward, but we will not waver in our efforts to continue to be an inclusive company where all can make an impact.”

He added that the departures occurred as a result of “active competition for talent across companies.”

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