MassMutual Board Reiterates O'Connell Firing

June 23, 2005 ( - The MassMutual Board of Directors on Thursday reaffirmed its decision to fire Robert O'Connell as its chairman, president and chief executive.

Thursday’s action completes a process started June 2 during which the board formally notified O’Connell of its intent to remove him and gave him until Thursday to fix the issues it identified as problems (See  More Allegations Revealed Against MassMutual’s Former Chief ). According to  a board statement , O’Connell was removed because he had ” engaged in a systematic and pervasive pattern of willful abuse of authority, violations of the company’s code of conduct, and other acts of willful gross misconduct.”

Specifically, the statement charged that O’Connell:

  • engaged in willful malfeasance with respect to company procedures related to his supplemental compensation account, directly resulting in over a $30-million improper obligation to him and a comparable recorded expense to the company (See  Report: MassMutual Chief Charges Included Retirement Account Improprieties )
  • caused the company to sell him a condominium at the company’s Marco Island, Florida development, without the knowledge or approval of the board, for an amount substantially below the market price at which the company expected to sell the unit
  • interfered with the investigation and reprimand of two of his family members concerning the improper disclosure of confidential information of OppenheimerFunds, a MassMutual subsidiary
  • took or diverted company non-financial assets, including use of company aircraft for the personal use of his family and friends
  • caused payment of unwarranted and excessive separation payments to be made to company personnel in connection with personally motivated and retaliatory firings
  • engaged in abusive and improper management of the company, including retaliatory behavior against company employees who tried to act in the company’s best interests
  • inhibited or prevented communication between company officers and employees and members of the board, and attempted to restrict the board’s ability to obtain information from company officers and employees.

“The board’s action with regard to the termination of Mr. O’Connell’s employment is consistent with the highest standards of corporate governance and the board’s zero tolerance for unethical and unprofessional behavior,” said James Birle, Chairman of the Board, in Thursday’s statement. “We are financially and operationally strong, and the actions of Mr. O’Connell should not and will not detract from the excellent work and behavior of our 27,000 employees and representatives.”

Birle continued: “While the board acted swiftly and decisively after uncovering Mr. O’Connell’s conduct, we are already working actively with (new CEO) Stu Reese and his Office of the CEO, as well as our outside advisors, to develop even stronger systems and controls to better ensure that something like this can never happen again.”