Senior Vice President & CFO
Aegon Asset Management
Nominated by Darlene Greene, HR Head
Stephanie Phelps has accomplished plenty in her role as Aegon Asset Management’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, yet her pinch-hitting ability is one of the things that made her an easy choice for Financial Executive of the Year.
After the company’s CEO resigned in 2015, she stepped into the role for almost two years, during which time she implemented a strong risk and control framework, boosted employee morale and led the company to achieve a majority of its annual financial goals.
Prior to becoming interim CEO, Ms. Phelps stepped in to fill leadership roles when needed in Real Estate, Product Development, Marketing, Compliance, Operational Risk and Client Services units. Each time, nominator Darlene Green wrote in her nomination, she made positive changes.
“Combining humility, dedication and remarkable willingness to adapt, Stephanie models commitment and behaviors for employees across functions – not to mention for women in a male-dominated industry,” Ms. Green wrote.
The CFO’s role at Aegon Asset Management combines responsibilities for cost management, financial reporting, capital and liquidity planning and a wide array of investment products. But for Ms. Phelps, a 52-year-old mother of three, she always thought, why limit yourself?
“I’ve always wanted to challenge myself and the only way you can do that is take yourself out of your box and do something you think you couldn’t do,” she said.
As a general strategy, Ms. Phelps said she accepts her own limitations in subject matter knowledge, and seeks out the right talent, process or technology to help a department become more effective.
“You’re only as good as your team and my way is to hire good people on my team,” Ms. Phelps said. “If I can hire people even smarter than me, that’s all the better.”
While reluctant to define her management style, Ms. Phelps said she’s “someone who likes them [her team] to try to figure out how to get things done in their own way, because that’s how they’re most successful, and just try to advise around the edges.”
An Iowa native, Ms. Phelps began her career as a public accountant at what is now PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) after graduating from the University of Iowa with an accounting degree and passing her Iowa CPA exam in 1989.
After three years, she left PwC to join insurance and financial services company Aegon (now Transamerica) in Cedar Rapids as a senior accountant in financial reporting. After seven years in the Aegon organization, she moved over to Aegon Asset Management, which manages its investment assets, where she rose to CFO.
She’s been there for 20 years, managing through recessions that created plenty of stress and mergers that doubled the company’s size.
“I’ve had some good mentors that taught me to be steady,” Ms. Phelps said. “There are always things outside your control, so you keep it in perspective.”
A good day for Ms. Phelps may involve landing new sales to help build the business or seeing her staff overcome challenging obstacles.
“I like the fact that it’s always changing, and right now what we’re trying to do is build a third-party asset management business,” Ms. Phelps said. “For a long time we managed money for Transamerica only. Now, we’re using our expertise and capabilities to manage money for unaffiliated parties, so we’ve been building that business most recently.”
The third-party asset management business has grown to about $35 billion in assets, or about 25 percent of the U.S. assets the company has under management. Helping to grow that business has been a strong motivation for Ms. Phelps in recent years, and she expects its future growth to be a key goal for the latter part of her career.
Perhaps a more personal goal for Ms. Phelps is to find more ways to encourage and support women pursuing careers in the industry.
“I do have a special place in my heart for getting more women in management in our organization,” Ms. Phelps said. “The asset management industry is shy on the number of women we have in management. We’re not unique, but just how can we work on the challenges and obstacles women face?”
Ms. Phelps led the creation of a networking group for senior women at Aegon Asset Management. Helping women develop more confidence is one area in which she sees opportunities for improvement.
Outside work, Ms. Phelps has served since 2015 as board treasurer for Waypoint, the Cedar Rapids nonprofit offering shelter, housing, childcare and domestic violence support for women.
– Dave DeWitte