John Pinto has been the CEO and president of Pentegra, a provider of retirement plan, fiduciary outsourcing and institutional investment solutions, since 2013. With its corporate headquarters in White Plains, the privately owned firm is now 75 years old, having been founded by the Federal Home Loan Bank System in 1943 to administer a defined benefit pension trust for employees of the Federal Home Loan Bank System called the Savings Associations Retirement Fund; it took the name Pentegra — a combination of “pensions” and “integrity” — in 1993.
When Pinto joined the company in 1991 it had 80 employees, the White Plains office and $2 billion in assets under management (AUM). Today it has more than 250 employees in six offices and $13 billion in AUM. Pinto recently met with the Business Journal’s Kevin Zimmerman in its Shelton office at 2 Enterprise Drive to talk about his management style, the ongoing retirement crisis facing the U.S. — and his beloved New York Jets.
What led you to the financial services sector in the first place?
“I’ve always been good with numbers. My dad was an accountant, which definitely helped. I became a senior accountant at MetLife (in 1982), and then I came to Pentegra in 1991 as comptroller. I earned my M.B.A. at Sacred Heart University, where I learned about M&A and business problem-solving, and have been with Pentegra ever since (including as its treasurer, chief financial offer and chief operations officer).”
What is the biggest challenge in the financial planning industry today?
“There’s an ever-changing marketplace out there. We pride ourselves on providing high-quality services, which requires constant reinvestment in terms of what we do, technology and human resources. There’s also pressure to keep our prices competitive with everyone else while at the same time finding the capital to reinvest.”
Was there a particular business mentor who helped you?
“I’d point to two leadership courses I took, one when I was moving up at Pentegra and one I took just before I became CEO, taught by Mark Wright. They’re very rigorous and teach you what a good leader is and how you can get there. He’s an executive coach who’s written a slew of books. But it’s not all about work — he emphasizes the value of maintaining a smart balance between work and life, which is something I definitely agree with.
“In addition, I’ve worked for several CEOs over the course of my career. I’ve taken a couple of different aspects from each one of them — the good and the bad. In particular, the CEO who hired me at Pentegra (John Bagwill) asked me when my severance from my previous job would run out. I told him, and he told me I’d start here the very next day. That’s the kind of attitude that I’ve tried to maintain while dealing with our employees — trying to have a positive influence on them.”
Have there been any particular business books you’d recommend?
“As a service company, there’s ‘The Simple Truths of Service’ (by Ken Blanchard and Barbara Glanz), which illustrates how providing a high level of service to customers generates higher customer loyalty. We give it to every single employee who comes to work here — it’s that important.
“And there were two that Mark Wright used in his courses. ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’ (by Marshall Goldsmith), which shows you what to do and what to avoid as you move up the ladder in your career, and ‘That Used to Be Us’ (by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum), which discusses how the U.S. was the biggest world power and how we’ve declined in terms of education, technology and so on — and what we can do to return to that position of power.”
What nonbusiness-related book are you reading now?
“‘The JFK Assassination’ (by James DiEugenio). That’s something that I’ve always found fascinating.”
What’s your favorite TV show right now?
“‘Billions.’ It’s sort of a combination of ‘Wall Street’ and ‘Law & Order.’ The plots are awesome and you never expect what’s going to happen. Sometimes the ending really comes out of nowhere.”
Best movie of all-time?
“‘Rocky.’ I love most Sylvester Stallone movies anyway, but the first ‘Rocky’ … you’ve got the whole underdog story and the fact that he wrote it when he was broke and demanded that he get to star in it — really inspiring. With ‘Rocky’ and ‘Rambo’ and all the sequels, they’re all good. ‘Creed’ was awesome. And they’re all different stories — the sequels aren’t all about doing more of the same thing.”
Favorite restaurant in Fairfield County?
“There’s a place called Off the Hook in Stratford, where I live. It’s really casual, but has good pizza and seafood — really great. We try to get over there at least once every couple of weeks.”
What else do you like to do in your spare time?
“I have two passions in life, fishing all year round is one of them. We have a small house in Rhode Island so there’s a lot of bass fishing, striped bass and some bluefish, too.
“Then in the fall, it’s the New York Jets. I’m a diehard Jets fan. My dad was a Giants fan, but I went with a group of guys to a Jets game years ago, when they still played in Shea Stadium, and enjoyed it so much that I ended up buying season tickets for a while.”
How do you like their chances this year?
“Well, you’ve always got the New England Patriots, but I really like that the Jets drafted Sam Darnold. If everything goes according to plan, he should be their quarterback of the future.”
I know your daughter Jen works here as well. Was that always the plan, or…?
“That goes back to ‘Bring Your Daughter to Work Day’ in our White Plains office. She came in and got to know (vice president, marketing and communications) Maria Siegel. When she got out of school for the summer she’d come back and spend time with Maria. That was seven years ago and now she’s Pentegra’s marketing coordinator.”
What’s the best part of your job?
“The employees. I love the people who work here. It’s something of a cliché, but I really do feel that our greatest asset walks off the elevator to work here every day.
“And beyond that, one of those most rewarding things, what we do here, is to provide retirement solutions to companies around the country so they can offer employee retirement plans. To be a part of that solution — to help people out — is very, very gratifying.”
As far as the retirement crisis that this country continues to face — you always see headlines about how Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement. Why do you think that, even with all the news coverage, it’s still a problem?
“There are so many things competing for your money today. People graduating from college are facing tremendous loan debt. A lot of people have mortgage payments that they are struggling with. And of course people want to buy that new car or take that special vacation. On top of that, a lot of young people especially think that retirement’s so far down the road that they don’t need to think about it or plan for it. It’s a matter of prioritizing.”
I’m sure we could be here all day talking about this, but I’ll ask anyway: What general advice do you have when it comes to planning for retirement?
“If your company offers a 401(k), get in as soon as you’re eligible. And if they have a matching plan, take full advantage of it. Never leave money on the table.
“I also tell people not to try and time the market. If the S&P goes down, don’t react immediately and take your money out. This is a long-term investment — the market will have its ups and downs but over time you’ll do fine. And as tempting as it can be, don’t take a loan from your 401(k). Some people do that so they can buy that new car or whatever, but that’s doing a real disservice to yourself.
“And don’t forget that there are plenty of professional financial advisers out there who can meet with you and talk about your goals for your retirement. There are also plenty of tools available online that can help — take the time to go over what you want to do and make adjustments where you feel they’re necessary.”