Meet Bob Zilg ’76, Ensuring International Growth for MetLife

Bob Zilg

Follow alumnus Bob Zilg’s trail of success and you’ll find that the seeds for his international seat with MetLife in Dubai, UAE, began as an English major at Saint Joseph’s. Now, nearly 7,000 miles from his home in New York City, Zilg oversees corporate growth and strategy for MetLife’s Europe, Middle East and Africa division.

What are some key responsibilities of your job?

It’s a combination of strategy, development and analysis. And I am very involved in corporate development in terms of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) in this region. We’re always looking at growth opportunities, especially how we can scale up some of our local operations.

Did you see yourself as an international professional in the future?

Not at all. Even being in the broader financial services industry was never on my radar screen. I was thinking of getting into some type of media position, or perhaps teaching at the college level.

While I was finishing my master’s [in English at Seton Hall], I started work at another insurance company in New York. I was writing and planning employee benefits contracts. Later on I got into the management of that area, including regulatory compliance, and when I joined MetLife I became more involved in market and competitive research. A lot of the liberal arts skills I learned at Saint Joseph’s – like research, writing reports, analysis – really paid off.

When MetLife asked you about working abroad, did you hesitate?

I grabbed it. Over the years I’ve done a lot of traveling and some extended assignments. I’ve been involved in sales and marketing for most of my time in international business. Initially, with the home office, we acted more like consultants to our local businesses, trying to leverage best practices from either our U.S. businesses to our local businesses, or from one international business to another.

And now what’s life like for you in Dubai?

It’s very interesting, because there is a lot of contrast. The development people see – the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall, all the waterfront resorts – they’ve really been built in the last 10 or 15 years. There is an older section of Dubai that is a much more traditional, Middle Eastern environment, with the spice and gold souks (markets). Other than the time difference, you almost forget you are a tremendous distance away.

Is an international career something you’d recommend?

It’s great not only for career development, but also for personal development – throwing you into a different culture and environment. I’ve had only good experiences. No matter what you end up doing, just having had that experience will enrich whatever you’re doing when you go back to the U.S.