Barings Chairman and CEO Mike Freno leads an asset management firm with a footprint in countries around the globe. His best advice for undergraduates about to enter the workforce: Find something you like to do with people you want to do it with.
Freno recently spoke with Belk College of Business Dean Jennifer Troyer for the fall 2022 installment of the C-Suite Speaker Series. This signature event features alumni and friends of the college who are in leadership positions in the greater Charlotte region. Speakers share their expertise with business undergraduate and graduate students on a variety of topics.
Barings is a $338-plus billion global asset management firm, which is a subsidiary of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. It has offices across the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia and focuses much of its leadership efforts to create a corporate culture grounded in collaboration.
“We use a very team-based approach in everything we do,” said Freno. “We are a collective group of excellent, talented individuals.”
Managing teams internationally requires respect for the local customs and norms of the regions where Barings is located.
“The sun never really sets on our operations but to manage the company through the lens of someone sitting in Charlotte would be a mistake,” Freno stated. “We rely on strong teams in every region to address challenges within the strategies we have set and within our values.”
Barings’ core values are value our people, take accountability, foster collaboration and deliver excellence.
“Our employees feel like they can be their authentic selves, irrespective of gender or race, and they are empowered to ask for help as no one has all the answers,” said Freno.
Two important life lessons
Throughout his career, Freno found jobs where he was able to utilize his skills, and he especially benefited when teams were able to utilize the leadership qualities he possessed. Along the journey, he learned two valuable lessons: Do not stay in a job you don’t like for too long, and take risks, especially early in your career.
“You try to conform to a situation, and it doesn’t work. And it’s probably not going to get better,. ” Freno said. “Early in your career, you have room to run and take on more responsibility. Find a spot where being vulnerable is encouraged and that you can ask for help without being viewed as someone who doesn’t have what it takes.”
Today, Freno is chairman and CEO of Barings and chair of the Barings Board of Directors and a member of the MassMutual Executive Leadership Team. Growing up in Tampa, Florida, Freno did not envision where his career would lead. He attended Furman University, where he played soccer collegiately, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He later earned an MBA from Wake Forest University.
Having been a member of an athletic team, Freno knows teamwork can lead to triumph. At a recent board meeting he watched 10 colleagues outline the company’s successes, challenges and hurdles cleared. “I take great pride in how our people work together.”