Sternbergs start leadership transition at Starmount, AlwaysCare _lowres

Erich Sternberg, president and chief executive officer of Starmount Life Insurance Co., is leaving the Baton Rouge-based company after 22 years with the business.

Erich Sternberg, president and chief executive officer of Starmount Life Insurance Co., is leaving the Baton Rouge-based company after 22 years with the business.

Sternberg, 51, said he’s leaving the dental and vision benefits business at the end of March to pursue his next venture. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do, but said he’s looking to find something that will be the right fit.

“I’ve been thinking about this for some time,” Sternberg said. “I’m stepping away at a time of strength. All of the brands are performing at a high level.”

Sternberg is the last family member in the company. Starmount was founded in 1983 as the Maison Blanche Life Insurance Co. It was created by the Sternberg family, which made Goudchaux’s/Maison Blanche into a major local department store chain that was eventually sold. The Sternbergs had set up the insurance company to sell policies to the 650,000 people that had Maison Blanche charge accounts. After all, the thinking went, people with good enough credit to get charge accounts for a department store would be the type to take good care of their health and buy life insurance.

Mike Simonds, president and CEO of Unum U.S., the Tennessee-based company that bought Starmount in 2016, thanked Sternberg for his leadership, which allowed the company to add talent and nurture employees.

“I’ve admired Erich’s professional path … how he built and sold a successful family business with hard work, creativity and a genuine care for people,” Simonds said.

Plans are for Baton Rouge to remain the hub of Unum’s dental and vision business. At the time of the Starmount purchase in 2016, Unum said it planned to grow Starmount’s revenue to $1 billion over the next 10 years. Those ambitious growth plans remain unchanged.

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“We had the opportunity to sell the business to take the growth into another stratosphere,” Sternberg said. “The commitment Unum made to our team and our ability to build has allowed us to capitalize on that opportunity.”

In 1998, when Sternberg started at Starmount, the company had 20 employees and revenue of $3 million. At the time of the Unum deal, it had more than 230 employees and more than $180 million in premiums. Starmount is now doing more than $300 million a year in revenue and has nearly 400 direct employees.

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“It’s been a really fun run, before and since the Unum transaction,” Sternberg said.

Email Timothy Boone at tboone@theadvocate.com.