The Last Word
From Baritone to Boardroom: MetLife Executive’s Overture Was on the Opera Stage
Before he was the executive vice president and chief marketing officer at MetLife, Michael Roberts enjoyed a brief opera career.
- Anthony Bellano
- September 2022
The first time Michael Roberts sang in front of a group of people, he was 13 years old and performed a baritone solo. He was at a boarding school in New Hampshire, and he was singing as part of the school's performance of Ernest Bloch's “Sacred Service,” a famous sacred Hebrew oratorio. He sang it in Yiddish and was accompanied by a conductor, a 40-piece orchestra, and a 60-person choir.
Today, he finds himself going before a different audience. As executive vice president and chief marketing officer for MetLife Inc., Roberts designs experiences that help the second-largest U.S. life insurer ranked by 2021 admitted assets, according to AM Best, build enduring customer relationships. But that musical performance was not a one-off, long-forgotten occurrence.
“All of my degrees are in music,” said Roberts, the youngest of four siblings who all played instruments and sang. He went to graduate school and he performed in front of what he estimates to be thousands of people.
The highlight of his career came when he sang in the church at the Duomo in Orvieto, Italy, in 2018. Construction on the Duomo began in 1290, and it is home to a number of renowned sculptures and paintings. In that famed venue, he performed with Coro Mundi, an international choir consisting of highly skilled professional and amateur singers from around the world.
However, that performance came years after Roberts already discovered that singing was not going to be his professional career. When he came to New York after graduate school, the man who discovered he was good at singing at a relatively young age discovered he wasn't yet ready for a career in the arts.
Instead, Roberts joined the consulting world in 1999. He spent the first half of his career in strategy before he went into marketing. “I found that there were things about strategy and things about marketing that I found could be very fulfilling and very satisfying for me to spend my time and to practice,” he said.
“Art is made to transform and connect through communication,” Roberts said. “As a marketer, we essentially do the same thing, but for different ends. Our goal is to really understand the needs of the customer, the stakeholders that we're interacting with, the context in which they operate, and find ways to help them do something different.”
And while singing was his passion and his area of educational expertise, Roberts didn't have tunnel vision when it came to performing as a profession.
“I had a pretty classic liberal arts education, so early in my education, there was never a specific focus,” Roberts said. “What I thought of more was how I could apply my skills to do something I could excel at that would also be fulfilling. The fact that I found it in consulting, strategy, financial services and now insurance is really because I found the things that motivated me in those areas at those specific times in my career.
“I try to find a few hours a week to continue to practice and to sing. Every once in a while, I find an opportunity to perform. I still love doing it.”