R. Henning Schulte-Noelle has long been considered one of the most powerful figures in German finance. After practicing law for a year, he began at German insurance powerhouse Allianz in 1975, and quietly rose to become, in 1991, the seventh chairman of the board since the company was founded a century before.

During his tenure, Schulte-Noelle saw Allianz move from a predominantly national, rather traditional insurance concern to a worldwide, full-service finance conglomerate. Schulte-Noelle led Allianz through 12 years of growth toward becoming the world’s largest insurance company. He executed the conversion of formerly state-owned monopolistic insurers in Eastern Germany and made Allianz the leading international insurer in East Europe. He led the acquisition of Swiss Re’s main insurance group. He took over France’s AGF, opening up markets for Allianz in dozens of countries. He expanded Allianz operations in the Far East. He led important expansions into diverse economic services taking over PIMCO and other well-known asset managers in the U.S.

Schulte-Noelle’s mild-mannered demeanor belies his bold business stance. In 1998 he told Wharton Alumni Magazine: “I strongly support an entrepreneurial attitude, which should allow people to make mistakes. If we don’t take risks, we don’t achieve.” In 2003 Schulte-Noelle moved behind the scenes to head up the supervisory board. At the time, Allianz was recovering from losses following the breakdown of the financial markets and its 2001 takeover of ailing Dresdner Bank. At the time Schulte-Noelle said, “We have learned the right lessons from this experience.”

In the intervening years, Allianz has proved it through a cross-border merger with its big subsidiary Italian Riunione Adriatica di Sicurtà (RAS) S.p.A. into Allianz AG and the conversion into a European Company—Allianz SE. Schulte-Noelle is a member of Wharton’s Executive Board for Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.