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The name's the same for top two

The $10.9 billion acquisition of John Hancock Financial Services Inc. by Manulife Financial Corp. is also a tale of two D'Alessandros: Dominic, chief executive of Toronto-based Manulife, and David, chief executive of Boston-based Hancock. No relation.

An Italian name, D'Alessandro is not uncommon. But it isn't Smith, either.

The coincidences aren't over: David D'Alessandro's father, it turns out, was named Dominick.

All of the D'Alessandros left some analysts chuckling.

``That's going to throw some people for a loop, with two D'Alessandros,'' said Deutsche Bank Securities analyst Vanessa Wilson, who has met both. ``But the two men have very different personalities and very different management styles.''

Dominic D'Alessandro said there will be plenty of work for both D'Alessandros, although he, too, found it unusual that if the deal goes through as the companies expect, there will be two top executives with the same last name under a single corporate umbrella.

``It's going to be a first,'' he said. But he added, ``We're both going into this with our eyes open. We're hopeful this will work out just fine for everyone.''

On paper, the two complement each other. Dominic D'Alessandro came up the ranks as a numbers guy while David D'Alessandro fashioned a successful early advertising career, only later moving to the business side of the insurance industry. He loves to tell the story of how, when he was first offered the job overseeing Hancock's group insurance business in 1987, he accepted and then asked, ``What's the group business?''

A college journalism major and advertising consultant who joined Hancock in 1984 as director of corporate communications, David D'Alessandro has come a long way, ascending quickly up the ladder at Hancock, becoming a driving force in Boston's clubby power circles, and exerting influence throughout the sporting world through Hancock's sponsorships of the Boston Marathon, the Olympic Games, and Major League Baseball.

David, 52, has written off his upbringing as a New York Yankees fan to become a minority owner of the rival Boston Red Sox. He socializes with Governor Mitt Romney, is one of the highest-paid executives in financial services, and frequently scoffs at the corporate-speak that comes from the mouths of many CEOs.

His office, complete with a stunning view of the Boston skyline, a pair of plush leather couches, and a beefy security guard watching the door, is packed with pop-culture flotsam and jetsam: a poster signed by Annie Oakley, a pair of Muhammad Ali 's boxing shorts, and a hat worn by John Lennon, among other items.

``I like being surrounded by things great people have touched or owned,'' said D'Alessandro, who once owned a memorabilia store in Baltimore.

In short, David D'Alessandro is anything but the archetypal button-down insurance executive.

``It speaks to his intellect that here's a guy who was in charge of communications, and he wound up as chairman and CEO of the company,'' said Jack Connors, a Hancock board member and longtime Boston advertising executive. ``Where else has that happened?''

Dominic D'Alessandro, in contrast, is a numbers guy, an accountant and banker, who has spent his working life in the trenches of the financial services world. Four years David's senior, Dominic has a far more traditional resume for an insurance executive.

He also has a reputation for having a ruthlessly bottom-line fiscal orientation, and ambitions to make Manulife bigger faster. No pop-culture mementos, no seats in the ownership suites of professional baseball teams, and no history of being the creative genius behind advertising campaigns.

Dominic D'Alessandro started out in professional life as an auditor, and quickly became the Canadian equivalent to what in the United States would be a certified public accountant.

He made a name for himself in banking, first as vice president at the Royal Bank of Canada and later as chief executive of Laurentian Bank of Canada. In 1998, he took over Manulife, and has been relentlessly building the company ever since.

He's been effective, by any financial measure, but hardly flashy. But that's not to say that the D'Alessandros have nothing in common except for the name.

A key similarity - perhaps the key similarity - is that both took over longstanding, relatively sleepy mutual companies only to drive them toward initial public offerings and the more cutthroat world of publicly traded markets. Mutual companies are owned by their shareholders, while publicly traded companies are owned by and operated for the benefit of stock investors.

Manulife demutualized in September 1999 and Hancock did the same just months later, in January 2000.

Since then, the companies have gone in different directions, however.

Hancock focused on marketing and brand awareness, on cutting expenses, and selling noncore assets and divisions. Manulife, meanwhile, has sought out overseas expansion and other opportunities to build the company.

``David has a somewhat cautious and skeptical view about the future of life insurance products, whereas Dominic believes you can crate a lot of value from them,'' said Wilson. ``The companies traveled different directions as a result.''

Scott Bernard Nelson can be reached at nelson@globe.com.

Hancock sold

(Globe Staff Graphic / John Bohn)
Video NECN: Manulife Purchases John Hancock
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