Penn National Insurance executive leadership succession announced: President & CEO Christine Sears retiring; Exec. VP & COO Robert Brandon elected president; John Foster named senior VP – Insurance Operations

Christine Sears

Penn National Insurance reported today that president & CEO Christine Sears will transition on Jan. 1 from president & CEO to CEO, and executive VP & COO Robert B. Brandon will become president on that date. Sears also announced that she plans to retire on Aug. 31 from the company. Upon Sears’ Aug. 31 retirement, Brandon will become president & CEO, and Sears will remain on the company’s board of directors.

Sears joined Penn National Insurance in 1980 as a financial analyst and progressed through the Financial Division, becoming senior VP & CFO in 1999. Subsequent promotions included:

  • member of the company’s board of directors in 2002
  • executive VP & CFO in 2007
  • executive VP and COO in 2010
  • president & CEO in 2014

Brandon joined Penn National Insurance in 1995 as a property underwriting line of business manager and progressed through the Commercial Lines Division, becoming VP – Commercial Lines in 2002. Subsequent promotions included:

  • vice president – Underwriting Operations in 2005
  • senior vice president—Underwriting Operations in 2010
  • executive VP and COO in 2014

Brandon earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Millersville University, and within the property-casualty insurance industry he earned the Chartered Property-Casualty Underwriter designation and the Associate in Risk Management designation from The Institutes. He also completed the Insurance Executive Development Program at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania.

Robert B. Brandon

Upon announcing Brandon’s Jan. 1 promotion and Sears’ Aug. 31 retirement, Sears said:

“Bob’s promotion underscores our company’s traditional emphasis on talent development and providing opportunities for employees to learn, grow and advance in their careers. Our leadership team members boast long tenure in our organization and in the industry, and Bob takes the helm following 24 years with our company. Bob has built strong relationships with our agents, he has earned their respect, and he continues our leadership culture of openness, accessibility, and responsiveness.

I am grateful to our board of directors for their leadership and guidance, and their commitment to our succession planning process.

Bob’s superior knowledge of the company and insurance industry, combined with his proven leadership abilities, positions him for success in this role. Bob values the relationship with our independent agents, and he lives our values of integrity, excellence, respect, openness, and citizenship. He holds the ideal characteristics to lead us into our second century.”

Board chair Steven Swanson said:

“Chris Sears is a leader with a deep passion for the company’s employees, agents and communities. Under her leadership, we have renewed our focus on talent development, identified the importance of making the customer experience a point of competitive differentiation, and instituted a rigorous strategic planning process leading to a more nimble and innovative culture that will bode well for us in the future. The company is financially stronger due to the growth in profitability. We thank Chris for her past service as president and are pleased that she will continue on the company’s board of directors.

Bob Brandon is uniquely qualified to take over the reins of Penn National Insurance. He started in the industry in 1983 and joined the company in 1995. Since then he has risen through the ranks of insurance operations. As our COO for the past five years, he has worked very closely with Chris on all of our major initiatives, especially the development of our new strategic planning process. He is highly respected by our employees, agents, regulators and reinsurers alike. Bob is deeply committed to the company and its success. The board is fully supportive of this transition, and we are fully confident that the company will continue to profitably grow by helping people feel secure and making life better when bad things happen.”

Brandon said:

“Next August, Chris will conclude 40 years of service to Penn National Insurance. In that span, she has touched virtually every area of the operation. I have been extremely fortunate to have reported to Chris for the last 10 years and benefited greatly from her lessons. She has made numerous significant contributions to our success. As CEO, Chris placed an emphasis on communication, openness and talent development. We have come a long way in a short time. I am privileged to have the leadership opportunity and look forward to working with a great team in building on our growing momentum. The company is performing well and the proof is in our results.”

John Foster

Also effective Jan. 1, John Foster, vice president – Underwriting Operations, has been named senior VP – Insurance Operations, with the following areas reporting to him:

  • Commercial Lines
  • Personal Lines
  • Field Operations
  • Claims
  • Analytics
  • Customer Experience

Foster joined Penn National Insurance in 2006 as vice president – Personal Lines. He was named vice president – Underwriting Operations in 2015. Before joining Penn National Insurance, Foster was assistant vice president – Personal Lines at Grange Mutual Insurance. Additional prior experience included senior product management, underwriting and pricing with GEICO Direct, and district management responsibilities for Erie Insurance Group. Foster holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Penn State University and an MBA from Frostburg State University, and within the property-casualty insurance industry he earned the Associate in Risk Management designation from The Institutes. He also completed the Insurance Executive Development Program at the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania.

Penn National Insurance (, founded in 1919, in Harrisburg, Pa., sells property-casualty insurance in 11 states, through a network of more than 1,200 independent agency operations. The company wrote $734 million in net written premium in 2018 on $591 million in policyholders’ surplus, and total assets exceeded $1.7 billion. The company employs approximately 830 people in its 11-state sales and service territory.