Some of the top insurance executives in Asia air their views about what qualities a chief executive needs to succeed in the region, as well as whether these qualities are changing

What qualities should a chief executive have to succeed in the ever-changing Asian insurance market?

Markel International (Singapore) managing director Matthew Cannock:

The most challenging aspect of the insurance industry in the Asia region is the juxtaposition of so many markets in varying stages of development. To succeed in this environment, a chief executive needs to have a very strong idea of his or her company’s vision and values and at the same time possess the flexibility to apply those sympathetically in response to local market requirements. It’s about listening, rather than talking, and then having the willingness and the ability to provide a quick, flexible response to any opportunities that arise.

Lockton Companies (Singapore) chief executive Manan Sagar:

The ability to visualise a goal for the organisation and drive the organisation towards achieving the goal. The ability to foresee the changes not just in the insurance market but more generally in the socio-economic-political landscape, identifying the opportunity in the change. The ability to respond to internal and external threats and opportunities and lead the organisation through the challenges. The ability to make the difficult choices keeping in mind the common interests of the organisation.

JLT Asia chief executive Duncan Howorth:

Any chief executive needs a wide range of qualities to fulfil the role, but the emphasis right now in Asia should be on strategic direction, distribution experience and leadership skills.

Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty Singapore branch chief executive Alexander Ankel:

Being able to manage the diversity of all stakeholders, including customers, employees or distribution partners. Asia represents almost 50 countries, with a diverse group of people. So one must also be able to manage the cultural and geographic diversity as well.

AIG Property/Casualty Asia-Pacific chief executive Jose Hernandez:

One of the most important qualities is local market knowledge and – until you acquire that knowledge – humility and a deep respect for local expertise. For any insurance company to succeed in Asia-Pacific, it needs to ensure that within its capability is a deep understanding of the markets in which it operates. As a chief executive, the key is being aware of the importance of the local knowledge and relationships and continuing to emphasise and foster them.

Have these qualities changed in recent years?

Matthew Cannock:

Previously emerging Asian insurance markets were happy to develop along the same lines as the more established markets around the region had done. Today, however, they look to develop in direct response to the needs and requirements of their customers, with all the associated geographic, financial and jurisdictional challenges that may bring. This puts a much greater onus on chief executives to exhibit the qualities outlined previously than ever before.

Manan Sagar:

Yes, a chief executive today is required to be able to anticipate change and identify opportunity, make the difficult choices and lead the organisation in the ever changing environment. He is required to navigate the organisation through the increasing and evolving risk landscape encountered by the organisation for example strategic, financial, operational and regulatory.

Duncan Howorth:

They have become much more relevant and important. Organisations are setting strategic paths and making important investments for the future. What will separate organisations is not just their strategy, but their ability to execute. This will be a key quality over the coming years.

Alexander Ankel:

No. They just have been more amplified by the sheer speed of communications today. With the advancement of telecommunications and technology, the Asia region is becoming smaller. Decisions need to be made in a diverse environment with diverse stakeholders in a shorter period of time.

Jose Hernandez:

I think now more than ever you need to have a customer-centric mindset. In our part of the world, consumers are rightly demanding a very efficient and holistic approach to meeting their insurance needs. At AIG, we are constantly evolving our culture and operations to ensure we’re focused on meeting the needs of our customers.