Everybody wants to be a CEO but how do you become one?
That was the question Marsh Malaysia CEO CB Lim had in his mind during his early years as an insurance broker.
CB was inspired to join the insurance industry because of a friend who had recently entered it. “We used to hang out often over the weekend, and he would share with me information about his work, about insurance companies, what they do, what their purpose is, how they settle claims and how they insure properties and assets,” CB tells The CEO Magazine. “That got me interested because I wanted to understand a bit more about insurance and what role it plays in society and in the working lives of people like me.”
“I wanted to understand a bit more about insurance and what role it plays in society and in the working lives of people like me.”
CB eventually stumbled across a newspaper advertisement from an insurance company seeking a clerk and he applied for the position. Within a week, they responded, offering him a position in general insurance, thus kickstarting CB’s career in the industry.
Over the years, he developed a passion for insurance broking, knowing it was an area he could learn about and do more in. Because he didn’t go to university, CB took the initiative to sign up for a course with the Australian Insurance Institute. Within three years – in his mid-twenties – CB became a qualified insurance professional.
“That qualification gave me more confidence,” CB observes. “It gave me the ability to better understand the insurance products available in the market, which then helped me advise my clients better.” At 28, CB was made the head of a broking team, with 20 people reporting to him. This quickly sparked his ambition to become a CEO. “But the question was how do you become one?”
In his effort to become CEO, CB adopted a keen reading hobby, with leadership and management books and magazines at the top of his list. He wanted to understand what experts in the management and leadership fields were doing. His aim was to pick up as many pointers as possible, so he could improve his leadership capabilities.
“One of the great lessons I gleaned from reading was the importance of how you manage and inspire people around you,” CB explains. “You can have a great structure and process but if people aren’t motivated, the first two things make no difference. If I wanted to be a successful CEO, I needed to learn how to work with people and lead them.”
“You can have a great structure and process but if people don’t make things work, the first two things make no difference.”
Finally, in 1998, CB’s vision came true and he was appointed CEO of brokerage firm Alexander Forbes. “At the time, we were doing approximately US$2 million worth of business, so it was a small insurance brokerage firm,” he says. “But I was very proud of my position. It was an opportunity to practice what I’d read in magazines and execute some of the things I believed was good for the company and clients.”
In 2002, Alexander Forbes merged with Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby. And because CB’s business had the minority share, he was appointed COO. “I stayed on and helped to improve and restructure the organisation as a combined entity,” he says.
In 2003, he was offered the role of CEO at Marsh Malaysia and was tasked with growing the company significantly over two years. He had to improve business growth, strengthen structures and ensure the company continued to expand market share.
When CB took over, he reviewed all aspects of the business, and made changes large and small – but always with a clear strategy and end goal in mind. He reviewed the business structure and input changes to promote greater efficiency and growth. He also established more formal HR evaluation processes to implement a new recruitment and talent management program. It recruited new staff into the company, and today, many of them stand in senior positions.
CB was able to significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the business, which positively impacted growth. From 2010 onwards, the business enjoyed an annual growth rate of around 18% every year.
A consultative approach
Marsh provides industry-focused consulting, brokerage, and claims advocacy services, as well as leverage data, technology, and analytics to help reduce its clients’ total cost of risk.
“When we see a client, they likely already have an insurance program in place. We often find that if they are not using a good broker to design the program for them, there are a lot of gaps in the cover,” CB explains. “The most important part of insurance program design is for a broker to align clients’ risk solutions to their business operations. Our job is to ensure the risks of their operations in Malaysia are aligned with the insurance policies they are buying.
“What we do in reviewing their program is use our understanding of their industry, regulations affecting it, benchmarking with their peers, history of their claims and their peers’ claims, our knowledge of products in the market and a raft of other considerations. This is to determine whether there are risks they haven’t considered or any other gaps for them to think about.
“Once we identify the gaps – the potential risks that still exist and are not addressed in their current policies – we explain to the client what the insurance market in Malaysia can and cannot provide. Marsh also has a global network of resources that support local offices with more solutions. Once that is done and we agree with the client, we then go to the insurance market and remarket their program to a minimum of three to five insurers, and ask them to bid for that program.”
The ultimate goal
Under CB’s leadership, Marsh Malaysia’s journey has been one of consistent growth and success. As well as aligning people, processes and technology under one roof, CB also ensures the business has its succession plans well organised.
“Some of my leadership team have already been in their positions for more than 10 years,” he points out. “So I’m working very hard with my regional office to make sure that succession plans are put in place so the next generation of leaders of the various business segments are well trained and equipped to seamlessly move onto the next step.
Marsh strongly believes in individual growth and offers opportunities and training for individuals to excel and be successful in their careers.” At the end of the day, when looking at CB Lim’s career trajectory, it is hardly surprising that Marsh Malaysia’s leadership lives by such a philosophy.