Ernest Leung has been in the insurance industry for 30 years, with most of that time spent at global insurance firm Aon. After working at Aon Hong Kong for 18 years, Ernest spent eight years at Aon China before moving to the company’s base in Taiwan. There, as CEO, Ernest saw an opportunity to transform the business for the better.
“When I was given the job, I understood we needed to make some changes to the business so we could get Aon back to a leading position in Taiwan,” Ernest tells The CEO Magazine. The first item on his agenda was boosting the company’s earnings. “Aon Taiwan has presented remarkable growth in top and bottom lines,” he says. “So, in terms of financials, we did make significant improvement from year to year.”
The next, and one of the most important factors Ernest wanted to tackle was the company culture. “We deliberately made a lot of changes in the culture,” he says, “particularly by raising everybody’s aspirations and making the company a leader rather than a follower in the market.”
“Before I came to Taiwan, I did some research and knew that I needed to make some changes to the firm and build team spirit first. I’m really pleased to see the progress. Teamwork has become one of the driving forces behind many of our wins.
“I’m really proud of the fact that the staff are now getting together and working more as a team.”
“And when I talk about working as a ‘team’, it’s not only in Aon Taiwan internally, but also Aon as a whole. So we bring in more resources from the wider region, so that we can be seen as an Aon company rather than just an independent, separate company.”
Aon Taiwan specialises in risk, retirement and health insurance solutions. Its parent company, Aon, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has more than 50,000 workers in 120 countries around the world.
While working to establish a new company culture, Ernest needed to break some old habits. “One of the ideas we’ve derailed is the thinking that we can’t grow the business,” he says. “We must grow, and we will; not only from the organisational perspective but from an individual’s perspective, too.
“In the past, everybody thought Taiwan was a small country economy-wise; that it wasn’t growing much so there was no opportunity for Aon Taiwan to grow. But we’re changing that perception. Today, we’re no longer second to anyone because, in the past two and a half years, we’ve seen a lot of new business.”
Now Ernest is geared towards building a culture enshrined in teamwork. “We say to everybody that nobody’s a hero,” he says. “When everybody works together as a team, then we can all become heroes.”
“When everybody works together as a team, then we can all become heroes.”
Preventing risks with innovation
In 2017, Aon Taiwan released a list of the top 10 enterprise risks in the country, and among the top five was the failure to innovate. This is something Aon Taiwan wants to ensure it prevents. “The first thing we do is we never stop changing,” Ernest explains. “Unless people keep changing their mindset and their way of doing things, they cannot be innovative.” One way the company helps innovation is to regularly rotate employees’ jobs so they can bring in new ideas.
But it’s not just constant change that is encouraged; Aon Taiwan also fosters an environment where people are called upon for their input into innovative practices. “Apart from rewarding our workers for doing well in their work, we discuss innovation,” he explains. “Every quarter, we give an innovation award to someone who did things differently and made an impact on the business. We like new ideas, so it doesn’t matter if the idea is not great. It can be about how to serve our clients, manage the business, organise ourselves… anything.”
To further encourage innovation within the business, Ernest emphasises the importance of employees challenging themselves. “Whenever something is done, you need to keep asking if there’s an alternative way to do it,” he says. “So people try to challenge each other and, hopefully, by doing that, they can have a second opinion on how they can do things differently.” For instance, Aon Taiwan is planning to remodel its 25-year-old office. As part of the plan, the company will be inviting ideas from the staff on how to organise it, how people should be seated and where to put the meeting rooms.
The initiatives the company has implemented have led to the establishment of the culture committee. “They come together with the key objective: to bring us some new ideas on how to do things,” Ernest says. “For example, how we communicate with people, present ourselves, organise a meeting, as well as what our employees expect from the organisation.” The committee is big on diversity and includes people with different experience levels and professional backgrounds.
Top 10 Enterprise Risks in Taiwan
- Increasing competition
- Exchange rate fluctuation
- Economic slowdown/slow recovery
- Failure to innovate/meet customer needs
- Failure to attract or retain top talent
- Growing burden and consequences of corporate governance/compliance
- Accelerated rates of change in market factors and geopolitical risk environment
- Political risk/uncertainties
- Regulatory/legislative changes
- Damage to reputation/brand
Ernest adds that one of Aon Taiwan’s biggest achievements so far, in terms of innovation, has been developing insurance solutions for clients entering the green energy market.
“In the past, we thought opportunities only laid in Taiwan’s traditional industries, so we were too focused on them,” Ernest explains. “But we realised that we had to develop and move to the blue ocean.
“A few years ago, we started making investments in green energy such as offshore wind farms, solar and energy-saving, which is quite a new idea in Taiwan. The government is also promoting this industry.
“We set up a team specialising in green energy and I can say that, in terms of this capability, nobody in the market compares with us. We have now become a market leader in this area.” With the possibilities in the green energy sector, Aon Taiwan has an even brighter future ahead.