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Looking behind the facade: Damien Coates

Perhaps it’s the nature of insurance that gives DUAL Asia Pacific CEO Damien Coates an insight into looking for better outcomes. Through a series of circumstances, he understands more than most what it takes to make it through difficult times.

Damien Coates, CEO Asia Pacific of DUAL Australia

DUAL Asia Pacific specialises in insurance for small- and medium-sized enterprises, a business sector that is not known for adequate insurance coverage. But DUAL is now witnessing significant growth in the SME sector and has adapted its approach to small business owners to better meet their requirements.

The company has successfully engaged digital marketing platforms to educate small business owners and create a general awareness that many of them are inadequately covered for management and staff issues, and some hazards that have emerged more recently such as cybercrime.

“Only 15% of small companies are purchasing management insurance, so there’s a huge opportunity ahead, but our process over the past five or so years has been, ‘Let’s not make things so complex; let’s focus on education,’” he says.

Digital communication enables DUAL Asia Pacific to reach small businesses around the country and deliver the information they require quickly and simply. DUAL Asia Pacific constantly tracks claims trends, legislative changes and new laws, which will have a significant impact on SMEs.

“We’re focused on researching and then presenting this information to insurance brokers in the medium they’re looking for, which is digital, webinar or EDM, rather than labour-intensive and time-consuming face-to-face meetings,” Damien says. “You have to be thinking today about what you’re going to do tomorrow. The only constant is change.”

Stepping up for others

Change comes in other ways too. Damien has for some time encouraged his employees to seek personal growth opportunities, and has made regular contributions to charities through volunteering and participating in fundraising activities. The results with employees are plain to see, he says.

“We’ve been very passionate about supporting charities. Over the years, we’ve partnered with many charities, where as part of our health and wellbeing program, we encourage our teams to do fun runs or volunteering. That matters now – people want to join businesses that are helping and work somewhere with good people who are trying to influence positive change.”

As an avid cyclist and runner, Damien has put in the miles – thousands of them – for his favourite charity. He is an ambassador for the Black Dog Institute, a mental health research organisation, and has taken on gruelling marathons and ultra-long cycle rides to raise funds and awareness of mental illness and its effect on so many people.

Damien Coates, CEO Asia Pacific of DUAL Australia

“I have experienced mental health challenges myself over the past 10 years, and I initially wanted to support mental health charities such as Black Dog by participating in charity marathons and bike rides. I rode with Black Dog from Adelaide to Darwin and from Perth to Broome. In 2018, we rode from London to Barcelona for Black Dog. So I’ve travelled thousands of kilometres to raise awareness for Black Dog and raise important funds,” he recalls.

“I’ve been a passive supporter by doing the crazy bike rides, but I wanted to move from being a passive to an active participant, so Black Dog asked me to be an ambassador. I will travel around, share my mental health journey and show my vulnerability, what I’ve been through in the past 10 years, and how I’ve learned to manage the challenges.

“I don’t mind bad news, but I don’t like surprises, so if you’ve got an issue, let’s get it on the table from a business viewpoint, and we’ll figure it out.”

“If I can help by sharing that with others, that’s what I would like to do. I’ve been speaking at a lot of large companies, because Black Dog felt that if it can happen to a CEO who’s built a large, successful business, it can happen to anyone. No-one ever thinks that a CEO could have gone through mental health issues, and the assumption that CEOs are bulletproof is not true. It can hit anyone, and we all need to communicate how we can deal with it and put mechanisms in place to support each other.”

Damien recommends to other CEOs that they get more directly involved in such issues, and has seen more companies becoming active in establishing employee assistance programs. “This doesn’t belong in the HR function, it belongs in the DNA of a company,” Damien insists.

DUAL’s parent company, The DUAL Group, is the specialist underwriting arm of the Hyperion Insurance Group. DUAL is the world’s largest independent underwriting agency, employing more than 600 people in North and South America, Europe and Asia–Pacific.

“You have to have a culture of openness and sharing. I’ve always been a big believer that I don’t mind bad news, but I don’t like surprises, so if you’ve got an issue, let’s get it on the table from a business viewpoint, and we’ll figure it out. That culture has to come through in how you support your colleagues. We all spend as much time at work as we do at home, and encouraging an environment that is supportive and inclusive for people to help each other is important.

“If you have the right people and you create an environment that will support their growth, you will end up with a much stronger sense of purpose in your people. They know you’re there to help them climb mountains, but you’re also there to help them if they’re struggling. I think, ultimately, the greatest investment we can make is in our people, and if you do that, then you can achieve anything.”

“I think, ultimately, the greatest investment we can make is in our people, and if you do that, then you can achieve anything.”

It’s a central tenet of DUAL Asia Pacific that a free exchange of information and opinion sits at every meeting table, because not to do so disengages and alienates. “I always say to people that if you don’t get a straight answer from me, then it’s time to leave, because honesty and transparency are at our core. You may not get the answer you want from me, but you’ll get an honest and respectful answer. I don’t see myself as the CEO; I see myself as the head cheerleader for the leadership team, to support and guide them.”

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