When Keng Koon Chee was appointed CEO of Great American Insurance Company, Singapore Branch five years ago, he felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. He had landed his dream job. And with more than 29 years of experience in leadership and management roles such as CEO of QBE Insurance (International), Singapore Branch and as the Marine Regional General Manager for the Asia Region, Keng Koon was ready to lead the newly formed branch within Great American Insurance Company’s 148-year-old US business towards success.
But like any significant change, the title and position came with challenges. “Being a CEO of a new startup is not a bed of roses. Like any career, it has its obstacles,” says Keng Koon.
The downsides that arose with the high-ranking position included dealing with challenging situations and managing time effectively. “There is also the issue of dealing with self-doubt and the inevitable task of taking care of the business side of things,” he says.
Then, there are the challenges of driving the team, getting them to believe in the company’s values and vision, and working towards building a rich culture. Keng Koon also had to adjust to the demands and responsibility of being a leader, as opposed to being led.
“Being a CEO of the organisation feels different from being an employee,” he reflects. “It feels different from working for yourself. Your words carry more weight than before. Your actions get scrutinised more closely. You are not just accountable for your results but also for the results of others.”
How he went on to handle certain situations also set a particular tone for the business. “I am always determined to put in my best efforts to lead and set an example to achieve a strong position,” he says.
Since taking up the leadership position at the Singapore office, which started operating in May 2015, the ambitious CEO has had much to focus on and learn. As demographics change it can be hard for a corporate insurance business to keep up and stay connected with its customers.
“The under 40 consumer group make up slightly over 50 per cent of the population in Asia,” he says. “Millennials and gen Zers have different expectations of their chosen brands than previous generations, preferring companies that prioritise digital engagement and global consciousness.”
Keng Koon says several new digital insurance companies have made a successful debut with this age group. However, at least for now, traditional insurers still hold the majority of the market.
“Larger corporations with vast resources have upgraded their entire system infrastructure to provide a cross-generational appeal,” he says. “But because a complete core system replacement is often cost-prohibitive, most companies are taking a measured approach to modernisation.
Being a CEO of a new startup is not a bed of roses. Like any career, it has its obstacles.
“The 2020 customer experience requires an entirely holistic approach that puts policyholders’ needs front and centre in nearly all aspects of the business. An effective customer experience balances personalisation, empowerment, trusted partnerships, value proposition and efficiency – utilising a combination of human and digital solutions – at every touchpoint throughout the customer journey.”
Great American Insurance Company has a long history of financial strength and a commitment to specialisation. “Business owners rely on us to help them manage the risk inherent in their unique industries and markets,”
Keng Koon explains. “As one of the few insurers with leading marine and specialty classes, our business model capitalises on this diversity within a culture that embraces the entrepreneurial spirit but also demands accountability.”
The business has emerged to be one of the leading marine and specialty insurers in the Singapore insurance industry. “Our entrepreneurial business model, a culture of empowerment and effective alignment of incentives with business objectives form a strong foundation for success,” Keng Koon adds.
Team motivation is another significant element that has continued to drive the business forward. Keng Koon explains that the company provides a framework to enable staff members to focus on their expertise, growth and serving their customers.
“Our organisational structure allows employees to take ownership, react quickly to changes in the marketplace and to meet our customers’ needs efficiently,” he says.
When it comes to self-motivation, Keng Koon has developed his own methods over the years to stay inspired and influenced by his work.
These processes include coming up with creative ideas to improve on something or make something fresher, as well as analysing complex risks to dissect them and draw clear and simple conclusions.
Insurance is a business where personal interactions matter. Keng Koon believes technology cannot replace the value of well trained people who care about doing a good job.
“Our focus is providing quality products to the market, and providing superior underwriting and claims servicing. Building long-term relationships and helping our clients manage risk are at the core of these objectives,” he says.
“The goal of the industry is to get the right products delivered to the right places on time. The goal of those who manage the various processes is committed to having the right people in place to make it happen – reliably, consistently and profitably.”
Our organisational structure allows employees to take ownership, react quickly to changes in the marketplace and to meet our customers’ needs efficiently.
Although the CEO role is demanding and maintaining a balanced life is not easy, Keng Koon works tirelessly to ensure his personal life doesn’t suffer. He tries to sustain a balance by playing to his strengths.
“Don’t try to be all things to all people,” he advises. “I try to focus on my strengths and outsource the others. Be strategic.” He also says it’s important to prioritise his time and schedule personal time.
“Exercise also needs to be a must do, not a should do,” he stresses. “A healthy body means a fresh mind, which means I can give my maximum attention.” Lastly, and most importantly, you need to manage your mind.
“When fear or self-doubt creep in, I do some work on my mental health such as take a walk or have a cup of coffee to relax,” he says. “Or I spend time with someone who will lift and support me.”
Speaking about his career and what has helped him reach his dream, Keng Koon has a simple answer: persistence. “Never stop learning and growing as a person, but also make sure to listen, change your thinking, and change your life. Don’t stop challenging the status quo,” he says.
The ability to not give up on himself during the tough times is the other driver. “Sometimes, you have to accept that it is perfectly fine to look to others for inspiration. I also take a mental break to allow myself to refocus,” he adds.
Equally important is being realistic and, at the end of the working day, perform a little self-analysis. “I always ask myself what went wrong and how I can fix the issue,” Keng Koon says.
And if you don’t know, seek help from your team. “Together we can bounce off ideas that, in most cases, are far more creative than I could have come up with my own,” he says.
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