We caught up with AIA Group Chief Executive Ng Keng Hooi in Hong Kong, where he shared the importance of a strong team and doing the right thing for the greater good.
He assumed the role of Group Chief Executive on 1 June 2017, succeeding Mr Mark Tucker who left for the chairmanship of HSBC. It is no easy feat given Mr Tucker has been synonymous with AIA for his leadership in its successful IPO in October 2010 and the 28% compounded new business profit growth trajectory since then.
While new leaders may look to stamp their marks by shaking things up in an attempt to break away from the legacies of their predecessors, Mr Ng exudes the calm and confidence of an industry veteran with almost 40 years of experience who is comfortable in his own skin.
Strong team in place
He has no qualms referring to Mr Tucker as a mentor, having worked with him for over 20 years in the industry, and acknowledging that he has big shoes to fill. At the same time, there is no doubt that he is his own man. The straight-talker said “sometimes people fail to see that an organisation is not about one man”. He added as a matter of fact: “Likewise, I think I’m an important man in the company. But it should not come down to only me.”
He points to the strong management team in place that has taken the insurer to where it is today, and which will continue to drive the business forward. “Bear in mind that out of eight senior appointments I made after the changeover, there was only one who came externally. And even then, Stuart (Stuart Spencer, Chief Marketing Officer) is a returnee,” said Mr Ng, who himself has been with the company since 2010.
And this strong leadership talent pipeline is set to continue with his passion for developing people, even if he may appear stern with his candour. On various occasions, he spoke about his desire to “leave behind very successful people”. He is known to walk the ground unannounced to speak with staff of different seniority in the organisation, finding value in listening to different viewpoints – even those of more junior staff.
Doing the right thing
Not one to seek the limelight, this unassuming leader had in the past held a pretty low profile considering a career as illustrious as his – senior leadership positions with proven results across AIA, Prudential and Great Eastern in the region.
In fact, not many outside of Singapore would have known that back in 2009 when Mr Ng was Chief Executive of Great Eastern, he made the decision to bail out 18,000 investors who stood to lose their savings as the group had sold about $600 million in retail investment products. These products were linked to collateralised debt obligations which imploded with the financial crisis. It gained him a reputation of making tough decisions to safeguard the interests of customers, agents and the reputation of the insurer.
Doing the “good thing”
This propensity to do the right thing is also why he is firmly behind the appointment of David Beckham as AIA’s global ambassador to support its goal of helping people live longer, healthier, better lives.
Detractors may point to the costs of getting such a global icon as an ambassador – though the fees have not been revealed – but “it is a financial decision which we obviously looked at carefully”.
More importantly, the reach and impact of partnering the star with his over 40 million followers on Instagram in promoting healthy and active living “is good for the customer, is good for the company, and is good for the society if people live healthily”.
In his typical understated style without superfluous language or marketing spin, Mr Ng simply said: “It is a good thing.”
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