India's insurance industry has seen several changes during the last one decade. While, on one hand, the government is keen to increase the foreign direct investment cap in the sector to 49% from the current 26% in the next few months to encourage multinationals to set up shops in the country, regulatory hurdles and economic slowdown, on the other hand, pose challenges for existing players. However, it is the role of a leader is to steer the company through such critical times, says Antony Jacob, chief executive officer, Apollo Munich Health Insurance. Excerpts.
How has the slowdown changed your leadership style?
The key to ensure a positive and efficient work environment through any economic cycle is to remain composed, steadfast and be a forward-thinker. As the CEO of a young company, I have had first hand experience in witnessing the positive impact of my actions of employee engagement on processes, procedures and workplace culture.
With gloom in the global and domestic economy, how do you motivate your staff?
At Apollo Munich, we place immense value on leaders who can motivate or catalyse networks of employees, volunteers, supporters, investors and others to take responsibility for defining and achieving the tasks that need to be addressed. I think these people are facilitative leaders — who help teams and networks of employees and partners set ambitious, but workable agendas. They solve problems in creative ways, and support each other and the organisation as a whole in the face of unexpected opportunities and obstacles. Consistent employee engagement in an economic downturn is crucial to ensure a positive and efficient workplace.
What's your leadership style when you have to take tough decisions?
The key to navigating tough times is two-fold. While a leader must address the current concerns with a long-term view, a leader must also possess the capacity to prepare for effective management during better times. I believe that a leader's true test is how he or she manages the business and workforce in tough situations. A leader should lead more efficiently and wisely through informed personnel decision. It is important to have clearly defined roles for the team with set expectations. A leader should ensure continuous upgrade of the current skill-base and capabilities across the organisation with consistent employee engagements.
What is your lesson for fresh recruits?
Given the dynamic work culture today, companies seek "results-oriented" employees. While we look at hiring fresh recruits, we pay special emphasis on qualities such as professionalism, initiative, responsibility, resourcefulness, loyalty and cooperation amongst work teams. At Apollo Munich, we believe that the leadership team should be in constant engagement with the youngest of our employees to ensure an open channel of communication. The youth of today can help us gain a better understanding of the environment through their tech-savvy eyes.
What is your leadership mantra?
I believe a leader makes people better while leading by example, and that example is leading with wisdom, heart, and a determination that inspires people to rise up and better themselves, both as a professional, and as a human being. A leader not only influences, but also impacts others — for better or worse. Hence, I make a conscious effort in impacting others in a positive way, to the best of my abilities and intentions. The other important facet of my leadership style is to be with my people and remain close to the action ground. This keeps me informed and ready to act on situations as soon as they arise.
Has your professional outlook changed now as you are on the driver's seat?
Witnessing the highs and lows of the insurance industry over the past decade-and-a-half has provided me with a greater understanding of the changing needs of consumers over the years and what we need to do as an industry as a whole. My professional outlook has always been positive. I perceive the challenge of providing adequate health insurance cover to the huge and diverse population of our country as more of an opportunity. Leaders cannot be industry specific. People challenges are pretty much the same everywhere. Leadership is not just for people at the top. Each person can learn to lead by discovering the power that lies within to make a difference and being prepared.