Nishit Majmudar is the CEO of Aviva Singapore, a company with 33 million customers across 16 countries and revenues of £70.25 billion.
Nishit heads up Aviva’s important Singapore HQ and he has over 600 employees under him.
This video was filmed during my time in Dubai back in 2019. I had the privilege of spending time with Nishit both in Dubai and also in Mumbai, India and he’s as pleasant and knowledgeable off-camera as he is here.
Here’s the video interview and below you’ll find a full transcript if you prefer to read.
Skye Khilji 0:02
So I’d like you to take us back to your first stint as a CEO. And just share with us some of those high points.
Nishit Majmudar 0:10
My first CEO was in 2007. Prudential in the Philippines. It was quite a small operation. And it was a brand new experience. I went there and I didn’t know anybody in the Philippines and there I was to lead this company forward. It was a great, very steep learning curve, had some of my best moments in those two years, and equally some of my worst moments as well.
Skye Khilji 0:36
So what advice would you give to that new CEO who’s walking into that company on day one, where do they start?
Nishit Majmudar 0:42
I actually prepared a lot to become a CEO. I met up with CEOs and asked them for advice. And all I got from them was you have to just go and do it. And you learn on the job. And I think they were right. So I went in and I’d only look After functions, but when you go in there, you got to give up looking after those functions. And you got to look after the whole company. And that in itself was, I think was very difficult. And it just teaches you that you you are actually the leader, and you can’t knock. You can’t hide behind anybody else because you have to lead from the front.
Skye Khilji 1:25
So I guess from what you just said, then your core team, your senior managers in each of those areas of vital how do you go about getting those people onside and working with you for your your new vision?
Nishit Majmudar 1:37
Initially, I didn’t have a vision. So I mean, the first thing I did was to spend a lot of time with each of the individuals not talking too much about work, but trying to know more about the Filipino culture, more about the personal lives, trying to be accepted as a foreigner in the Philippines, and then slowly but steadily. Work wasn’t very different from what I’d done in Singapore. So work, I think was secondary, I think the first thing was to become part of the Filipino culture.
Skye Khilji 2:11
So looking back now, at that experience, what is the greatest wisdom that you got from that stint as a CEO,
Nishit Majmudar 2:17
is that you got to do it yourself. I mean, there’s not much coaching that you will get to become a good CEO. And you can never delegate, leading the company. I think you can delegate everything else. But in terms of the vision, the strategy has to be yours. And after that, you got to make sure that everyone else accepts that. Otherwise, you are running the company on your own. And when you look back, there’s nobody following you. Right.
Skye Khilji 2:46
So let’s move forward to the second stint the CEO, which is a Viva Singapore, correct. So what’s the difference in moving from Prudential to Aviva? Was it a big step up in size of company, were there any significant differences.
Nishit Majmudar 3:01
I think the company much bigger.
Nishit Majmudar 3:04
There are times when I wonder whether the size of the company really matters so much. You can be signing a million dollars in Filipino pesos. Or you could be signing a million dollars in Singapore dollars. And sometimes it’s actually the the decision is still the same. I mean, the size of the decision hasn’t really changed. I learned a lot from my first end, which I brought to bear in the second one. I was also more comfortable in Singapore.
Having spent many more years I knew the regulations, the regulators, I knew most of the other CEOs in the industry. I knew a lot of the staff that worked in Singapore, even though I hadn’t worked with them in Aviva, but I’d worked with them in the previous jobs and I’d mingled with them through my years in the industry. So in that sense, it was much easier in my second stint. So what
Skye Khilji 3:58
would you say is a CEOs biggest asset
Nishit Majmudar 4:01
I mean, it’s got to be the people. I mean, you mean you lead a group of people in a Viva, we got 600 people. And I think the first thing you do as a CEO is to go out and say you don’t think about yourself, the more you think of the remaining 599 people, because ultimately you are paying for their salaries. So if you can guide them and get the best value from what they are capable of doing, then you show to run a pretty good company.
Skye Khilji 4:31
So what would you say those key things when it comes to getting the best from your people?
Nishit Majmudar 4:37
I think not all people are motivated by money. Though, to be honest, I haven’t found many people would come to work if they weren’t paid a salary. So you got to find the right balance in there. And a lot of people they like a good strategy.
They need to understand how they fit into that strategy. How why they are part of that company, I think so, to me to get the best out of your people, you got to give them a clear strategy. And then I think the it’s a question of giving them the accountability, the freedom to make their decision such that everyone is aligned. Everyone wants to rise.
But sometimes people don’t want to make the big decision in a way to take the company so that as a CEO, you absolutely cannot delegate. You make that call and then get the people to align with that decision. And then give them the freedom to make some mistakes. Now, that’s the only way they’re going to make some great calls.
Skye Khilji 5:38
So when we were talking the other day, you said that you’ve been mentoring some of the younger people in in Aviva just kind of talk about that how that experience happened and how that’s been for you and for the organization.
Nishit Majmudar 5:51
Well, I’ve got to that stage in my career where I feel that I’ve I owe it to many people for where I am today, and I I wasn’t born to be so successful. I’ve learned along the way, I worked very hard. But there were so many people who offered the hand and which I grabbed and learned so much from them.
And I think it’s come to a stage where I should actually do the same to give impart the experiences that I have gone through. Because people don’t really, I mean, learn a lot from textbooks, but they learn much faster through experiences. And I try and I think that’s the best part of my job.
Actually, if you ask me, Why do I wake up and go to work is because I have a vision for the company, but also to go and meet up with the younger ones and help them to work to their full potential. And I always believe that if you’re coaching somebody, you don’t do it, because you are going to benefit from it. It’s very possible that you quote somebody and the next day they resign. And I went through that experience so young lady came to me and said, I want to talk to the mentor and not the CEO. And I said, Fine, we went out for a coffee. She asked me she had another job offer, and whether she should take it or not, I told her the pros and cons. A few days later, a couple of days later, she came in resign.
And I said, as a mentor, I was very, very pleased, because I gave other pros and cons and I happy that she could make a call, she could make a decision, she could lead life her way. So I think as mentor it’s important to go and share with people to the, the gray hair, you can’t wait for youngsters to get gray hair, right? You got to give them that experience that I’ve had through my gray hair when they don’t have any.
So now I think the experience of 510 years can actually be given imparted in a few minutes if you actually sincere and you and it’s very fulfilling to see these youngsters grow very quickly.
Skye Khilji 7:56
And what’s the impact of the company have you know really nurturing These young people in your organization.
Nishit Majmudar 8:02
I mean, it’s obviously easier said than done, because all of us are so busy, right? I mean, I it is something that I enjoy a lot. But if you actually would look through the priorities of a CEO, I think there’ll be very few CEOs who would say, mentoring youngster his top of his list. And I mean, we are traveling a lot of the times, you know, we are handling some big decisions. It’s not easy to find the time, but I do it because I absolutely enjoy it.
Skye Khilji 8:32
So we’re talking about mentoring of young people. But I want to take you back to when you were a young CEO. Was there a mentor there or somebody that helped guide you along the way?
Nishit Majmudar 8:41
Yeah, certainly me. I have had two mentors in my life. The first one I found when I was in my mid to late 30s. And the second one was happened to be my boss and just before I got the job for the Philippines, and he helped me to settle into the job. But I’ve realized in a relationship with a mentor, it is generally the mentee who has to do all the hard work. If you don’t do the heavy lifting the mentor is unable to actually give anything back to you. And the mentee most of the time knows the answers.
But they need validation. They want to go to somebody more senior with experience and say, I’ve got to go a x or y and then Which one should I go? And you yourself know which way you want to go? Right? Because you if you’ve done all the heavy lifting, but that is a great relationship. Because whatever age we are, we always need somebody to pat us on the back and say, hey, you’re right. Go and do it. For sure.
Skye Khilji 9:41
So I know you run an apprenticeship program within Viva and you’re very much a big supporter of that. Can you see the future apprentices at that very early stage when they first joined the company? You know what, what makes them stand out for you when you say that somebody I’d like to take in and really work to nurture that person.
Nishit Majmudar 10:00
So in a way we they aren’t tested. So I wouldn’t say so the apprentice program is we recruit, try and recruit the best talents. Yeah. We put them through a couple of years where they study part time and they work part time we rotate them.
So we get a sense of whether they’re good, they’re adaptable, and they are being assessed by different bosses within two years. It’s not the same person having a view on it because they’ve been rotated. And we will check the view. So if a couple of people think they are good, then obviously they are. I think the problem that we are now facing is these guys are very hungry. So they come into the office and say, I want more challenging projects. And we sometimes you’re not really, I mean, we aren’t catered for that.
Because we thought everyone will go up at a certain pace. Now their progression will be at a certain by these I don’t want it now they want exponential which is great. In theory, it is great, but in practice, it’s a problem because then you have a small group of people in the company who want to go at that pace and everyone else wants to go at the regular pace. And how do you create a program for one where the others don’t feel as if they’ve been left? they’ve actually been left out.
Skye Khilji 11:13
So I’m interested, you know, you’ve got this big team that you’re managing huge organization, how do you find the time? Where do you focus your attention, so you’re producing the results that you need to?
Nishit Majmudar 11:23
I’m a firm believer that everyone in the company, especially the leaders, need to be able to define the jobs in two sentences. If you come out to me and say, I want a whole page of jobs cope, what finance does, so what actuarial does or what marketing does or HR does. I think it’s very boring. nobody’s interested in what you’re doing. Yeah. So people come to me, I tell them, You must understand what my job is.
So I tell them, I am the conductor of the opera of the orchestra. And my job is not to play any Have the instruments. I don’t know how to play any of the instruments, I get the best people to play the instruments. And my job is to make sure that they actually get better at what they’re doing. But it’s my job to coordinate everything such that all the sounds that they are making a converted into a beautiful song rather than just noise.
Yeah, so I my job is to bring everything together. But people know that. And I’m not supposed to be doing anything myself. So I came from the actual department. The first day I was appointed as CEO, the chief actually looked very nervous. And I said, if I wanted to be the chief actuary, I wouldn’t have accepted the CEO position. So that job is yours and you make all the calls. So I think if everyone can define the jobs, then I think the alignment the teamwork becomes, you can take it to another level.
Skye Khilji 12:58
So you mentioned alignment, which is interesting. So you have this vision as the CEO and your team are absolutely vital to implement that. So how do you align that team, so everybody’s pushing in the same direction?
Nishit Majmudar 13:09
I think it is surprising as to how many companies never find the time to have a clear roadmap, a clear target, whether you call it a vision, right or a target or a goal. And then they never come together to put together a strategy to get to that goal. So as we sit here and say, How can that be the case?
And I tell you, when I took on my first job, all I knew was I had to hit the sales and profits for the first three months. So I just continued what they were doing, right. But after the first three months, I had to hit the sales and profit for the next three months. And then if it’s doing reasonably well, then you must be a brave To change the strategy.
So I think there are a lot of CEOs who are caught so caught up in the day to day work, that they actually never have the time to change path to change strategy. And then hence they continue, you can be there for 10 years, and you can still continue down the part, which was actually somebody else’s strategy.
And it doesn’t mean that you got to change it for the sake of change. But sometimes if it’s not yours, you can’t give it hundred percent, you can only probably give it 90% and just take it forward. You cannot achieve excellence unless it is absolutely your strategy. In your goal. I think
Skye Khilji 14:40
you’ve talked a lot about alignment. Can you give us an example where you’ve gone into a company, it’s completely out of alignment in some area and what you did to bring that back into alignment?
Nishit Majmudar 14:52
So when I first became CEO in the Philippines, I said I had some sleepless nights and the reason for the sleepless nights was because I failed, very uncomfortable to be the CEO of that company, because that company was producing products, which actually was very poor value for the man in the street. So we were making a lot of money out of it. But I felt extremely uncomfortable as to how could I continue to rely on a product where the consumers absolutely had as a horrible deal for the consumers? So then I started to look at it to say, shareholders when customers don’t when, and how long is this going to continue? Right.
And then I started to think of alignment and in my mind, I came up with a car. And I said to the car, if I want this car to go for a long distance, and at reasonable speed, which is like a company which is sustainable profits and continues to succeed, then what Do I need in that car and I looked at the wheels, and I said, I need four wheels, which need to be aligned in the direction in which they are rolling. And they needed to be the same size. And then you’d ask me, how does that car link back to the company? Because the four wheels are the key stakeholders in the company. So it is the distributors, the customers, the stakeholder of the shareholders, and employees.
I could add a fifth wheel and the regulators but to keep it simple, the these were the four wheels. So I actually started to look at a product when I asked the company is it Where is the most of the wealth in the Philippines and they said, If you sell it’s all with the Filipino Chinese, there were a lot of money but if you come up with the product is the current product where there were a lot of charges upfront. Absolutely no chance of them buying It. So then I said, Okay, this is a great opportunity to align things because the money is there. So the shareholders should be happy that we’ll be able to grow sales. And we came up with a product with the most competitive charges in the market.
Our profit margins were slashed. But our sales were much higher. The consumers were genuinely getting a good deal, the shareholders are making money. And for us as staff, we felt good about it, that we weren’t actually squeezing out money, the hard earned savings of people a man in the street. So I think that was, to me, that was one of my best examples of alignment where I got all the stakeholders to benefit. And then we were aligned, we could have run that product for probably years to come.
Skye Khilji 17:44
So how important do you think creating a better product for the end customer is in that example, did it completely take you from being a commodity to you know, producing more value in that market?
Nishit Majmudar 17:56
I think there’s always you lose something before you win. Something. So you will always hear people saying we must treat the consumers as God. But a lot of times we don’t because we are smarter than the consumer.
Right? So we can create products, which seem to be great value for the consumer, but they aren’t. Now if you want to do something for the consumers, you sharing the profits for the shareholders we’re getting with the consumers effectively if you improving the value for the consumers. Now, how easy is that to do when you are a listed company? Because all your boss is asking you for more money. They also tell you, yes, you must look after the consumer.
So I think it’s a very fine balance. But if you didn’t do that, as I said, that car will run at a very fast speed force for some distance, but then it’s going to come to a screeching halt. So you always have to balance the consumers and I think the newer generation, which I’d say now, they actually want purpose, when they come to work, they don’t come for the money and if they can’t See the purpose in the way you are treating the consumer, you are less likely to get some of the best people to work for you.
Skye Khilji 19:08
So what’s been your experience of hiring absolute a players, the best people that come in and they start performing? You know, from day one, can you share any experience you’ve got in in that area?
Nishit Majmudar 19:20
I think it’s a lot of hard work. So I mean, we didn’t get any of the good students from any of the best universities in Singapore. They all went to the banks, they went to fund management if they were in finance, nobody ever went to insurance. And we started to ask ourselves the questions, why aren’t we getting some of these people? And then we looked at ourselves and said, We never invested in it.
So how Why would they come to us? And so when we first went, I went to the college campuses. And I would stand there and I will talk to all the students. I call them in and say no do want me to tell you about insurance and they think we are just insurance agents who are selling got a stigma and The parents had said, You never going to be an insurance agent. So they think that and I said, but we have got a finance department.
We’ve got a risk department, we’ve got a marketing department, we’ve got a people’s department, we’ve got an IT department, every single department that you have in a bank, the insurance company also has that. And you can learn a lot of things in for risk in Singapore and then in insurance, and then you can be mobile and take it to the banking one. So you got to invest in them.
Plus, I mean, obviously the company needs to be doing reasonably well. And I think if you get those you treat people well explained to them and they’re you so we are beginning to get some of the better talents. I wouldn’t say the best Allen’s but we try and recruit about 10 of the best every year under a special program. And the first year was a real nightmare. Everyone who was rejected by every other company came to a Viva but now Hang on the first day itself, we do feel that one up. And we I’m very confident that the quality of the inputs have improved significantly.
Skye Khilji 21:09
So when you’ve got that resume in front of you, or that individuals there in front of you, what are those first things you’re looking for? That’s telling you you know, this is somebody that can come in perform very quickly.
Nishit Majmudar 21:20
I mean, we try and look at attitude. Generally we look at attitude. We cannot ignore qualifications. So qualifications will always remain one of the key ingredients to for somebody to get a job. We look for attitude, we look for people who can roll up the sleeves, and come in and want to do anything that’s assigned to them, who are going to probably stop you at six in the evening and say, boss, can you give me something more to do? To be honest, we don’t find too many of those. I think these days and then then you got to accept that the millennials are thinking gonna be different from the way you Thought about life.
And they want a work life balance. I think they see a company which works till 11 o’clock and pays them double the package of any other industry, they’re not going to come and work for you. I think investment banks have some problems in recruiting the best. Others that used to be a formality, but no longer the case because people want work life balance, they’ve got other things to do in their lives.
Skye Khilji 22:24
So I want to just talk for a moment about innovation. So how do you and how does the vivre approach innovation as an organization?
Nishit Majmudar 22:31
I think innovation, my experiences have been where you caught to keep talking about it. And then people will take a chance. And then you cannot celebrate just the victories. I think what happens is, in my mind, what happens is when people try and innovate, try and change something. We don’t have the time to either applaud them or help them. So they’re doing things on their own. without necessarily the support of the senior leadership. And then sometimes they succeed, and nobody celebrates, and they fail.
And nobody figures out that they really fail. I think once you get into innovation, it’s important to showcase. So we always showcase all the victories. But we always showcase the ones that we fail. And the way we do it, as we always say, we fail as a team, and we won as a team. And whenever one department does something, I try and take those best pieces of work and send it to all 600 people, right?
Because it’s always a case that if you see your neighbors doing it, then you’d say, why can’t I do it right now other than me, going to the others and saying they did it, so you must do it. It doesn’t work like that. The ones who are going to innovate will in a way. But I think you see, with digitalization, there’s a lot of noise. Right? I think a lot of Everything that you must adopted, you must fail.
But my point is you got to have more victories and your failures, right? Otherwise, as a company, you sink gonna sink a lot of money and not get enough returns for it. So yes, you must fail sometimes others you never set your target high enough, right? If you set yourself to targets which are very mediocre you you’re going to win all the time. So,
Skye Khilji 24:25
So what’s been the greatest success? You’ve had this come from an innovation.
Nishit Majmudar 24:29
We’ve got quite a few. I wouldn’t say why maybe we’ve been the first in the industry for a lot of things. But if you ask me for one, the one that I remember the most is we used to get a lot of claims which were on the health side. We have $50 claims 50 $70 claims. And then one of the senior leaders in the company one day remarked to me, and he said to me, there’s so much paper in that department that I would never want my son to work in that department.
And we said that we will actually get rid of all the paper in that department. So what we’ve done is we’ve done an app, and where people just SAP it and send it. And then they are paid out that $50. And whilst we haven’t gone and told the consumers, but because it was only $50 claims, and the cost of assessing that would actually be almost $50. And we were rejecting very few. So we were actually paying out most of them. So we’ve got some sample checking, but otherwise, we just pay out everything. Initially, the consumers didn’t change their behaviors.
So we got a beautiful app, but consumers aren’t changing behavior. So when the turnaround times for the claims payments, moved from 15 days, to a few hours, probably eight hours a max one day, if you did it through the app, right rather than sending the hard copy of the claim, when that happened now. I think 85% 90% of our small claims all comes to the app. And we got a lot of publicity in the industry to be the first to do that. And when others copy you, I think it’s a good thing that means you your innovation was a success.
Skye Khilji 26:17
As I’m sure in your long, illustrious career, there’s been some mistakes along the way. What would you say are those mistakes that you really learned from?
Nishit Majmudar 26:24
I’d say a couple of mistakes. I think the first one is anger. As soon as you get into a CEO position, you begin to think you got a lot of power, which you probably do. But when you get angry, the impact that it has on 600 people actually undoes a lot of the good work that you put in. So people are all excited to do you talked about innovation, they want to innovate. In one bad day in the office where you are upset.
It is visibly upset and you get angry in a meeting. It actually, the negativity of that is enormous. So you have a responsibility as a CEO, and you have a duty as a CEO. And it’s just like if you are a father in a family, if you get upset, then there is I mean, it actually undoes a lot of things.
So I try my best under the most severe pressure. I am the commerce individual. When there is a problem, the first thing people must want to do is to come to you if you can create that ambience where they come to and say, boss, something’s gone horribly wrong. And he said, just sit there we’ll find a solution together, then I think you will win in more situations.
So I think I have been guilty of being angry at times and I’m still trying to get better. The other mistake which I only realized a few months Back is that I have sometimes been very competitive. And us we say it is a game of alignment the company needs to win in yet individuals want to win. You know that that’s ironical, they’re not company needs to win.
We are all part of the same company. And yet we are each of us wanting to win. Right. And so I have also competed. And now I realized that actually my greatest strengths is collaboration. It doesn’t matter who wins.
If you are, say, a chief risk officer, and I’m the chief finance officer, and if you think that stopping me from what I’m doing is your victory. Then that was the way I was a few years back because I wanted to be the best chief risk officer and I wanted to win. But if I’m the best chief risk officer make the company win. So I think if you can change competition To collaboration, and a win doesn’t need to result in a loss of win must result in a win the other side too, then that car thing comes back into play that it cannot be a long term success story.
And I think if you apply that even in your personal life, you will find that it will make a huge change now, in your behaviors with people, you don’t need to win anything. You actually win when both people both sides, both parties actually win and you make that transition. Nobody ever told me about this one. But over the years, I’ve learned that actually collaboration is best. If there are two outstanding individuals, you got to be very careful that you actually find a win win such that the company wins.
What’s the point? You may have the two best forwards in your soccer team and they don’t pass to one another and dribble the best but they didn’t score the goal. So what’s the point? Right
Skye Khilji 29:59
so this is an interesting Dynamic, the bigger the company that you’re a part of you get these ambitious people, and they’re not always playing for the team. So how do you as a leader, the person everybody’s looking to? How do you align those people, so you know, they can win individually, but ultimately the organization wins.
Nishit Majmudar 30:16
I generally go to a lot of the guys who have the power to stop something. And I tell them that to stop something is the easiest challenge in their careers. Because they have the power. So if I’m an actuary, the marketing team comes to me and says, I want to do this product. I say, I’m not doing it.
Okay, I’m an underwriter. You come to me and say, I’ve got slight tinge of diabetes or high blood pressure, so I reject your application. The lawyer looks at the contract and says, oh, the slight problem, they reject. I tell them, that’s the easiest part of your careers. Anybody can do that. If you are a good underwriter, you are a good lawyer. You Good Risk Manager, you will actually find the solution. So I tell the actuaries, if you don’t find the solution, the marketing team is not good enough to find the solution.
But you rejected them, you find the solution, it will, your job will become that much more satisfying. So when they begin to think that they are capable, and they are the only ones capable, the ones who are capable of rejecting a decision are the only ones capable of making it happen, then the whole team begins to think of Viva is all that matters. It doesn’t matter whether I want it or not. Yeah, but it takes a lot of effort because all of us have only wills in,
Skye Khilji 31:41
like what you said. So there’s this aspect of being proactive. So saying, How can we do this? How can we say yes to this versus how can we just say no and shut that down? So to me that seems to come back to the personal qualities of the individual. So for a CEO for those people in those roles, what are those persons qualities that you know really make a team player.
Nishit Majmudar 32:03
team players, you’ll always I mean, to me,
Nishit Majmudar 32:07
I look at people, the body language first. I just recruited a lady as chief risk officer. And I work with our 20 years back. I met up for coffee the second time I met her, she said, looked at me and said, it’d be nice to work for you. But I first want to know, why do you want me to work for Viva? And I said, That smile of yours? And she looked at me and said, You must be joking. This is a serious question. I said, that’s a serious answer. That you have worked 20 years with the regulators.
Do I doubt your competency? I don’t. If you want me to test it, I will trust tested. Happy to do that. If you have the right attitude. I can teach you if you have some flaws in your capabilities in your competencies I can teach you if you have the wrong attitude and you come in and the team that are Build, if you come and don’t add to the team and make that team as a team stronger, and wasting my time, I think you will be a wonderful team player. And she’s come in and she, you know, has a lot of areas where she doesn’t agree with others. There’s a lot of debate in the company.
But as soon as that debate is over, they all go out together for lunch. And I can see that teamwork. So teamwork generally team players you can see and not everyone will be a perfect team player. And they don’t need to be perfect team players, but they need to continue to improve towards becoming better team players.
Skye Khilji 33:38
So you spoke about some of the qualities of a team player. So I want to look now at the qualities that you as a human bring to your role as CEO. What would you say are those most important qualities that allow you to operate at the level that you do?
Nishit Majmudar 33:52
I have to say I’m in a minority, and I think I’ve been very blessed and probably lucky to be as successful as I mean, I’ve always felt that I’ve reaped the benefits of a lot of hard work. But at the end of the day, I feel the greatest joy is to give.
Nishit Majmudar 34:18
I don’t think good leaders take.
Nishit Majmudar 34:22
Now good leaders always think of giving back to their people giving back to their consumers, to their customers. And I think my life hasn’t changed. I’m the only CEO in Singapore who travels to Office my boss.
And I’ve been asked this question many times to Why do you do that? And ask myself, why shouldn’t I do that? I go out in the afternoons for coffee with me to a small coffee shop, which no other CEOs would go to. I go to the food court, but to me, I haven’t changed. Why should I force myself to change?
And I think people say I’m very humble. And I say that that’s part part of the job. You have been made a CEO by the people effectively, right? And if you’re not going to be with the people when they need you the most than I think so. I just felt I never think of myself as higher than anybody else. Yes, I do see my responsibilities as showing the direction which you could say comes from a position of a higher position.
Yes, but I’m not I’m not changed at all in my life. I am very comfortable. I’ve never had to be the niche in that niche. It wasn’t. Yeah, the simplicity in my life hasn’t gone away with all these tight job titles. And now Yeah, there are days when I have to behave slightly differently, but as long as they are once in a blue moon, and that’s fine.
I’ve had wonderful relationships with people pool. My best friends are the ones who work for my competitors. And it’s there is a sense of sincerity. There’s a sense of honesty. There’s a sense of simplicity. And yeah, I think I’ve done it my way. I think people others would do it their way. I don’t like to be high profile or not. I always shun all the high profile meetings. I’m hardly in the press. Sometimes when I need to do it for the sake of the company, then I will do it. But I think probably the best thing is that I will have no regrets when I finish
Skye Khilji 36:38
is one of the most popular questions CEOs often get asked is what are the most influential books in your life?
Nishit Majmudar 36:45
I actually don’t read too many books.
Nishit Majmudar 36:49
I think the two things that helped me in my leadership. One is when I first became CEO, I read the book from good to great and A couple of things that I remember from them, was that good is the biggest enemy of greatness. Yes. And the other one is, in every single job, there is one major issue to be tackled. And you must tackle it. However hard it is. A lot of people know the elephant in the room, but they don’t tackle it because it is very difficult to tackle. And I think those are the two things that I always remember from that book. I actually read a lot about Lord Krishna.
Nishit Majmudar 37:41
There is a Hindu epic.
Nishit Majmudar 37:46
And I see a lot of stuff from so it is the Bhagwad Gita which is the equivalent of the Bible, but I use some of those things. It helps me I visualize myself as Probably one of the characters in that whole epic, and try and use that in day to day work in corporate world. And actually, it’s not very different.
He says the whether you if you’ve I just found that whole, that whole war that took place and always fascinating and I use some of those things back at work. And it gives me a sense of calmness, a sense of it is very nice to be able to apply that in my work. But, I mean, I’m sure that this is an answer, which you won’t get from anybody. If you ever meet is the first time. I’m just being honest. And that’s the way it has been.
Skye Khilji 38:46
The The Good to Great book is an answer. You know, many CEOs talk about that book. So you said in every job there’s one kind of key issue to tackle the elephant in the room. How do you identify what that issue is? And then get to work on tackling it.
Nishit Majmudar 39:02
Well, every job will have its own big issue for me. I moved from Prudential to a waiver. And Prudential is a much bigger name than Aviva in Asia. And I came into a Viva and said, What’s the difference between Aviva and Prudential?
And I said they’ve got more people selling for Prudential. And hence, for me my priority. Any time in the six and a half years, if you ask me, my number one priority is distribution.
Number two is distribution. And number three is distribution. So yes, I may not have the same brand as potential, but everything else I’ve got as good as potential. My Risk team, my actual team, my human resources, team, IT team, everything is as good my products as good everything is the One thing that I need to tackle is I need an army of distributors, which is as big as Prudential the day I have that I will be Prudential.
So to me, that has been the big thing that I need to tackle. And because building distribution is very difficult, so a lot of people don’t take it on for me, I take full responsibility and always be my priority.
Skye Khilji 40:24
And how long ago did you first take that on? And how’s that, that goal progressing?
Nishit Majmudar 40:31
We’ve gone through a rollercoaster in a Viva. So I think we built a lot of stuff over four years, and then that distribution deal came to an end because somebody else paid a billion dollars for that one, and we lost that one as a partner. We restarted that, very happy to say that that’s working very well. The number of advisors the distribution is growing much faster than I expected. And I continue to focus As to what is it that is leading us to grow faster than the industry and continue to build on those successes? And also keep looking out of how we can make them better. But yeah, I think distribution is absolutely my number one priority. And at the moment is doing quite okay.
Skye Khilji 41:18
You’re making big decisions, they’re public decisions. They’re, you know, lots of money’s being invested in those. How do you get to, I’m making the right decision and I’m ready to pull the trigger and invest. Do you have a process for that? What What can you share with us about decision making?
Nishit Majmudar 41:36
I think there are very clear limits for every level and the very clear processes. But and that helps a lot say everyone knows that we got to follow the process. For example, the CFO has to sign and the risk officer has the ability to give an absolutely honest independent opinion and they could, if the risk opinion is always Okay, then You got to ask them. Is that really okay? Right? So the process is there.
But when you get to a certain stage and the final decision, there are times when it’s an intuitive decision and it’s borderline, can we pull it off or not? Then that ultimately decide whether you’re successful or not. And you can get there but no, you as I said earlier that as a CEO, you can’t pass that final decision making responsibility to anybody else and you’ll always be judged by that.
So do I follow the process you need to know your individuals well enough, because some of them will be shy to voice their opinions you can try and get that but once you get some will say essence and you get 5050 you’ve got the we have to make a call. You got to make the call. And that’s probably a little more difficult than ways 90 911 99 saying Go for it, then I think it’s probably a bit easier, but no one We tend to get more of the 5050 ones because we are smaller than some of the top players in the industry.
We got to move faster, we got to take more risks. And I think you’ll be judged by by the decisions. Nobody really knows what the future is going to be. And I think that that probably separates one leader from the other.
Skye Khilji 43:22
So imagine your son or daughter’s going into business, and you have to just give them a few pieces of very concise advice as to how they can emulate the level of success that you’ve had, what would you say to them?
Nishit Majmudar 43:36
I never wanted anybody to emulate somebody else.
Nishit Majmudar 43:41
So my son, or my friend’s son, I’d always want to know what they want to do in their lives. And I think asking them to emulate me puts a sort of pressure on them which they don’t need because they could become a CEO like And not that saying I wasted my life. True, right? So, but some of the pieces of advice I would give them is, life is about problem solving. In any sphere that you go, ultimately it is about problem solving.
So you must tune your skills to solve problems. Yeah, you must work very hard. I’d always say owns everything that you do own it hundred percent, or don’t own it at all. Please don’t waste your time and everyone around you by doing something where you are only 80% into it. It is torturous. So don’t do that.
So commit to whatever you do. If you enjoy it, then I think that is a real icing on the cake. Not everyone enjoys everything that they do, but you must enjoy at least 60% of water. To do everyday otherwise, I think it is I say to see the tortures is misery for you, and you will get to the end of the road and say I wasted my life, right. But I’d also say to them, try and love people around you.
Yeah, there’s no point in being just all self centered, being angry being so passionate, you know, you smell the roses, and love people because you love people, people will love you back not immediately. Right? Sometimes people don’t reciprocate quickly enough. But if you love people around you live life to the full, I think it will be very meaningful. And when you look back, you’ll be able to say, yeah, that was the life that I want. Really.
Skye Khilji 45:48
I think that’s an important message. So we’re hearing now about millennials entering the workforce, and that we as CEOs need to interact with them differently. What advice would you give CEOs who have millennia He was now in the workforce and maybe they’re not accustomed to working with them.
Nishit Majmudar 46:04
Well, I try a lot working with the millennials. And trust me, it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy either which way, because you go to the millennials, and they say was this old man coming to me for me, I don’t want to talk to him. And it actually takes a while to break the ice, and to be able to build a relationship. If you go to them, then you got to be open. They got some strange views, but then the world is going to be very different in the years to come.
The way I have been trained for 35 years, if I stick to that, then I might as well not talk because I think the worst thing you do is to seek somebody feedback and not implemented. Right? So you go to the millennials, and I think it is absolutely key that you talk to the millennials because our customers are going to be millennials. So if you don’t understand your customers and only in order to know be successful.
But I have interacted with them. Some of them great fun. But it takes a while because otherwise they always think why am I going to talk to somebody so senior, right? And they are very capable of saying, okay, yesterday was a great day today I’m leaving. Yeah. And you’d just be scratching your head and say what happened there, but they are different.
Skye Khilji 47:21
So I can see from what you said that older leadership style of being authoritarian will probably not work. What I get from you is there’s a lot of empathy in your approach. And would you suggest that that’s one of the key elements of what makes that relationship work?
Nishit Majmudar 47:39
I guess. So. Yeah. I guess that the youngsters, if you go to them and talk to them, as I said, that if you go to people, the empathy part comes in where you are genuinely wanting them to be better at what they want to do. I think that is way the mo the difference between empathy and authoritative stance.
I don’t go to them and say this is what I want you to do. Because then there are a lot of managers between them and myself, I couldn’t get them to ask them to do a certain thing, if I go to them is something that they, I learned from them, right? If they don’t think I’m learning from them, there is no empathy in you’re not, then it’s a one way traffic.
Skye Khilji 48:26
I definitely get a lot of leaders who hear the buzzword of empathy, and they say, I’m gonna go out there and be more empathetic. But I think what I got from what you just said is that authenticity has to be there. You can just feel that right. I hope they do. Tell us about the apprenticeship program in Aviva the impact it’s had on the organization and on the individuals themselves.
Nishit Majmudar 48:48
The apprentice program has actually required us to invest a lot of time and money in it. So we used to bring in apprentices and just to ask them to do The cheap labor route with some companies and doctrine, unfortunately, we started that way. But now that we bring them in, we actually give them a project, as well as we require them to do the day to day work themselves. So something that our staff next to them are doing it for a living. We get them to do that, over and about that we get them to do a project, and we get them to present at the end of the seven weeks.
During those seven weeks, they get about five meetings with the top leaders in the company who will share the experiences with them. Now, I think the greatest benefit for the company is some of the work done by these apprentices is just phenomenal. They have told us to change things which we could have should have changed 10 years ago, but we haven’t now and they’ve come and told us what the hell are you guys doing? So that has been very refreshing for us, but I think from an apprentice point of view They, when they come to corporate world, they are very nervous.
They don’t know what to expect when you get them to rub shoulders with people like myself who have been in mastery 30 and they say we are all human beings. Yeah, no, I think it probably takes away some of the all that they had in the right way, says that when they come to work, they feel they are human beings too. And I can learn so much from them. So I think everyone in their careers will go up and down.
But if they rub shoulders with the most experienced people, then I think the will we sort of the rough edges will disappear a touch, and people will have a more upward trajectory in their careers, rather than going up and then suddenly losing their way and going down all the way down before they lift themselves up. So I think it’s benefits both the company as well as intense.
Skye Khilji 50:56
You were recently awarded CEO of the year at the age Insurance awards. What do you think clinched that award for you?
Nishit Majmudar 51:03
I actually went and talked to the judges about. And I was just curious as to what clinched it, I think the performance of the company. So as I talked about losing a big distributor with 70% of our sales, and in two years, we recoup all those profits.
But it was also a broader piece about the contribution of the company, the way we’ve treated our people some of our CSR responsibilities and how we’ve taken them, how we worked with the more needy and not so fortunate people in society and help them and it just looked at the whole piece together. And that I believe clinched it because they would I think many others who would have done very well on their numbers, but I think it was a more complete story for us as a Viva And that probably clinched it for me.
Skye Khilji 52:03
Thank you so much for talking with us today.
Nishit Majmudar 52:05
Thank you. My pleasure.