How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Personally, I am a curious and hands-on person. A saying I live by is “to become a good leader, we need to first be a good worker.”
I’ve always been passionate about getting the job done. A big part of that comes with always raising your hand. I’m always the first to raise my hand.
In the era of technology and innovation, we need to allow people to experiment and innovate – and, critically, make mistakes. It’s important that the culture of allowing people to make mistakes be normalised.
Fundamentally, we need to allow the concept of learn to fail (fast) and then pick up (fast). In hindsight, this is how companies like Apple, Tesla, and Amazon became better in time.
I believe we need to inculcate such culture and allow people to work on their passion. Their drive to work comes from an internal space and when they are allowed that very component to take root, a feeling of empowerment would take someone as far as they want – that is the reward and enjoyment we ultimately seek.
What traits do you look for in your talent or how do you decide who is right for a job?
As we move towards a digital, more robust, and agile environment, the talent that we are looking for must, in tandem, reflect that ecosystem. In the fund management industry of today, the talent that we need to build this company come from a diverse background – from sciences to arts to humanities, because that is what it needs.
We look to improve our customers’ experience with the help of digital marketers and UI/UX experts, solve intricate human issues with psychologists and philosophers, solve operational problems with the help of engineers and mathematicians, craft customer friendly content narratives with the help of creative and content creation experts.
We are also committed towards sustainable responsible investing. So we must look towards talent with environmental science and data science backgrounds. Essentially, we are the subject matter experts, thus as we seek to fuse the company with a more evolved and multi-dimensional thinking, we must also recruit talent who are experts in these respective fields, and no longer just core-business talent.
We want to cut across the different layers of society and, to do that, we need to have talent from various backgrounds, not just people who understand finance or investment.
How do you think the industry you are in will evolve in the future?
The fund management industry has been around for decades and it has seen a lot of changes. Heading to the future, I predict that we will evolve towards becoming an increasingly customer-centric industry. This is augmented with the industry expanding its market to the retail segment.
Our personal and corporate mission at Principal is to help people save enough, protect enough and have enough, and indeed investment should cut across all layers of society. In that pursuit, we need to reach out and get down the grassroots; digitalisation enables us to reach the hearts and minds of the very people we want to provide our solutions to, omnipresent across every segment of society because we believe that everyone deserves a shot at financial security.
We are also growing more conscious of other emerging pillars in the industry such as environmental, social and governance (ESG) – a pertinent issue seeing how climate change has already affected our lives.
Best piece of advice you ever received on your career.
One of the remarkable people I have the honour to be training under once initiated an interesting conversation with me, and the biggest advice he imparted was that sometimes in our career, we need to move horizontally and not all the time vertically. This means we have to do things that are quite different than what we are used to do – challenge ourselves.
It also goes to say that while you’re specialised in a certain area, don’t be afraid to try new areas. Similar to what we are doing at Principal, moving into the digital business. The truth is how we frame the limitations is in our minds. Always learn – academically and in practice. These life-long learnings are invaluable.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced? What did you learn from it?
One of the more recent herculean tasks for us at Principal is to transform our people and company from a traditional setting into a digital setting. This strategic transformation process is an ongoing one throughout the universal digital development, and Covid-19 and the movement control order definitely accelerated it.
Generally, change is difficult – the process of accepting change is a tedious undertaking. Our mandate as a business is to ensure that the workforce and culture were equipped and running optimally, taking into account the productivity and the health of our people. Since we became more digital, my proudest moment is when the people at Principal are also now digitally agile, nimble, and equipped.
In fact, our journey has just begun and there’s more transformation that is required and the biggest transformation is the transformation of mindset, a paradigm shift, and how we can think differently.
We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution? Your thoughts.
For sure, we are already at the pinnacle of the process – and significantly today, an industrial revolution takes much less time to happen. Between the first industrial revolution to the fourth, it’ll take much less time for the next one. So I think we are really entering a new era. I admire the young generation today because they’re so lucky to be in this new age right of doing things differently, of thinking differently.
Fundamentally as a fund manager, we need to upskill ourselves, there is no two ways about it. Understandably, it is impossible to be a subject matter expert in every field so, as for myself, I position myself close to subject matter experts. Go to conferences, webinars – learn and don’t be afraid to sound stupid.
How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?
If I am allowed to be a little contrarian, I believe we need to stay abreast of issues outside our industry. Reason being, we must always look at how we can best cater to issues mankind is facing, that is how we can ensure the industry can continue to be relevant to the real world.
There is a bigger purpose out there, for one, corporate social responsibility is a broad notion and it encompasses a plethora of issues. I care about issues surrounding diversity and inclusivity, women, children, and education. Hence, why Principal mulls a lot of effort towards financial literacy and our initiatives, from our most recent online talk show to our earliest advocacy – underscoring the importance of savings, investing, and retirement.
As a company, we need to find ways to help people improve and achieve their social needs holistically.
What man-made innovation impressed you most? Why?
At the forefront, the dynamic interrelations between technology and sustainability are fascinating to me.
For example, in the field of biotechnology, energy – solar in particular and electronic vehicles. The continuous advancement of technology in these fields would allow for a better world, not just for us but for future generations, and its spillover would help contribute to areas such as tackling climate change, improving social welfare and equality, and governance.
A must-read for every business owner/manager is …
I would recommend Loonshots by Safi Bahcall. The book provides insights into culture, structure, transitions and most importantly exploring ideas. In general, I read a lot of books, a good mix of business, autobiography and fiction such as Becoming, the autobiography by Michelle Obama and the Murakami series. I also prefer to alternate between books whilst reading, primarily because when it comes to business books, it is quite heavy and it’ll take some time to process and internalise it. With fiction, it frees up your mind, plays with your imagination and neutralises your thinking.
Other materials I enjoy are from The Economist and in my downtime, K-dramas. What I find most fascinating about K-dramas is they are so far ahead – the scriptwriting and the ability to transcend non-speaking people, allowing it to be universal.
How do you expect policies on climate change to impact businesses in the future?
Policies will definitely have a large impact on businesses and policymakers have an important role to play. I believe more empowerment efforts should be directed to support groups, civil societies and advocates of sustainable and responsible investing in general. However, as a business, it’s equally important for us to lead the change. For example, as a fund management company, we must consider our guidelines and ethical standards so our capital markets would advance.
As we can see, there is a greater consciousness among the investing community with non-green and bad climate change practices so business owners need to be aware of their social, environmental and governance responsibility because investors are putting in place better guidelines to investing. At Principal, we have also put in place an ESG assessment framework where we look at themes like climate change, pollution and waste, human capital, and corporate governance to complement our existing investment philosophy.
More importantly, we ensure proper engagements with companies to ensure they are complying with our standards.