Nine leadership questions for Anton Ossip, and incoming Discovery Insure CEO, Rob Attwell
Anton Ossip is the Chief Executive Officer of Discovery Insure, a division of Discovery Limited. He also serves on the executive committee of Discovery Limited and is a Non-Executive Director at Cambridge Mobile Telematics.
Anton joined Discovery Limited in 2011, helping to launch Discovery Insure in a highly competitive short-term insurance market and at a time when South Africa had some of the highest rates of road fatalities in the world. The business was launched with a unique core purpose to create a nation of great drivers, underpinned by the Shared-value insurance model pioneered by Discovery. It is now the fastest-growing short-term insurance company in South Africa, with the Vitality Drive programme now also available in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.
Anton completed a Bachelor of Economic Science at the University of the Witwatersrand, followed by studies with the Institute of Actuaries (UK) before becoming a Fellow of the Institute in 2001. From 1998 until 2011, Anton occupied a diverse range of executive positions at Alexander Forbes, initially within Investment Solutions Limited and later in the broader Alexander Forbes Group. There, he was CEO of Risk and Insurance, CEO of Alexander Forbes Insurance, CEO of AF Financial Services and Chairman of both the Alexander Forbes Insurance Board and the Guardrisk Holdings Board.
Anton is passionate about the role corporates can play as a Force for Social Good and has driven several initiatives by Discovery Insure, from a safe scholar transport initiative called Safe Travel to School, to the repair of over 150,000 potholes in Johannesburg through the Pothole Patrol. He further serves as a Trustee of the Discovery Fund and is a non-Executive director at the Smile Foundation.
Robert Attwell – Discovery Insure – Head: Corporate Actuarial
Rob is the current Head of Corporate Actuarial and Procurement for Discovery Insure and the incoming CEO of Discovery Insure.
Rob has a BSc Actuarial Science and Mathematical Statistics and a BSc Honours Actuarial Science from the University of the Witwatersrand. Whilst working full-time, Robert also completed a Higher Diploma in Taxation and participated in an Accelerated Development Programme at London Business School.
He joined Discovery in 2012 where he started as an Actuary in Life Valuations. He spent a few years in this space with various valuation responsibilities, and ultimately branched out to lead and grow the Life analytics team. When a job opened in Discovery Insure to head up our valuations team Rob applied for this and, despite having no previous experience in Short Term insurance. Rob quickly mastered the technical aspects of the role and continued to build a strong team around him.
The role is multi-faceted, complex, and constantly changing as new legislation is introduced. In this role, Rob is responsible for the monthly valuation of Insure, capital planning, investment strategy, reinsurance, and budgeting.
The procurement function was recently added to Rob’s portfolio and while this is typically not the domain of an actuary at an insurer, Rob’s skills at understanding strategy, numbers and dealing with complex people issues has added incredible value to this function. Rob is an outstanding people leader and well respected by all. He is optimistic by nature and sees the positive in difficult situations.
- As a leader who has been there since the start of Discovery Insure, what lessons have you learnt in the journey to get here? Anton
Building a business from scratch is tough. It doesn’t matter how well you plan, there will always be things that were not considered or things that do not go according to plan. Build some contingencies into any business plan for the unknowns. However, having great people is crucial. The strength of the team and leadership is arguably the most critical ingredient for success. Spend time making sure you have the right people in the right roles.
Build the right reports and data from the beginning, and ensure you have all the correct metrics to help make data driven decisions. The importance of culture, the small things that build a healthy working culture remain crucial, and also treating people with respect. Treat people the same way you expect to be treated - people aren’t numbers or commodities.
- How did you find the transition from an insurance start-up to one of the leading non-life insurance companies in SA? .... Any highlights? Anton
While we are a much larger business than we were years ago, we are still growing well and have a way to go to reach our potential. This is a real and exciting opportunity for Rob to lead the business to even greater heights. There is still space for the business to become an even more significant player.
I don’t think we have significantly changed our approach from the days when we were a small start up to today. Having a large numbers of clients, premiums or people hasn’t changed our essence. The core team remains in place and the energy levels remain high.
We still operate in many ways like a start-up. My first two emails every day are:
- The list of claims from the previous day. I want to know if we had any serious claims that I need to be aware, did any clients have serious accidents or did any of our clients lose their assets in a fire.
- The report with our new business figures. Are we growing? Growth is a sign of success.
A lesson I learnt from Adrian when we first started the business was to treat each client as an individual. Adrian stressed that businesses should focus more on individuals than averages. We have tried to stick to this principle. Personally, I have tried to remain available to every client or broker who wants to contact me.
- If you could go back to 2011 and give yourself a piece of advice, what would it be? Anton
It’s an honour to lead a new business, I enjoy every moment of it. Even the tough times have lessons that you grow from. Read a lot and be open minded and bring your previous experience with you, but keep in mind that each opportunity is unique. Look for ways to make a difference wider than your core business, to help build societies.
- What would you say are the top qualities for effective leadership? Anton
Be yourself, don’t change your personality for work. People value authenticity. Be human and treat others with respect. Valuing each one of the people you lead is important. Have empathy, understand that everyone is going through their own unique challenges, and also listen to people and give them time to express how they feel.
Enjoy watching people under your leadership thrive, their success will propel your success.
- What would you say are the top qualities for effective leadership? Rob
What I’ve found most important is a for a leader to be authentic, humble and have grit. A leader needs to challenge the team, framing or defining the problem and not necessarily solving it. As a leader, you need to be set the vision and inspire the team you lead to go on the journey with you.
Being able to identify people’s strengths, developing them and allowing them to use them to the best of their ability. People are the biggest asset.
- What are your long-term strategic priorities for the company? What do you hope to achieve? Rob
Before going into that, I just want to mention that the business has grown significantly and reached many milestones in the 12 years of its operation.
What I hope to do is:
- To continue growing the business and creating a nation of great drivers through Vitality Drive
- To place more focus on technology and digital, leveraging unique assets.
- To lead a business that provides world-class service to all our clients and deliver on the promise made to clients.
- To encourage continuous innovation and to refine the shared value business model.
- As one of the leading non-life insurers in SA, how do you attract and retain talent? Rob
We focus on getting great people and liberating the best in them, allowing them to reach their full potential and hire for skill and culture. Our People are aligned with our values, and we make sure of that.
We also create an environment where people are challenged and recognized, creating opportunities for growth. So, we invest in our people and their development, and prefer people to outgrow our business rather than to not grow at all.
- Do you see technology playing a bigger part in the development and distribution of insurance products in the future? Rob
Most certainly, we embrace change. We are a company that prioritises innovation.We are already seeing a seismic shift in technology application and leveraging it in our business. Many of our digital assets have been built to prepare our business for the future.There will always be a need for proper financial advice from a human since every individual is unique. Technology makes this process easier and more efficient, and will continually expand from distribution to the entire insurance model.
- What is the one book you would recommend to your audience, and why? Rob
- Lift as you rise (Bonang Mohale), it has incredible commentary on leadership and transformation which are quite important to me. I’ve included some of my favourite quotes below:
- Behold the turtle - it only makes progress when its neck is out.
- It is a vibrant, beautiful continent populated by proud people who face their challenges head on daily with dignity and with courage, creativity, and ingenuity.
- Great leaders don’t create followers, they groom other leaders.
- Transformation means we together we are creating a future that has no resemblance of the past.
- Seek out people who think differently to you. Nobody grows in an echo chamber.
- Plant trees, the shade of which you will never enjoy yourself. Dig wells for future generations. Lay foundation for tomorrow’s success.
- It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you are not.
- Boys learn by looking at the back of the heads of their fathers.
- You don’t have to like the people you work with; you just have to respect the contribution they make to the business.
- Your goal should not be to be an important person, but a person of significance.
- I want to live in a country where the poor can afford cars and the rich dare to use public transport.