Nine leadership questions for Steph Bester, CEO, AllLife
Steph Bester is a leader who is passionate about numbers and economics and received his Bachelor of Commerce in Economics in 1998. Before joining AllLife, he spent 12 transformative years at The Unlimited Group, first as Sales Director and then as Group CEO. Steph says it was a great time, and the company was voted Best Company to Work for in South Africa and Africa in the Deloitte Best Company to Work for Survey on multiple occasions.
He has also held leadership roles as the Country Manager and Head of New Business at Lloyds TSB International and filled several prominent roles at Barclays Africa and Private Clients.
Q: For how long have you been with AllLife as the CEO?
I joined AllLife as CEO in 2018.
Q: How have your previous roles prepared you for this current role .... Any challenges, highlights or learnings?
Where to begin? I am so grateful for the precious mentors who brought with them in every engagement, encouragement, guidance and often correction. No career journey is without mistakes, and I am super grateful to have had the opportunity to fail and bank that failure as a learning. Sure, failure is often painful at the time – but it is only failure if you don't learn something from it – and use that knowledge to grow.
Two things from my previous roles stand out, and I will always carry with me. Firstly, it is incredible what a team of people can do if they trust each other and are aligned toward a common goal. I believe that teamwork is the foundation of business success.
Secondly, most often, things aren't as bad as they seem at the moment. Trust in the process and trust that if you are willing to own and be accountable for stumbling blocks along the way, you will figure a way through just about any challenge!
Q: What would you say are the top qualities of an effective leader?
It is being human, authentic and, at appropriate times, vulnerable. Also, be the first to apologise when you have made a mistake.
Connecting with people is so important. Many leaders view people as a means to an end. To me, our people are an incredibly valuable part of the business, and it is my duty as a leader to leave them stronger, more empowered, and courageous than when I found them.
I also believe that effective leaders celebrate intentionally, have courage and grit, and critically are generous with their communication.
Q: What would you say are AllLife's top priority areas for the next five years?
AllLife has such an incredible role to play in society. Our message is one for all South Africans. So, in short, because we believe that everyone deserves the right to be insured, we will continue to look for solutions to help people who are currently being excluded from gaining life insurance while at the same time becoming increasingly competitive in the broader Life Insurance market.
Many South Africans do not yet understand the critical importance of what Life Cover means and what it can do to help protect economic progress from one generation to the next. We believe that part of our role is helping to create this understanding and helping them leave behind the legacy their family deserves.
Q: As one of the leading insurance brands, how do you attract and retain talent?
Honestly, often with some difficulty. Our leadership approach is highly inclusive, highly empowered, and very engaging. When you have a flat hierarchy and work in a very action-orientated entrepreneurial way for the right people, this provides a hugely empowering environment where growth and stimulation are guaranteed. But at the same time, we require guts, courage, and ownership from our people.
Q: How do you see technology playing a much more significant role in how insurance products are developed and distributed in the next few years?
Technology is exceptionally powerful, not just in developing products and helping us better use and understand data as an example. We believe that technology will place more and more decision-making power in the hands of the consumer and open up more and more options and choices to them.
The use of technology also increases our ability to price and manage the individual risk of a client. This then leads to the creation of highly tailored, very relevant solutions that are individualised rather than generic.
It also provides a platform for us to better engage with our customers and partner with them on their needs – it all comes back to our business wanting to be one that truly speaks to the needs of the consumer.
Q: What would you point out as key areas of concern for the life insurance industry in the next three to five years?
All players are going to require stronger stomachs! Seriously though, the real areas that are cause for concern are that increased regulatory and compliance requirements could slow down innovation, lead to longer turnaround times, and increase costs. The impact of which will ultimately affect our clients.
In addition, the current economic pressures on the average South African can't be downplayed; and they are immense and will ultimately impact their ability to keep their Life Cover plans active. Especially as they face an environment where their income is under significant pressure.
Q: If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Be bold and courageous; don't step back or avoid situations that make you uncomfortable. Uncertainty is your friend, and you will figure it out!
Q: What is the one book you would recommend to your audience, and why?
GRIT by Angela Duckworth. Often times, the difference between success and failure is not resources, creativity or innovation. It is in one's ability to manage and endure pain and discomfort over extended periods of time.