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Nine leadership questions for Besa Ruele, CEO, Hollard Life Solutions

Nine leadership questions for Besa Ruele, CEO, Hollard Life Solutions
03-04-24 / Kwanele Sibanda

Nine leadership questions for Besa Ruele, CEO, Hollard Life Solutions

After completing a BSc in Mathematics, I bumped into the actuarial profession through a chance meeting with one of the smartest actuaries I know. This gentleman convinced me to leave my dream of going into academia and join the profession instead. I then started my career as an actuarial student in his actuarial consulting firm, working across different sectors and eventually moving into a life office in 2007. I have been in the life insurance sector since.

1. For how long have you been with Hollard Life Solutions as its Chief Executive Officer?

Since the creation of Hollard Life Solutions in 2020.

2. How have your previous roles within Hollard and prior to joining Hollard prepared you for this current role .... Any challenges, highlights or learnings?

The leadership roles that I held prior to my Life Solutions position really did prepare me for it. However, no two positions are the same, and I continue to learn every day. I’ve learnt that the surest way to success as a leader is to surround yourself with the best talent, with people who have better skills than you in their given field, and to empower that team, allowing it to fly. I’ve also learnt that having the best team isn’t enough; for it to soar, your vision needs to be crystal clear.

In addition, I’ve found that it is humbling to fail or not to achieve the outcome I desired. Every failure is a lesson for the future as I get back up, dust myself off and move forward, with the benefit of more experience.

I’ve also learnt to incorporate joy and fun in what I do. This has helped me to keep my balance, even when times are tough.

3. What would you say are the top qualities of an effective leader?

  1. Empathy: I think this is an increasingly important character trait in this ever more complex world.
  2. Vision, and clarity of vision.
  3. Creativity. In the complex world we face, solutions are not always obvious.

4. What would you say are Hollard Life Solutions’ top priority areas for the next year?

Continuing to push the dial on customer service and delivery. We are here only because our customers choose us. So we keep the customer at the core of what we do, and continue to focus on improving their experiences and other areas where we aren’t quite getting things right. In doing so, we make sure that we consider all of our customers, namely our policyholders, our brokers and our partners.

5. As one of the leading insurance companies in SA and beyond, how do you attract and retain talent? And how can the insurance industry better retain talent and skills?

We remain true to who we are. Most who step into Hollard marvel at the Hollard culture and people-centred approach to doing things. I believe this makes us special and attractive to talent. As an industry we need to do more to retain talent, by being intentional and deliberate about creating career paths with real opportunities for growth, and that show a compelling future.

6. How do you see technology playing a much more significant role in the insurance space, as well as in product development and distribution in the next few years?

Technology has had a major impact in all areas of our lives, and insurance is not exempt. The insurance industry has embraced and will need to ramp up that embracing of technology to remain relevant and accessible to both policyholders and distribution channels. This is no longer an option or a luxury, but an imperative.

However, the human, face-to-face element of what we do remains critically important, especially when you consider the touchpoints that we have with our customers and our distribution channels. The magic will lie in achieving the optimal blend of technology and that human element.

7. What would you point out as key areas of concern for the insurance intermediary for the next three to five years?

I believe one concern would be around how to effectively distribute insurance products at a time when trust is low and the economy is tough - insurance is becoming even more of a grudge purchase. This compels insurers to develop products that allow intermediaries to present value-adding offerings to the market. From a Hollard perspective this is very important, alongside driving ease of doing business for our brokers and partners.

8. If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

To be more confident in my abilities and to own my voice. I think women in particular struggle with being assertive and confident in what they bring to the table. I would advise my younger self to be more confident that I am deserving of a seat at that table.

9. What is the one book you would recommend to your audience, and why?

I struggled to choose just one...there are far too many good pieces of work out there. One that I would definitely choose to share is Our Iceberg is Melting, by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. This book, in an almost childlike way, reminds us not to get stuck in any one way of thinking or on any one road to success, given that the world often moves and we have to move right along with it. It’s apt for the complex and fast-moving world that we live in.

Being a bit of a rule-breaker sometimes, I’d like to maybe be a bit cheeky and also recommend Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey. As someone who is passionate about profit through purpose, this book resonates with me and challenges the belief that balancing purpose with profit is almost impossible. Certainly one of the things that has kept me so loyally “purple” is Hollard's purpose-driven nature, a purpose that I (and that most Hollardites, I believe) experience in a very tangible way.

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