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Nine leadership questions for Kalim Rajab, MD, New National Assurance Company

Nine leadership questions for Kalim Rajab, MD, New National Assurance Company
10-04-24 / Kwanele Sibanda

Nine leadership questions for Kalim Rajab, MD, New National Assurance Company

I’ve been a generalist thusfar in my career, which always runs the risk of you floundering at some stage because of the absence of sufficient hard technical skills. I’ve tried to counter that possibility by always remaining curious to learn, and having solid frameworks within which to approach problem-solving or decision-making. I suppose my basic disciplines have been in finance and strategy. I began work as a management consultant at Accenture, before going on to a career in strategy at De Beers for several years in London and Johannesburg. And I’ve now been in senior positions in the insurance industry for over a decade.

1. For how long have you been with New National Assurance as its Managing Director?

I assumed the role in 2020, just before Covid. What a roller coaster of events it’s been since then!

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

I think just being a South African teaches you automatically to be resilient and not give up – we constantly face challenges but life in this society teaches you to find a way to survive and move on.

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

The best leaders I’ve worked for weren’t afraid to admit when they were wrong. They also actively sought out and listened to others’ opinions, even when it conflicted with their own. They were self-reflective. And they never forgot to praise, when praise was due. 

4. What would you say are New National Insurance Assurance’s top priority areas for the next year?

We recently celebrated 50 years of being in existence – and we want to be around for many more years to come! But the emphasis of your question is correct - with the current state of things in the economy right now, companies have got to focus on short-term tactical things because conditions are very treacherous. Right now, our focus remains on mitigating the effect of climate change and deteriorating national infrastructure on our balance sheet.

5. As a leading non-life insurance empowerment player in SA and beyond, how do you attract and retain talent? And how can the insurance industry better retain talent and skills?

As the largest empowerment player in the short-term space, we tend to attract people who want to be involved in something bigger than themselves – the creation of meaningful transformation in the insurance industry. And we try to retain them by making them feel empowered to make decisions – we’re not a bureaucratic corporate in that way.

In terms of the wider industry, generally I’d say that in financial services, historically insurance has always been something of a poor cousin to banking or private equity. I’ve seen that change over the recent past, though. But much more needs to be done especially in the intermediary space where a huge amount of experience and skills are not being replaced by new skills in the pipeline.

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?

I’ve just read KPMG’s latest insurance survey, and as they correctly point out, what strikes one from reading it is quite how much of the report deals with innovation and technology as well as the social conscience which seems to be brimming over in the insurance industry.

The innovation, I believe, will play out not just in product development and distribution, but also in risk mitigation, which is crucial – because the risks we face are almost completely different from just a few years ago and if anything pose far more of a threat than previously.

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

I see many intermediaries worried about succession planning over the next 3-5 years and how their businesses will survive from that perspective. I also see them worried about new skills being inculcated or brought into the sector.

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

You’re not as clever as you think – and that’s completely ok. Just be humble and continue to be curious. Keep reading – and never lose the ability to laugh at yourself.

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

There cannot be a single book which magically contains a disproportionate amount of insight to anything. “How long will you read/ From a single book of prayer?” asks the poet Satyajit Sarna. And what is true of religion, I believe, is true of life – or business. One needs to read from a whole range of disciplines and authors.

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