Ms Loh Guat Lan, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Hong Leong Assurance (HLA), embodies the true spirit of entrepreneurship. She has pioneered the recognition of women at the highest level of corporate leadership in Malaysia.
Much of this success had its roots while working for AIA where Guat Lan, starting as a management trainee, rose rapidly through the ranks, taking on many leadership positions that gave her invaluable experience in managing and motivating large teams. Recognising her personal drive and people management skills, AIA soon promoted Guat Lan to Vice President and Senior Director of Agency, the first woman appointed to such a position in Malaysia and the six countries in Asia where AIA operates.
In 2007, Guat Lan was offered the opportunity to join HLA as Chief Operating Officer of the Life Division. Going from a well- established MNC to a local company, she immediately saw the opportunity in being able to dramatically increase market share and grow the business. Her motto “Double in 3, triple in 5” embodied the journey of entrepreneurship experienced by this immensely successful young woman. For her, seeing was believing, and change was not impossible – all one needed was passion.
Guat Lan immediately set about the task of instilling entrepreneurial zeal into every level of the organisation. She began to build an ownership-minded corporate ethos where one should always put oneself in the shoes of the owner in order to make appropriate decisions – just like a true entrepreneur would.
As one of the cornerstones for HLA’s future success, Guat Lan knew that the company had to build an aggressive workforce. From her experience she knew that the agency force was a key factor in achieving success. She spearheaded a drive to recruit young, dynamic, and highly qualified agents by working with the dedicated and committed agency leaders. Under her leadership and through total commitment from the agency leaders and agents, the newly recruited agents quickly swelled the ranks, doubling every year for the first three years.
In 2009, Guat Lan was made Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of HLA – another first, as no woman had ever achieved that position in HLA before. From this position she was better able to recognise her vision of developing a superior agency force. Guat Lan laid the foundations for building her agency force’s capabilities and growing the company’s overall talent pool. Under her guidance, the company began various training programmes to improve the competency and professionalism of the agency force. As a result, HLA saw a new historical record with 3 Top of the Table (TOT) and 5 Court of the Table (COT) awardees in the current year. There were also 111 Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) awardees in the same period.
Guat Lan knew that agency management was only one part of the plan that HLA needed to achieve the success that the company strived for. Her entrepreneurial instinct told her that HLA needed to stay ahead of a highly competitive industry through continuous innovation. Placing the customers’ needs as the essence for any new product, HLA has designed many new and innovative products.
HLA became the first insurer to launch an innovative series of investment-linked plans, namely the HLA Ever series, which was designed to serve different needs at different stages of life while also having unique ILP funds with an embedded profit lock-in feature.
HLA has also launched innovative short term premium plans that provide guaranteed returns with protection to meet the needs of customers. These savings-cum-protection plans have evolved over time and to date, HLA’s latest such product is the HLA Wealth Plan.
With a larger agency force and a pipeline of innovative products in place, Guat Lan led her management team to improve business processes and raise efficiency within the organisation. Her vision was for HLA to become the forefront digital insurer in Malaysia. Through the use of leading technology, many core business processes have been enhanced and a unique customer experience has been created to deliver greater value to stakeholders.
HLA has released an innovative suite of apps for the mobile platform that will provide the agency force with a quick, convenient and reliable way to conduct business at the customer’s convenience. HLA’s agents have now increased their productivity by maximising their use of key digital platforms and online portals.
With strong support and commitment from her management team, colleagues, and agency leaders combined with a young and dynamic agency force of over 10,000, HLA has seen momentous growth. The financial year of 2014/2015 saw HLA closing with RM2.6 billion in total gross premiums. It has been eight years since Guat Lan joined HLA and the company has recorded a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 26% – a figure that towers over the industry’s 9% achieved in the same period. Today, HLA is the top local insurance company in Malaysia.
“Looking ahead, we intend to grow our business and bring it to the next level. Long-term, our plan is to branch out to other territories, as we aspire to expand to the whole of the Asian region,” says Guat Lan.
She has long realised that success depends on being a passionate entrepreneur. “You have to love what you do,” she adds, “And that passion and focus will inspire others around you. That is what creates truly successful businesses in today’s market.”