By SOMLUCK SRIMALEE
THE NATION WEEKEND
If there were any surprises in Sara’s career, they may have been on the part of his peers as they watched his success at Muang Thai Life Assurance. Over his 15 years in top leadership roles, he pulled the company from a lowly eighth ranking in market share, with just 4 per cent, to the No.2 spot with 20 per cent of the life market. Among the heady numbers he has posted are premiums of Bt102.68 billion in 2017 and Bt94.46 billion last year.
“I was born into a family steeped in the insurance business. That’s why I never had to ask myself what I would do. I knew back than that the insurance business was in my blood,” says Sara, 49.
“My father used to take me to work with him. I learned how to do the business from him as I believed that I would go on to manage this business after I graduated, even though the business still operated under the traditional business model at that time.”
Sara started work at Muang Thai Life Assurance in 1993 after he graduated with a master’s degree from the business school of Boston University in the United States. After spending time in staff training, he was promoted to manager of the planning department before advancing to managing director in 2004 and, ultimately, president and chief executive officer in 2010.
“When I became managing director in 2004, I kicked off my idea to change the company’s branding, adopting pink as our corporate colour. This fit with my thinking that we needed to change the idea that insurance is a traditional business,” he says.
“We sought to establish a new business model that would suit the younger generations. Insurance is a way for people to make investments and build up savings. The change to pink for our corporate logo colour captures the concept of the morning sunshine and this creates happiness for people.”
In another marketing initiative, Sara created Muang Thai Smile Club, which provides customers with opportunities for activities based around travel, food and restaurants, among other things, when they accumulate Smile points related to their premium insurance payments. The club programme helps serve the lifestyle needs of customers, says Sara, and aids the brand-building efforts of the company – especially among the young.
Sara also developed a business model that saw the company branch out from the traditional channel and move into insurance sales through multi-channel means. This strategy helped steer the company through the turmoil of a number of economic crises, including those which engulfed Thailand and the region in 1997 and the world economy from 2008. It has also helped the company to weather the impacts of the disruptive forces of digital technology that have been sweeping across industries.
“I have learned from every crisis on ways to sustain the business during such times, and this is especially so with the challenges posed by digital disruption,” Sara says. “I have also learned how to move the business forward with the use of digital technology and of the need to invest in technology to drive the business towards sustainable growth.”
He identifies human resources as the key factor for ensuring the business stays on a sustainable footing, adding that he can’t do everything by himself and needs to rely on the input of staff to support him in reaching the company’s goals.
“Our team covers members of the different generations - from people in their 20s to those over 50,” Sara says. “But all of them have learned how to carry out their duties with the use of digital technology and have learned how to apply this technology to improve the output of their departments and contribute to the company’s growth.
“We do everything with teamwork. This is the key way that have been driving our business forward through the era of digital disruption.”
The necessities of the new era have prompted Sara to explore ways to think outside the box.
“When the business environment changed, I had to change my ideas on how we do business by implementing a change in the management command structure,” he says. “This is one of the means by which we have driven the company to become a market leader in the industry.
“The 15 years that I have spent in top management have never been easy, as the challenge is ever-present to steer the business through crises, whenever they happen, and to come up with strategies to drive the business growth in good times and bad.
“But I enjoy my work as I see this as an opportunity to do everything that I think I can do to improve our business and the staff share in this challenge.”
Away from the office, he tries to seek a balance in life by pursuing his hobbies, such as riding his big bike, and keeping fit through activities such as running and diving. And he enjoys the family life that he shares with his wife and two daughters.
“Throughout it all, I am enjoying my life and when I think about the economic crises that arise, I believe that they ultimately lead to more opportunities to advance the business in the future,” he says. “It helps that I have the best team who share my outlook in keeping motivated through any difficult economic times. In the end, for me there are no crises – only opportunities to create a new model for improving the way we do business.”