It takes persistence, team effort and embracing an attitude of learning in order to excel.
By SAMMI NDERITU
A few weeks have passed since Steven Oluoch, Chief Executive ICEA Lion Group, was awarded the ‘The CEO of the Year’ trophy during the prestigious Company of the Year Awards (COYA). However, the excitement on his face is still evident as he talks about it. Besides the CEO’s win, the company bagged ‘Customer Orientation’ and ‘Marketing and Financial Management’ awards.
The elated CEO reflectively looks back on the process leading to winning the awards and says that it has taken the company two years of continuous assessment and improvement. “Our journey started in 2015 when we enrolled to participate in OPI (Operational Performance Index). We identified our champions who were trained on the seven determinants then embarked on the process of self-assessment,” says Oluoch.
He adds that by going through the OPI process, the company was able to identify areas in the business that needed improvement in order to be ready for COYA. “The various champions held periodic sessions with their teams and short, medium and long term actions were determined. This went on until this year when we felt ready to compete in COYA and as a result we won the three awards,” explains Oluoch.
Oluoch says that he did not expect to win the CEO of the Year award; “That was a huge and a welcome surprise to me.”
He looks back at the 10 years he has been CEO, first at Tanzania National Reinsurance Company (TAN-RE) then at Insurance Company of East Africa (ICEA) and finally at ICEA Lion General, and admits that the most important leadership lesson he has learnt is that a leader needs to be very flexible, highly adaptable and should accept the fact that he/she may not know everything hence the need to forge a collaborative working relationship with colleagues.
On his view of what takes to become a great CEO, Oluoch says, that becoming a CEO takes hard work and dedication, and being an effective one calls for many things. He observes that one of the greatest traits a CEO can have is the ability to read people and adapt leadership styles accordingly to guide their teams towards achieving desired goals and the Company’s vision.
“A good CEO must be passionate about developing/reproducing other leaders through
training, coaching and mentorship. One must not only be preparing the next generation of the company but the next generation in one’s line of work, and this is something that we are constantly focused on and committed to at the ICEA LION Group,” says Oluoch.
He adds; “You should surround yourself with good people, even those are who are better than you in certain respects. Someone once said; ‘If you want to go far, go alone but if you want to go furthest, go with other people.’ As individuals, we all have our own flaws but when we come together collectively, we draw from the strength of others and consequently excel.”
Oluoch was TAN-RE’s first Operations Director when the company was set up in 2007, and was two years later promoted to CEO. He returned to Kenya in 2010 to join Insurance Company of East Africa (ICEA) in 2010 at a time when the organisation was undergoing a merger with the Lion of Kenya Company to form the ICEA Lion Insurance Group.
“I started my reinsurance career at Kenya Re in an environment that required not just having the requisite technical skills but also people and marketing skills and these grew me as a leader. Furthermore, at ICEA I got into a company that was doing both life and general insurance; areas that were relatively new to me given that my field of expertise was reinsurance. It is working closely with people in diverse fields that has contributed to the leader that I am today,” says Oluoch.
The CEO of the Year is quick to point out that leaders mostly fail because they do not imbue the people they are leading with passion to walk with them towards achieving their vision. “If your followers do not see you as a leader; as someone who cares about them, offers constructive criticism and develops them, then you will likely not be successful,” adds the father of two who also attributes his success to immense support from his family.
World class standards
As ICEA Lion basks in the glory of three awards, the company takes cognisance of the fact that it has achieved the recognition as a result of continuous improvement. Oluoch points out that OPI helped the company to identify various critical gaps, for example in the documentation of processes and frameworks that inform its daily activities.
“We have identified items that will need to find their way into departmental score cards to ensure continuity and sustainability. The best thing about OPI is that we are now benchmarking against world class standards as we move towards being the best not just locally, but globally,” says Oluoch.
As ICEA LION, a group with four distinct business units within it takes strides into the future, it is focused on being known as an insight-driven organisation that aims to stand out as the premier one-stop-shop financial services provider in the region. “We want to be famous for delighting our customers, being solution-centric and digitally innovative. In addition, we want to be an insight-driven organisation that delivers superior value from analytics to our customers and partners,” says Oluoch in conclusion.
Sammi Nderitu is a writer, photographer and digital media expert at Kenya Institute of Management.