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Rizalina G. Mantaring, CEO of Sun Life of Canada (Philippines) Inc.

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It was Riza Mantaring’s vision that allowed Sun Life Financial- Philippines (SLFP) to achieve a feat that it could have never accomplish before: become the No. 1 life insurance company in the Philippines, and maintain this for five consecutive years amidst aggressive competition.

Now that’s quite a feat for someone whose background is rooted in IT. In fact, Riza’s first task upon joining SLFP was turning Manila into its IT hub – a job she could successfully accomplish after only five years in the company. “I was eager to learn, and so when my bosses asked me what I wanted to do next, I asked to be assigned to a department I knew very little about, which was Operations,” she shared.

It was a brave move asking to be assigned in an unfamiliar territory, but Riza was able to use this to her advantage. “Having no background in Operations made people receptive to my questions,” she said. She then used what she learned to re-engineer SLFP’S systems and operations, and streamlining significant processes in the company.

After that, Riza took on more responsibilities in different departments within the company. “There were several instances in my career when I was asked to do things that I had no background in,” she shared. “I willingly agreed to do jobs that nobody wanted. It was a challenge, yes, but I learned.”

All these prepared her for what would be her biggest role in the company as its CEO and President.

It was in this position that Riza’s exceptional ability as a leader was dramatically demonstrated. When she stepped in as SLFP’s president, several challenges welcomed her, such as the low GDP growth, low rate of insurance ownership, and low rate of financial literacy in the country. Internally, Sun Life itself also had its own concerns to deal with, from the flat core net income to the struggle to grow the agency force.

Riza faced all the challenges head-on, empowered by two things: first, her passion to make a difference in the lives of Filipinos and help them achieve financial freedom. “We have to make the disadvantaged groups of the population grow in prosperity. In a rising tide, all boats rise. Economic growth will stop if you aren’t able to bring the bottom up,” she explained.

Second, Riza was also confident in the innate talent of the Sun Life community. “I believe in hiring very good people, then letting them run things. I don’t micromanage,” she says. “Of course it’s also important to hone teamwork. You can have the most brilliant people, but if they’re not working towards a common goal, then you won’t get far.”

Riza put into place a five-year growth plan that would push the company to pursue ambitious goals: growing its agency force to 5,000, and achieving 5 Billion pesos in annual first year premiums (AFYP), 5 Billion pesos in net income, and 50 Billion assets under management (AUM).

Considering how far below these targets the numbers were at back then, it wasn’t going to be easy. But with Riza at the helm, Sun Life built a high-performance culture in all levels of the organization, enabling flawless execution of the company’s strategies. Thus, in 2015, Sun Life concluded its five-year growth plan on a high note: 7,700 Advisors, P7.019 Billion AFYP, P5.655 Billion Net Income, and P50.668 Billion AUM.

Looking at the bigger picture, SLFP’s most significant feat is redefining the industry and bringing life insurance to the forefront. Sun Life now enjoys 77% total brand awareness in Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao. In Campaign Asia’s 2016 report on the Top 100 brands in the Philippines, SLFP was the only insurance brand to make it to the list. Moreover, SLFP’s success was also honored in 19th Asia Insurance Industry Awards (AIIA), where it was the first Filipino company to be named “Life Insurance Company of the Year”; was recognized in the Customer Experience in Financial Services (CXFS) Asia Awards in Singapore for having the best customer service program in the insurance industry in Asia; and was recognized as the “Employer of the Year” by the People Management Association of the Philippines.

Without a doubt, it was under her leadership that the SLFP could unleash its brightest potential. Riza believes, the credit should go to SLFP employees and financial advisors, as they are the true key to the company’s success. “It is their tremendous work, passion, and excellence in everything they do that have fueled our rise. They are a vital cog in achieving greater heights,” she said.

But of course, her brilliant leadership has not gone unnoticed. In 2010, on the 100th anniversary of the University of the Philippines College of Engineering, Riza was selected as one of the 100 Most Outstanding Alumni of the past century. In 2011, she was named by MoneySense magazine as one of the 12 Most Influential in Personal Finance. She was bestowed the 2011 CEO Excel Award given by the International Association of Business Communicators; Go Negosyo named her as one of the country’s Top 50 Inspiring Women of Passion in 2014; and, in 2015, she was named a finalist in Asia CEO Awards for the category SMART Global Filipino Executive of the Year.

Amid the professional success, however, Riza is proudest of having raised, together with husband Chicho, three children who are successful on their own: daughter Tina is a member of Apple’s engineering team; son Gijo is in finance like herself, working in GM’s regional hub in Shanghai; while son Ino worked on special effects at DreamWorks and is now a data scientist.

In her spare time Riza runs, and has completed the New York, Chicago, Berlin, Paris, and Tokyo marathons over the last five years. Riza also actively participates in Sun Life’s CSR programs, where she travels to different parts of the Philippines to join donor-build programs and give the beneficiaries the moral boost they need.

Riza’s passion for helping others attain financial security has not diminished to this day. She believes that for every Filipino who can achieves financial freedom, the Philippines is one step closer in creating a brighter future for itself.

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Benjamin Kwan, Co-Founder of TravelClef

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Making music to create a life for his family, Benjamin Kwan, started an online tuition portal and his music business grew from there.

What’s your story?
I am Benjamin and I’m the Co-Founder of TravelClef Group Pte Ltd, a travelling music school that conducts music classes in companies as well as team building with music programmes. We also run an online educational platform which matches private students to freelance music teachers. We also manufacture our own instruments. I started this company in 2011 when I was still a freshman at NUS, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.

I was born to a lower income family, my father drove a taxi and was the sole breadwinner to a family of 7. I have always dreamed of becoming rich so that I could lessen the burden placed on my father and give my family a good life.

After working really hard in my first semester at NUS, my results didn’t reflect the hard work and effort I put in. At the same time, I was left with just $42 in my bank account and it suddenly dawned on me that if I were to graduate with mediocre results, I would probably end up with a mediocre salary as well. I knew I had to do something to gain control of my future.

During that summer break, I read a book “Internet Riches” by Scott Fox and I knew that the only way I could ever start my own business with my last $42 would be to start an online business. That was how our online tuition portal started and after taking 4 days to learn Photoshop and website building on my own, I started the business.

What excites you most about your industry?
Music itself is a constant form of excitement to me as I have always been an avid lover of music. As one of the world’s first travelling music schools, we are always very eager and excited to find innovative ways to a very traditional business model of a music teaching.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and raised in Singapore and I love the fact that despite our diversity in culture, there’s always a common language that we share, music.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hands down, SINGAPORE! Although we are currently in talks to expand to other regions within Asia, Singapore is the best place for business. I have had friends asking me if they should consider venturing into entrepreneurship in Singapore, my answer is always a big fat YES! There’s a low barrier of entry, and most importantly, the government is very supportive of entrepreneurship.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have been blessed by many people and mentors who constantly give me great advice but right now, I would say the best piece of advice that I received would be from Dr Patrick Liew who said, “Work on the business, not in it.” This advice is constantly ringing in my head as I work towards scaling the business.

Who inspires you?
My dad. My dad has always been my inspiration in life, for the amount of sacrifices that he has made for the family and the love he has for us. He was the umbrella for all the storms that my family faced and we were always safe in his shelter. Although my dad passed away after a brief fight with colorectal cancer, the lessons that he imparted to me were very valuable as I build my own family and business.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
You can not buy time, but you can spend money to save time! With this realisation, I was willing to allow myself to spend some money, in order to save more time. Like taking Grab/Uber to shuttle around instead of spending time travelling on public transport. While I spend more money on travelling, I save a lot more time! This doesn’t mean that I spend lavishly and extravagantly, I am still generally prudent with my money.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have taken more time to spend with my family and especially my father. While it is important to focus our time to build our businesses, we should always try our best to allocate family time. Because as an entrepreneur, there is no such thing as “after I finish my work,” because our work is never finished. If our work finishes, the business is also finished. But our time with our family is always limited and no matter how much money and how many successes we achieve, we can never use it to trade back the time we have with our family.

How do you unwind?
I am a very simple man. I enjoy TV time with my wife and a simple dinner with my family and friends.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Batam, it’s close to Singapore and there’s really nothing much to do except for massages and a relaxing resort life. If I travel to other countries for shopping or sightseeing, I am constantly thinking of business and how I can possibly expand to the country I am visiting. But while relaxing at the beach or at a massage, I tend to allow myself to drift into emptiness and just clear my mind of any thoughts.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Work The System, by Sam Carpenter. This book teaches entrepreneurs the importance of creating systems and how to leverage on systems to improve productivity and create more time.

Shameless plug for your business:
If you are looking for a team building programme that your colleagues will enjoy and your bosses will be happy with, you have to consider our programmes at TravelClef! While our programmes are guaranteed fun and engaging, it is also equipped with many team building deliverables and organizational skills.

How can people connect with you?
My email is [email protected] and I am very active on Facebook as well!
https://www.facebook.com/benjamin.christian.kwan

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Nadia Al Sheikh, Founder & CEO of Flenco & Deal’n

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Nadia Al Sheikh has created a business module which incorporates philanthropy and business to empower others, and herself, she’s called her business Deal’n.

What’s your story?
My story is mirrored in my work. Flenco and our Singaporean eco skin care brand, “Flen” combines Dead Sea minerals from the lowest point of earth with Chinese medicine, which represents the wisdom and mystics of the east and these things represent my journey. I’m a single mother rediscovering my identity at a low point in life. Throughout my journey, determination, flexibility and assertiveness are the pillars of innovation. Thus Deal’n was born after years of groundwork in volunteering with various NGO’s and pursuing my masters degree. Transforming a vision, into a module that incorporates philanthropy and business, with tools to empower others and empower myself!

What excites you most about your industry?
The endless opportunities for improvement, innovation, creativity, free thinking which is mastered through interaction with other players in the market and customers creating a virtual place for brainstorming and the exchange of ideas. An evolving industry that challenges each and every person to use their skills, talents, expertise and utilise all their abilities to claim a slice of the pie.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Asia and specifically Singapore are my second home. It’s my spiritual and business safe haven that provides fair opportunities for everyone to succeed. If I was back in the Middle East as a single mother, I’m pretty sure my struggle would have been much longer and more difficult, however, it wouldn’t have stopped me from achieving my dreams. Singapore specifically empowered me professionally and Asia spiritually in redefining who I am as a person and understanding myself better.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, although it’s a very tough and competitive market for entrepreneurs to start a business, it provides them with support and motivation through grants, competitions and subsidising the cost of exhibiting or promotional events to promote their business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Success is measured by achieving your own personal goals and dreams and not what others think you should achieve.

Who inspires you?
Those who go unnoticed. From senior citizens, cleaning tables at food courts regardless of their wealth of knowledge and experience to single mothers, who are fighting everyday to overcome the social stigma and manage taking care of their children while earning an income. The amazing people who give their lives to start an NGO to empower others asking for nothing in return except the success of their beneficiaries, the humble members of our community that work in silence changing lives not for the spotlight but for their belief in making the world a better place.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
To step onto the balcony! In order to evaluate situations and understand people’s motivations from different perspectives and even to understand ourselves better we all need to step onto the balcony and become observers rather than participants. It gives you the power to see life through a variety of lenses.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’d be wiser with my decisions, evaluate situations from different perspectives and believe in myself and my capabilities. That all came with experience and the ups and downs throughout my journey so I guess, to be who I am today I would have accepted the rough times and embraced them because they were my best teachers. So I wouldn’t undo the past but I am changing my future.

How do you unwind?
Meditation, exercising, listening to music, reading a book and a walk in the botanical gardens.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Maldives, I love the peace and harmony in the simplicity of what it offers; beautiful beaches and wonderful people.

Everyone in business should read this book:
The Wisdom Of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Shameless plug for your business:
Deal’n provides opportunities for all members of the community to utilize their skills, talents, expertise, capabilities and abilities in various ways, aiming at empowering all users to become productive members of their community. Using the services of other users for all to grow and benefit, interact with each other through the Deal’n community, thus enhancing their self esteem, level of confidence and as a result, a more empathetic and happier community!

How can people connect with you?
Through my FB page Nadousheh, my email [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@nadiaalsheikh

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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