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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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Denise Morris Kipnis, Founder & Principal of ChangeFlow Consulting

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Denise Mossis Kipnis’ curiosity in people and the world, lead her to set up ChangeFlow Consulting.

What’s your story?
I’m driven by curiosity. Having been the only one in a room who looks like me for most of my life, I developed a curiosity about who stays, who leaves and who thrives in minority/majority situations including when and how connection and collaboration happen. I was a systems thinker long before I knew what that was, always asking why and so what; and seeing the pieces, the whole, and the places in between. So helping people and organisations move through the complexity of transformation feels natural to me.

What excites you most about your industry?
I see change and inclusion as two sides of the same thing; I don’t practice one without the other. Some people see change as death, as loss, as exhausting. And it can be. But I see in the work I do as an opportunity for something new or hidden to emerge. When an organisation understands that it is first a group of people, who themselves represent and belong to groups of people, and it begins to tackle what it would mean to understand and learn from all that talent, all that diversity, to have them all working for and not against the organisation, to truly unleash all that their people have to offer; that’s magic.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Change and inclusion are personal values as well as professional strengths. For me, living and working outside of the States was a bold experiment to see whether any of the stuff I’d learned about change and inclusion would work outside of the US. My husband and I targeted Asia specifically: it would be the greatest contrast, culturally speaking, for me; and a unique career springboard for him.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Although I’ve practiced in other cities, I am biased towards Singapore. In some ways it’s what Los Angeles is to the rest of the United States, a microcosm of sorts. The regional/global nature of it means that so many different nationalities and cultures are represented. As a result of this mix, you never know what you might get. In some situations, cultural dynamics are obvious, sometimes subdued. The variability is compelling.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Never ask anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself.” Michael Rouan.

Who inspires you?
Often it’s a “what” not a “who.” I can get inspiration from a passage in a book or a situation in a movie, as well as a turn of a phrase or watching people interact. I often make the biggest connections between the various threads I’m working on when I’m sitting in someone else’s event.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
I’m honestly not blown away by much. Instead, I’m struck how circular things can be: ideas often come back around with a slightly different twist and I watch the way it shakes things loose for people. I recently sat through a workshop on Self as Instrument, and despite being thoroughly versed already, I learned something. In preparing for a panel on design thinking, I unearthed a new language to describe things.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
You’ve caught me at a good time. I’m sitting in appreciation and gratitude for all my experiences, because I wouldn’t be who I was today if all that has happened, didn’t. And yet one thing comes to mind: It wasn’t until I redesigned my website two years ago (shout out to Brew Creative!) that I realised I hadn’t made explicit agreements with my past clients as to what I could share publicly about our engagement, or whether I could use their logos in my promotional materials. In my business, confidentiality is so important, and yet I need to be able to talk about the work as reputation and experience leads to the next success, and so on. It turned out a lot of the contacts I had known had left the organisations where the work was done, so they couldn’t help at that point. So the practice I’m carrying forward is to get those agreements up front, and to make sure my relationships in client systems are broad as well as deep.

How do you unwind?
Science fiction, puzzles, wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Home. I don’t travel to relax, I travel to learn and explore.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Built to Change, by Ed Lawler and Chris Worley. To my knowledge, it’s the first pivot from advising organisations away from stability and toward dynamism, from strategic planning to strategizing as an action verb; to blow up the traditions and rigidity that impede organisations from developing change capability.

Shameless plug for your business:
We’re taught that there are two kinds of people: those who see forests, and those who see trees. There is a third type, my type, and we see the ecosystem. Worms, climate, birds, the spaces in between. This is the perspective organisations need to be successful in solving complex problems and thriving in change.
ChangeFlow uniquely blends four disciplines (two of which are multi-disciplinary in themselves): organisation development, culture and inclusion, change management and project management.

How can people connect with you?
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChangeFlowConsulting/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dmorriskipnis/
LinkedIn Company page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/4862954/
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.changeflowconsulting.com

Twitter handle?
@ChangeFlow

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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Agnes Yee, Legal & Compliance Recruiter of Space Executive

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Agnes Yee started Space Executive in Singapore, which is a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies.

What’s your story?
After graduation, I joined a design media company as a Business Development Executive, during the era when ‘reading a magazine online’ was unheard of. I believe that laid the foundation for being unfazed by rejections.

I fell into recruitment pre-GFC and rode the highs and lows in the early years. A decade later, I decided to set up my own recruitment company, partly because I could. I’m acutely aware of the face that being an Asian female in Singapore is sometimes a privilege, and that many women in the world are living a very different existence.
Thereafter, we joined Space Executive as part of a merger. I am currently the Partner of Space Executive, a recruitment company focused specialist disciplines, including Legal, Finance, Digital, Sales and Marketing and Change. We also run Space Ventures, a venture capital business, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
On a daily basis, we’re influencing how one spends a third of their day. It is interesting how the Internet has transformed the industry, and I’m excited to see how we can harness technology to bring us to the next phase of this business.

The VC is an extension of applying our skills and experience in reading people. We very much invest in the people as much as the idea. Being a native Singaporean, it’s been exhilarating watching Southeast Asia becoming a hotbed of ideas; and young entrepreneurs simply daring to dream.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m a born and bred Singaporean. I love that I speak both English and Mandarin, grew up playing with Indian friends and eating Malay food.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore for the low barriers of entry to set up a business, but has to be China (and Hong Kong) for their hunger and constant innovation.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
青春不要留白 which translates to ‘Don’t waste your youth.’

Who inspires you?
Anyone who has gone against the grain.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
It wasn’t recent but reading the article on https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html never fails to blow my mind how little time we have left. Charting our lives in weeks, and realising I only have enough time left to enjoy 60 Christmas turkeys, read 300 books (all if I’m lucky); and mostly, I’m left with the last 5% of the time that I spend in-person with my parents.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I’m cognisant that every decision I made in life has brought me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t change one thing. But I’d really like to have had more time to travel.

How do you unwind?
Exercise and wine.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Trekking any mountain in Asia. It brings us back to the most basic. To overcome elements of nature and our own mind.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Start with Why, Simon Sinek

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive started in Singapore, a hub for businesses in some of the world’s fastest growing economies. We assist organisations in accessing a targeted and specialised, and often times transient talent pool.

Out of Singapore, we have recruited across 14 countries; and have embarked on our global expansion plans with offices in Hong Kong and London this year, and US, Japan and Europe in the following years.

Space Ventures provides funding, management and financial guidance to young businesses with original ideas. We have invested in peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring, social media education, and other start-ups spanning diverse industries. We are always interested in hearing more about new ideas.

How can people connect with you?
https://www.linkedin.com/in/agnesyee/

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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