A top executive talks insurance and the assurance behind the business.
Mark Steven O’Dell is the Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Manulife Holdings Berhad (MHB) and CEO of Manulife Insurance Berhad (MIB), Malaysia. Hailing from New York, he was appointed to the Board of Manulife on 18 January 2013. Mark also sits on the board of Manulife Asset Management Services Berhad.
O’Dell has over 38 years of experience in the life insurance business including 23 years Chief Executive Roles in Asia namely Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan. He was also instrumental in the establishment of Manulife Asset Management Taiwan and the acquisition of MAAKL asset management in Malaysia.
His areas of expertise cover agency development, partnership distribution including bancassurance, wealth management as well as branch expansion. O’Dell has also played an integral role in the development of the life insurance industry in the Asean region. While in Singapore, he served as the President of the Life Insurance Association and Financial Planning Association of Singapore. In 2006, he was named Personality of the Year by the Asia Insurance Review for his contribution to the industry and his leadership in corporate social responsibility.
Thriving in a very competitive Malaysian market – which is occupied by 14 major players on the life insurance side and over 30 competitors on the unit trust front – takes vision and great leadership. Under his management, Manulife Insurance Berhad (MIB) has successfully doubled its life insurance business volume more than twice the industry average over the last five years. In addition, it acquired MAAKL Unit Trusts at the end of 2013 and as at 2017, has grown its gross investment three times, with a flow over of RM1.5 billion.
O’Dell identifies Manulife’s unique advantage as coming from being the only player in Malaysia that offers unit trusts, private retirement schemes (PRS) and insurance under one management. To synergise this opportunity, the company requires team players who are able to offer holistic solutions that meet the client’s needs. O’Dell believes that a financial adviser should not just sell insurance but rather, help people get what they want, namely financial independence, protection for loved ones, a better life for their children through education and risk protection from major illness or disability. This has been the cornerstone of his business approach. Hence training and development of people is the key to achieving this success. The company introduced a development programme called ‘Leadership as a Profession’, to develop future leaders in leadership, collaboration, technical areas, coaching and managing performance.
MIB is committed to leading in its CSR efforts too. The company’s efforts have earned recognition as the Company of the Year 2018 (Financial Services Category) and for Pioneering Community Health and Children Welfare Initiatives from CSR Malaysia. The management encourages participation from their staff. Combined efforts have helped raise funds for various orphanages and critically ill patients, build libraries for Orang Asli villages and fulfilled hundreds of wishes of underprivileged children.
O’Dell owes his success to his humble beginnings. Despite performing well academically and athletically, he was unable to complete college education due to the lack of finances. “I felt a desire to prove I could succeed despite my lack of a university degree,” says O’Dell.
He started working as an insurance agent 38 years ago and is grateful for this experience because it developed his ability to relate to everyone at all levels of the organisation. Working with customers directly as an agent and field manager for 12 years also allowed him a deeper sense of appreciation for what customers need and expect. “Everything I learned in business was from experience,” reflects the top executive. Starting at the bottom also helped him develop a leadership style that is hands-on, engaging, approachable and supportive, with a dose of humility.
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