David Jacob in WiRE's Inspiring Leaders Series
How would you describe your leadership style?
Female leaders had shaped the first 14 years of my career; trust, empathy and empowerment—their leadership styles had ingrained such qualities in me during those formative years. I also learnt a lot from male leadership that allowed me to break out of my shell, take more risks and be bolder in making decisions. The combination of female and male leaders has been an absolute benefit in my leadership style.
Prioritizing my family through work-life harmony has been instrumental in shaping the way I lead. Just as being a father has taught me a lot about patience, it has also reinforced the soft skills needed to maximize potential talent and nurture others to become successful leaders.
What’s one important leadership lesson you’ve learned in your career?
Diversity is vital for any organization.
As Marsh moves towards flexible working through what we call Flex@Marsh, we have the opportunity to tap into a lot of the female leaders we have lost through the years due to the “9 to 5” structure that was very difficult for them to embrace. Some of them wanted to have kids and build a family, and so our ability to be more flexible enables us bring them back into the organization.
And it’s not just about gender diversity; we need to think about race equality—how many people of Asian origins are in leadership positions across the firm—and are we inclusive of our LGBTQ colleagues. All these different components are important and will shape the company for the next five to ten years.
Hence Diversity & Inclusion is an important focus for Marsh Asia to ensure people of different backgrounds to have equal opportunities to flourish and thrive.
What are some important things that you have undertaken and have contributed to your success?
My father taught me the principals of insurance since I was 10 years old and that nurtured my passion for the industry.
After my graduation, I was deciding between joining a broker or an insurer. I leaned towards joining a broker because I believed it would give me more experience working on behalf and directly with clients and a wider range of industries. Marsh & McLennan has always led the broking industry and I wanted to be with the best.
I also benefitted from an internationalist experience as I had started out in the multinational division. Starting out in New York, my roles brought me to the Philippines, Hong Kong and Singapore. These were all amazing opportunities that expanded my perspectives.
I learned early to always look for new opportunities and experiences and Marsh had the global infrastructure to make this a reality.
Who are your role models? Who inspires you? and why?
My parents have been such important role models throughout my life. They taught me to be independent, how to preserve and work hard, to embrace difference in opinion and to be compassionate. They still inspire me to be a great role model to my children.
I am extremely privileged to have my first boss at Marsh to be my mentor to this day. I trusted him and the relationship became more of a friendship in which I could speak freely on matters.
What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered? Why and how did you handle it?
After New York, I went back to work in the Philippines and eventually ran the operations there. I was in the Philippines for about nine years and it came to a point where I was almost too comfortable in that role. A lot of opportunities came knocking my way, but I was afraid of taking that leap forward.
The challenge was in knowing the difficulties ahead but still taking the opportunities. Thankfully, my mentor sat me down and encouraged me to go out and spread my wings, and that was a huge factor in my decision to work in Hong Kong as the CEO for Marsh. That experience transformed me into the leader I am today because of the multitiude of challenges and complexities that the role encompassed.
What is the best and worst decision you’ve ever made?
Best decision: Taking my mentor’s advice and moving out of my comfort zone in the Philippines to take on career opportunities in Hong Kong.
Worst decision: Maybe I should have taken a nice year off right after my graduation in the US. 30 years now at Marsh.
What are the biggest opportunities you think are available to women today?
More than ever, people and organizations have a renewed focus on gender diversity and many female leaders are stepping up to become mentors to younger women.
Women today have so many more role models they can look up to and approach for support, and this represents an incredible resource for them to get guidance and receive career-advancing opportunities. The future is bright!
What does diversity mean to you in a practical sense?
In a practical sense, diversity must go hand-in-hand with inclusion; that is why we always call it “Diversity AND Inclusion”.
The success of D&I initiatives depends on the quality of people that form the diverse group and having meaningful systems in place to accept and applying the different ideas and insights. Our choices have to be purposeful and with meaning.
It is certainly not a box-ticking exercise. We need to believe in the absolutre benefits of Diverity & Inclusion.
What are you doing to make sure everyone feels included?
Leaders at Marsh practice inclusive leadership where we create a safe team environment where all employees can speak up, be heard, and feel welcome.
This is done down to the individual level where we embrace the input of employees regardless of their backgrounds or expertise and foster collaboration among diverse staff through various colleague resource groups such as PRIDE and Women’s Exchange.
We seek constant feedback from colleagues to make sure our leaders are maintaining an environment where everyone feels free to ask questions. We also make concerted efforts in recognizing unconscious bias by having systems to note inclinations to nominate candidates who are similar to the manager for advancement opportunities, and instead acknowledge great candidates who bring diverse experience and skillsets.
How do you get your leadership team on board with diversity and inclusion initiatives?
There has been a big push to hit quotas and I think it is an important place to being with, but beyond that we need to ensure our leaders share the same view of having inclusion as a core value of the organization.
If that becomes innate in the organization, then any colleague will know, regardless of the KPIs, they can trust their leaders to spot those gaps and be bold around making decisions to improve some of those metrics, not because they want to tick a box, but because they believe in those values.
What would you say is the most difficult part of implementing a D&I program/ culture?
It takes a lot of time and effort to ensure we have a consistent culture that underpins the organization. It is also very easy for colleagues, especially new joiners, to feel as if our D&I efforts are merely paying lip-service.
Building a culture that embraces D&I requires the leadership to walk the talk and integrate D&I into the DNA of the organization. It certainly cannot just stand as infrequent programs and training sessions.
What would the person you are today say to the person you were on your first day at work?
“Stay the course, you won’t regret it”
How do you handle stress and pressure?
Being with my family is crucial to balancing the accountabilities of work. It’s pretty chaotic with 4 children, but my wife and I love the joy that this brings. I have developed a passion for CrossFit training, swimming, running and Yoga. Staying fit and healthy is an absolute must as well as a healthy diet. I gave up meat 2 years ago and the best decision I’ve made.
What is one interesting fact that we will be surprised to know about you?
My initials are “D.J.” and I absolutely love music. I spent many years in behind the decks and is still a major passion of mine.
I still create music as a way to relax—my home office setup is right beside DJ set up, so I’ll drop some beats once in a while or whenever inspiration strikes.
The full article can also be found on Women in Reinsurance (WiRE).