Big dreams, small steps

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -


A: All things are dif­fi­cult be­fore they be­come easy. How did you sell your first pol­icy? My first client was a pro­fes­sor from Tai­wan. He lived in New Jer­sey, and I lived in New York. Each time I vis­ited him, I rode a bi­cy­cle and ar­rived cov­ered in sweat. He was moved by my sin­cer­ity. You have been in the in­sur­ance in­dus­try for more than two decades. What is your driv­ing force and the se­cret of your suc­cess? My first ex­pe­ri­ence of deal­ing with claims set­tle­ment changed my at­ti­tude to­ward in­sur­ance and even the field to­tally. They were a cou­ple from Hong Kong with three chil­dren and the hus­band was the only earn­ing mem­ber in the fam­ily. Un­for­tu­nately, just six months af­ter they bought a life in­sur­ance pol­icy, the hus­band was di­ag­nosed with can­cer and passed away not long af­ter. I was wor­ried whether the com­pany would pay up be­cause the whole event hap­pened within such a short time and it was nat­u­ral to sus­pect an at­tempt to bilk the in­surer. But the com­pany de­cided to set­tle the claim as soon as it had a clear pic­ture of the real sit­u­a­tion. When I brought the in­dem­nity to the wife, I sud­denly re­al­ized the mean­ing of in­sur­ance from the look in her eyes. In­sur­ance is not the ic­ing on the cake but fuel in




A: snowy weather, through which an in­surer can re­ally pass love on to oth­ers. When you joined AIA China at the end of 2009, its par­ent com­pany at the time, AIG, was caught up in a con­tro­versy over the top man­age­ment re­ceiv­ing ex­tremely gen­er­ous bonuses fol­low­ing a fi­nan­cial bailout by the US gov­ern­ment. Why did you fi­nally make the de­ci­sion amid such chal­leng­ing times? I did have many choices at that time. But I fi­nally de­cided to be the CEO of AIA’s main­land busi­ness be­cause I be­lieve crises usu­ally go with op­por­tu­ni­ties. The worst tim­ing, some­times, could turn out to be the best tim­ing. Mean­while, AIA had de­cided to get listed in­de­pen­dently at the time, which in­di­cated a huge devel­op­ment po­ten­tial in Asia. My for­mer boss at AXA also chose to join AIA. Did any ex­pe­ri­ence in your child­hood or youth have a spe­cial im­pact on your ca­reer suc­cess? I was born into a fam­ily of in­tel­lec­tu­als in Nan­jing, Jiangsu prov­ince. There was noth­ing spe­cial about my child­hood. But my grand­mother and my par­ents al­ways en­cour­aged me to be a per­son of am­bi­tion, whether I would like to be a fu­ture (Al­bert) Ein­stein or (leg­endary US auto ex­ec­u­tive) Lee Iac­coca. re­form and open­ness in the sec­tor.

AIA cur­rently has five branch com­pa­nies on the main­land, cov­er­ing busi­ness in the cities of Bei­jing, Shang­hai and Shen­zhen, and Jiangsu and Guang­dong prov­inces.

The pop­u­la­tion in th­ese re­gions stands at 200 mil­lion but they ac­count for a third of the coun­try’s in­sur­ance mar­ket.

“For quite some time, we pre­ferred to ex­plore the po­ten­tial in re­gions where we al­ready had a pres­ence rather than rush to ex­pand to other re­gions,” Cai said. “But now, we are be­gin­ning to look for op­por­tu­ni­ties to branch out, es­pe­cially in ar­eas that have been ap­proved to start new free trade zones, such as Tian­jin and Fu­jian.

But life is not all work and no play for Cai — a keen golfer for more than two decades. And he takes on chal­lenges in life in much the same way that he does on the links.

Though faced

with over­whelm­ing pres­sures in the ini­tial stages tak­ing on the top job, Cai coped with them in a leisurely man­ner.

“It is just like play­ing golf, which al­lows one to un­der­stand them­selves bet­ter and be­come a strong self-driven win­ner at the end,” said Cai.

Karan Zhang, in her fifth year as a cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tion manager at AIA China, spoke of her ad­mi­ra­tion for Cai’s in­tegrity and clear think­ing.

“He has al­ways em­pha­sized that cred­i­bil­ity is the life­line of a com­pany. It should never be sac­ri­ficed for short-term profit,” said Zhang, adding Cai’s per­sonal style has cre­ated a good work­ing at­mos­phere and most staff have been with the com­pany for more than 10 years. Yu Hang con­trib­uted to the story. Con­tact the writer at huyuanyuan@ chi­

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