Soledad Muné is the Regional Head of International Personal Lines of Chubb in the Asia Pacific. In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the Personal Lines business across Asia Pacific as well as formulating and executing strategies for the region.
Having to move from the US to Singapore, did you find the relocation challenging?
I didn’t find the transition challenging. First I moved from Argentina to the US back in 1999. I believe any place can become a home, and it’s up to us to make the best of it. I don’t dwell on what was better in Argentina or the US. Each place is different and forms part of who I am.
While living in Asia is quite different from living in a Western country, Singapore has a nice mix of East and West and you can find anything you want here. Singapore has a lot to offer - if you want something familiar, you can find it. You can also venture to more local places and enjoy Singapore’s rich cultural heritage. This has made the transition easier for me.
However, I have found it challenging to meet people and make friends outside of work. It’s always nice to be able to branch out and form a social circle aside from work. Singapore is a very transient place with people coming and going all the time; however, everyone I met has been very friendly and I believe it is a matter of time before I build a social circle here.
What would you say are some factors that have helped you progress in your career?
Being dependable and resilient are two of the most important factors that helped my career progression. No matter the task, the hour of the day, or day of the week, when we need to get something done, I would be there and have my team’s back, so we can deliver whatever is needed. I think that dependability is very important; the company puts you there for a reason and they’d expect you to deliver.
Resilience helps with dependability as well. Being able to respond to pressure, adversity and uncertainty and “bouncing back” without much support from your boss is key. Our bosses are busier than we are, if they can depend on us, we are making their job easier. That does not go unnoticed.
Another key factor would be risk-taking. I never said no to career opportunities that were put in front of me. Sometimes, I wondered if an opportunity was a step backwards or not as great an option compared to other opportunities; but risk-taking has always paid off for me and I’ve learnt that it pays to be patient. Opportunities are always bigger than they seem, and each opportunity I took has helped me get to where I am today.
Giving that you're working such long hours, how do you balance your work and personal life?
There’s no universal formula for work-life balance, we all have to find what works for us. Both my husband and I work, so we always try to find time for each other and our social lives. To me, it’s not so much about balancing but integrating work with my personal life. For instance, when we’re on vacation I might have to step out and take a call or wake up earlier just to go through some emails. So it’s not really one thing or the other, but more about finding the best way to mix them together instead.
Do you think your gender has ever hindered or blocked any personal progression?
It’s not something that I’ve experienced directly as a challenge to my progression, but it certainly would not be true to say there are no implicit biases. People observe what women in leadership positions do more closely. They observe what we say, how we say it, what we wear, and what we do with our hair. I pay attention to that, but I am not insecure or self-conscious about it. I believe women need to stop asking ourselves whether we belong or not. Confidence is key to overcoming those implicit biases.
I work in a male dominant industry, though that is changing. Sometimes I see how male colleagues interact with each other and how things change whenever I enter the picture. That means I have to find my voice. I can’t be shy about raising my opinion or being a part of the conversation.
Do you find yourself gravitating towards male or female leaders?
For me, it’s more about what leaders bring to the table rather than their genders. I don’t connect with women by virtue of us sharing a gender. But these questions you are asking me are not frequently asked of men. For that reason, I believe women should help each other.
Are there any leaders or public figures who have inspired you?
I can think of the US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She came from a humble background, grew up in public housing, had to deal with juvenile diabetes, and went to high school in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in New York City at the time. Through her resilience, she exceled at school and got through Princeton and Yale and made it all the way to the top of her field. She wrote in her memoir that she had to teach herself to do things because there’s no one there to teach her. I admire that. I believe it’s important to remember you are all you have regardless of where you come from. Sometimes we get help from others and that is nice, but the hours, the dedication, and the work that you put in are all yours.
How would you describe yourself as a leader?
I like to empower people so they can make their own decisions and learn from experience. Instead of giving instructions to follow and execute, I prefer to guide by giving ideas and suggestions. For this form of guidance to work, I have a clear understanding of my team members’ capabilities and experience so I can provide the right level of guidance to correct and redirect in time before we go too far down the wrong path.
I also value team spirit. No one is an expert at everything, and we have to be willing to give and accept help. It’s not about who did it or who gets the credit. I think it’s very important for the team to understand that we’re all in it together.
Would you say that you have a diverse team? Is there anything that you've done to further promote this?
Chubb is a very diverse company. We operate in 54 countries and territories, and there’s a lot of global mobility. My regional team has 12 members and only 2 are from the same country, and I would say that diversity happens organically for us. But it’s diversity of thought which matters more when I consider who I want on my team. For example, I am open to hiring a person without the perfect resume. I may look for people who are subject matter experts but lack experience in the exact role as I believe they can be stretched to perform in the new role, and bring a different perspective to the table.
Having diversity of thought would mean having individuals who think or see things differently, how do you get them to agree on that one strategy to deliver?
It starts with having clear objectives. We have a plan and everyone in the team is involved in the planning process. That way, we are aligned from the beginning, and this applies to other departments we work with too. There are initiatives where support is needed from other teams, and when they are involved in the process from the start, there is stronger impetus to own and deliver on the project.
What advice would you give to someone who'd want to get into your position in the future?
Business acumen is very important - understanding how the company functions internally, managing the P&L, and what contributes to the P&L are all important and fundamental parts of the business.
It is also critical to develop in-depth knowledge of our products, including their coverage and terms and conditions, especially during discussions with potential partners or when we’re trying to identify new business opportunities.
You’ll also have to learn about the business continuously and go beyond your job scope. Offering help on areas outside of my job description has helped me gain a better understanding of the business as a whole. Though it doesn’t make me an expert in the other functional areas, I am familiar with how they function and how we all come together to deliver our strategy, which also enables me to communicate better with the different teams.