Tessi Chan is the Regional Head of HR, Asia Pacific at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty SE (AGCS). In this role, she is responsible for developing organisational strategies and overseeing human resources operations within the Asia Pacific region.
Can you tell us about your career progression into your current role?
I began my career working as an HR assistant at a global British bank and subsequently progressed through the ranks in other multinational banks in the region. In 2014, I joined AGCS in Hong Kong as the Head of HR overseeing Hong Kong and China. Subsequently, I took on the additional responsibility of looking after Rewards and Performance Management for Asia. I relocated to the regional office in Singapore in 2018 to assume the role of Regional Head of HR with responsibility for more than 10 countries including Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Korea, Brunei, Myanmar, Indonesia, India, New Zealand and Australia.
Having to transition from banking to insurance, are there any differences that you've noticed?
AGCS is the first insurance company that I’ve worked for. Working in the insurance industry really surprised me on many levels. At work, the amount of autonomy and flexibility is much higher than in banking which allows the agility to implement change and influence minds. Besides work, the after-work happy hour culture also pleasantly surprised me, as it is quite common to see familiar faces in the pubs near the offices after work. This is a casual opportunity for bonding between colleagues from different departments and foster friendships.
You relocated from Hong Kong to Singapore for your current role, can you tell us a bit more on that decision from a career perspective?
There were two key drivers for the move.
Firstly, as a competitive individual, I love challenging myself to step outside my comfort zone. The role in Singapore is much bigger than my previous role in terms of geographic coverage, team size and responsibilities. A challenging environment keeps me motivated and passionate at work.
Secondly, AGCS is a performance-based company and gives priority to internal candidates whenever a leadership role opens. With this culture, I see opportunities for career progression within the organisation. Also as AGCS is present in over 34 countries, there are opportunities for global mobility.
And with such a regional role, does it require a lot of travelling?
What I like about AGCS is that there is a high level of autonomy; I am not forced to travel but instead am being given the flexibility to plan my work travels myself. I do make sure that I travel to each location at least once every two years to keep the interaction with the teams and demonstrate to the employees that HR pays attention to their needs and cares about their welfare. Strategy can’t be implemented and relationships can’t be forged through emails and webinars, you need the face-to-face interaction. This approach has been working really well.
How do you balance long hours and travelling with your personal life?
The flexible working solutions in AGCS definitely help. It’s all based on trust, there is no need to clock in and out, employees and managers are being given the flexibility to arrange their working hours and location. I am a big supporter of flexible working solutions. Sometimes I work from home and sometimes I work when I travel, which I have found to be quite productive, so having the option of flexible working hours does contribute to a better balance.
Do you think it is easier to balance because you are in a more senior role, or because you're more experienced to handle the pressure of work?
I would say it is all about prioritisation. Whether you are in a senior role or junior role, time management is the key to maintaining balance and handling the pressure of work. Nevertheless, when you are first starting out, the autonomy is relatively limited. You’ll have to follow the instructions and deadlines that are given to you.
Has your gender ever hindered your career progression?
In bigger organisations, yes. When I was working in banking, the majority of the senior leadership there were male, and that’s not just in the front office, but in supporting functions like HR as well. There was a glass ceiling for females.
There was a particular discussion I had with a manager about my career development. I requested for additional responsibilities. In return, he acknowledged my ambition and desire to learn but commented that I should spend more time with my family instead of work because I am a married woman. I was quite taken aback by that. Obviously, this is not a response that I would expect. So yes, I have had instances where I experienced gender discrimination that got in the way of my career progression.
On the contrary, gender diversity is a priority in AGCS. In AGCS across the Asia Pacific, female leadership in AGCS constitutes 25%. This is very progressive and I am glad to be able to influence this journey, allowing for more female empowerment and opportunities in the workforce.
What do you think are the benefits of having diversity in the workplace?
Having diversity in the workplace allows us to have a wider range of perspectives. We have an international leadership team in the regional office, with team members from Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, etc. Having diversity in terms of nationality and education background allows us to understand different cultures and better accommodate to them, this is particularly beneficial when we are planning to roll out something new but aren’t quite sure how it will be perceived. It’s important to remember that diversity is not just about gender, it’s also about skillsets, mindsets, backgrounds, nationalities and age. I feel privileged to work for an organisation like AGCS that not only recognises this but also embraces this philosophy.
Are there any gender diversity programmes in place in AGCS?
There are. For example, we have a women mentorship circle where we invite females from different locations to come together to have regular conversations and to share their experiences.
In our region, we have a very diverse team in terms of age, nationality, education background and working experience. Within our teams we have 21 nationalities, employees in their twenties as well as their sixties, as well as talent coming from various industries (e.g. banks, construction, aviation, government sector, national sports team). With that being said, we make sure that we have on-going discussions at the senior level to promote an even better diversity in the company, especially within leadership team.
What advice would you give to leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace?
Change your mindset and pay more attention to the capabilities of individuals. A common concern that leaders have is that when women reach a certain stage in life, they would switch their focus from work to family. But that is not necessarily true; just because I have a baby, it doesn’t mean that I will give up on my career, I can value both my professional and personal life. Therefore, it’s important for leaders and organisations to consider what kind of flexibility you can provide female employees to help them better balance between family and work.
Have you had a mentor or role model?
When I was in university, I had a mentor who was the deputy CEO at an MNC. I would discuss my career development with him, get advice on things like whether I should move to a new company or position, which was really helpful. When you are young, you don’t usually know what you want, and mentors can definitely help with that.
It is now my turn to be a mentor and contribute to the community. Today, I am a mentor to the younger generation both at work and in my personal life. I am happy to share my experiences and knowledge with them in order to provide a comprehensive and objective view on various matters.
Does AGCS have any mentorship programmes?
We do, but this year we are doing it differently with what we call the “reverse mentorship”. When it comes to mentoring, what usually comes to mind is having the more experienced senior people giving advice to the less experienced people; but when you think about it, there is always something you can share or teach others regardless of which position you are in.
We have sent out a survey for this scheme asking our employees what they can offer and what they want to learn. Once we have gotten the responses back, we can do the pairing. The mentorship selection range is quite broad, it ranges from career development, social media and soft skills to strategic planning or even more lifestyle options like sports and travelling. It can be outside of work too, as mentoring doesn’t have to be just about work.
Lastly, do you have any advice for females on how to progress and succeed in traditionally male-dominated environments?
Create value that contributes to the company with your expertise with confidence!
For example, HR has always been viewed as an administrative and support function that handles payrolls and benefits administration, but over the years we have evolved to be more strategic through providing professional advice and managing human capital effectively. I am glad to be part of the evolution journey and gain the trust, friendship and respect along the way.
In AGCS, HR is highly regarded as a strategic business partner. We are involved in business discussions and planning.