Hubert Burda Media

The Next Driving Force

CEO of AIG Malaysia ANTONY LEE is prepared to lead Malaysia’s insurance industry to new heights.

CEO of AIG Malaysia and Chairman of The General Insurance Association of Malaysia (PIAM), Antony Lee, has an interesting past. Long before helming AIG Malaysia, he was a practicing architect, and prior to that, he had spent part of his childhood overseas. “I had the opportunity to grow up in both Malaysia and abroad as I was sent away to attend a boarding school in Marlborough, UK when I was 12 years old. Then, I studied in University College London and worked in the UK for almost 10 years as an architect,” he reminisces.

“However, I also had a very hardworking father and grandfather, who kept me in check. All these have, in their own way, shaped me to become who I am today,” says Antony, who, despite his privileged upbringing, remains firmly rooted to the ground.

While living alone in a foreign land at a young age could be quite daunting, Antony took it all in his stride. “Before I set off to my first adventure, everyone was telling me that since I’d be going overseas to study, to the best school on top of that, it would be tougher and all. But to be honest, I thought I worked harder in Malaysia than when I was abroad,” he laughs. “Nonetheless, I did grow up faster than those my age. Being away from my family, being alone, it taught me to value things more. I also learnt to appreciate Malaysia more because when you are out there, you won’t have what you are used to here.”

Although he had established himself as an architect and was part of several projects across the world, it was an unexpected turn of event that brought Antony home. “I returned in 1999 after several years abroad. It was the year my father passed away and that was a big push for me to come home,” he says, adding that his mother was still living in Malaysia, which is why he felt that it was only befitting that he should be by her side. To that, Antony confesses that Malaysia will always be the place he calls home.

Upon his return, Antony was quick to dwell into a new line of work. “I worked for the first few years in a startup business for AIG in 2001. It was good because I learnt a lot.” There, Antony was instrumental in various operational disciplines as CEO of AIG’s first Global Services Hub in Malaysia, regional vice president of commercial and consumer businesses in Asia Pacific and CEO of AIG Vietnam, before rising to his current position as CEO of AIG Malaysia.

Antony credits his stint in architecture for the smooth transition. “What is good about architecture is that it teaches you how to have a vision. You need to know what you’re going to build and to get it built, you need to convince the people. After that, you’ll have to manage it. Especially with big projects, there are budgets, time frames and all the other things expected from the job,” he shares.

When asked about some of the important leadership lessons he has learnt from his experiences, Antony simply replies, “Be a good listener. You have to hear from the ground up, not just who is above you.” It is good to also have an ideal focus on something, he adds. “For me, I focus on developing people. I think it is a very Asian thing that whatever we do today, we are doing it for the next generation. We’re just caretakers for this generation.”

Beyond AIG Malaysia, Antony has challenged himself to take on bigger responsibilities. As chairman of PIAM, he feels it is his duty to raise Malaysians’ level of understanding and awareness of insurance. “I think most people in Malaysia and emerging countries don’t really understand insurance. Or to put it simply, they don’t buy enough insurance,” he explains. “If I were to ask anyone around me how many insurance policies have they signed up for apart from car insurance, not even a handful would have others.”

“But we see all the claims. Take travelling insurance for an instance, we can pay hundreds and thousands of ringgit in claims per year. So imagine if you don’t have insurance and something happens to you, you and your family could end up in a really bad place,” he adds.

“Insurance is a very valuable thing and it’s considered cheap especially if you look at it as an investment,” Antony asserts. “I’m hoping that we can build this up and people can see a better value.”

He shares that at the end of the day, every job from every industry falls into one thing: to sell a vision and a dream. “Even when you are running a business, you need to build up from those exact same aspects. But more importantly, you need to inspire people,” says Antony, further elaborating that inspiration must come out of a vision that benefits people and those same people will notice it. “I think when you do good things, you naturally get a positive feedback.”

As a high achiever who is no stranger to transforming a vision into reality and who constantly innovates in order to create values due to high expectations, Antony sees plenty of similarities between himself and BMW, which created the new BMW 7 Series. “BMW has a vision of where it wants to go. And to go there, it is all about creating something out of the public’s expectations by using new technologies and materials to create a sensational experience for the driver. I have to say the new BMW 7 Series handles amazingly well for a car that size. And I think the BMW group has always sought to pioneer that and that’s what I admire the most. They have a vision and they are going after it and realising it with this remarkable product.”

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