If you want to be successful in today’s complex, inter-connected and digitalized world, you need to ensure that within your own workforce you are representative of the community that you serve.
There is evidence that diverse teams will be able to foster innovation, make better decisions and show empathy in ways that homogeneous groups seldom do.
Diversity is not a nice to have but a must.
Head of Group Reinsurance, Asia-Pacific
An Interview with Ms. Anna Kohls
by MARY SOLTYSIAK | MAY 2020
What are some important things that you have undertaken and have contributed to your success?
Be curious, open-minded and stay connected.
Curiosity is important in the complex world we live in. You can be inquisitive towards the business we are in, the people we work with or the opportunities available from a career perspective. I get a lot of value out of participating in projects that are outside of my job scope.
In an interconnected world, we are faced with global challenges and ever-increasing pace of innovation. Such dynamic has endless opportunities to offer and I think those who keep an open mind and embrace change are best positioned to capitalize on them.
Stay connected, for me this is the most important one. We are in a people business. We sell a promise and there is no tangible product at the point of sale. It is vital to build your own brand and meaningful relationships with the people you work with inside and outside of your own area of influence. Looking back, both my successes and failures are closely related to how well I managed the people side of things.
Who are your role models? Who inspires you? and why?
Nelson Mandela inspires me. Undoubtedly one of the greatest leaders in history and his story is well known to the world. He was able to see beyond his own suffering for a greater cause. He devoted much energy to moderating the bitterness of his black electorate and to reassuring whites with fears of revenge when he himself was a victim of apartheid days. He would simply do what was best for the nation, and successfully so.
In terms of role models, there are plenty of people whom I look up to, inside and outside of work. In the corporate world, my dear friend and colleague Delphine Maidou is an inspiration to me. Growing up in Burkina Faso, her first job in the industry was as an underwriter “opening mail” as she calls it. Today, she is awarded CEO of the Year, Insurance CEO of the Year and one of the 50 most influential women in Francophone Africa. She is a proud African and one of the most authentic people I met in the corporate world. Whilst climbing the corporate ladder and living across the globe, she always stayed true to her roots. Her career aspirations were with a focus on returning to Africa and contributing to the insurance industry back home. Her presence brings an incredible energy to the room, and she would never be afraid to speak up or could be intimidated by people. Her approach is simple “you are better than no one. But also no one is better than you.”
What are the biggest opportunities you think are available to women today?
It is acceptable to be the person who you are. The value of “the one corporate citizen” vanishes and the value of diversity is being acknowledged and increasingly sought after. Your personal why matters more than your race, ethnicity or gender. The leader of the future will be assessed against the ability to create an environment for high-performance culture in a diverse and globalized world. I personally think that a lot of these “new qualities” come natural to women. In that sense the glass ceiling is fading, and it will only be us and our own ambition level that will determine our future.
What does diversity mean to you in a practical sense?
Diversity in a practical sense means to me that there are no invisible boundaries but equal opportunities for all. Think about people with disabilities, simple things like entering offices from the front-door may already be a hurdle for them. An introvert may be perceived as incompetent or disinterested if not speaking up in a group discussion. Attention to detail is important in this context. It is important where people sit at the table, and the person running the meeting is in charge that all voices are being heard. It needs people with empathy who can put themselves in the shoes of the other person.
Opportunities should be equal for all and it is not about lowering the standard, it is about changing the game. How does it happen? It happens because there are people who care, who want it to work and see the benefit of diverse communities and who are prepared to work to achieve these objectives.
How do you get your leadership team on board with diversity and inclusion initiatives?
The motivation of each individual may vary – to some it will come naturally, others may feel it is important to do the right thing, and for those a bit more reluctant there is one motivation that you cannot ignore in a corporate world: there is a business case for diversity. If you want to be successful in today’s complex, inter-connected and digitalized world, you need to ensure that within your own workforce you are representative of the community that you serve. There is evidence that diverse teams will be able to foster innovation, make better decisions and show empathy in ways that homogeneous groups seldom do. Diversity is not a nice to have but a must.
When WiRE was launched in 2016, you’re one of the original WiRE Committee Members advocating career advancement for women.
Firstly, what made you join the WiRE Committee?
When I was first approached about WiRE, I had recently relocated to Singapore and was looking for ways to connect to people in our industry. And I had just returned from an Allianz internal Women Sponsorship Program in Munich which reminded me of the tremendous value add of having a female community to support each other to grow and succeed. A lot of the challenges I face in my career are not dissimilar to the challenges that my peers are facing. And together, we always find the best solution. It didn’t take me long to decide whether or not I wanted to be on the WiRE committee.
Your own career has evolved and progressed since, has your involvement with WiRE somehow contributed to your personal or career growth? If so, in what way?
WiRE has helped me progress in my own career in many ways.
Firstly, it is a great way to stay connected and on top of what is happening in our fast-moving industry. Exchanging with my fellow committee members and the community is a great way to stay informed and exchange on what is happening. I took lots of value from the various networking events in that sense.
Secondly, WiRE is offering a lot of possibilities to improve my soft skills such as presentation seminars and learning from inspiring leaders around the globe.
Last but not least, on a personal note, we help each other on the committee. For me that meant getting a lot of morale support and advice on how to get my life organized as a first-time working mum, and in a foreign country. I have made wonderful friendships with a number of talented ladies in our industry through WiRE
You are soon leaving Allianz Re, Singapore to rejoin Allianz Re, Germany, what is your defining experience and/or key learnings in the Asia reinsurance market that influenced you or your current leadership style which you can adopt in Germany?
I have certainly learnt a great deal during my five years in Asia.
Initially, I felt challenged a fair bit with regards to my working style. I prefer to be in control, organized and having a structured approach to business matters. For growth markets I realized that markets are in constant flux and this requires a more flexible approach. This experience helped me to become more spontaneous and being able to take on a ‘go with the flow’ tactic.
From a leadership perspective, I have learned to read more between the lines, being less biased and to be more curious. It is also important to be mindful of the words you chose and to be aware of your body language.
Surprisingly, I learnt a lot about my own country, culture and values. It is true what they say that “you will only appreciate what you had once it is taken away from you.”
Being out of your comfort zone is a great way to grow and my time in Asia was an unforgettable experience. It will be a bittersweet goodbye and I will truly miss the wonderful people I was fortunate to work with in Singapore and the region.
My last piece of advice: whoever gets an opportunity offered to work abroad – please do consider it seriously!
More about Anna:
In 2018, Anna was appointed Head of Group Reinsurance, Asia-Pacific at Allianz Re. She had moved to Singapore in 2015 to assume the role as Client Manager, and was in charge of several markets in the APAC region. Prior to her time in Asia, Anna held various roles at Allianz in Munich, both at Allianz Re and in the Management Holding Allianz SE. She has been with Allianz since 2009.
Anna is passionate about diversity. When in Munich, she led the Allianz Group initiative AllAbility fostering the inclusion of people with disabilities. At present, she is also supporting young talents in Africa through online mentoring.