After eight years away, Newton Jazire has returned to Botswana Insurance Company (BIC), this time in the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
His rise to the Insurance Giant’s helm comes after previously spending six successful years at BIC as Claims Manager, a role that came to an end in 2010.
The Zimbabwean native’s impressive resume includes a five-year stint as the Managing Director of Lion Assurance Company Limited in Uganda, where he oversaw their transformation into one of the country’s best-rated and most profitable Insurance providers.
In this compelling interview with The Voice’s Portia Ngwako-Mlilo, Jazire outlines his plans to restore BIC to its former glories, with an impetus on giving locals the platform to drive the company forward.
Q. How does it feel to be back at BIC?
A. It feels great to be back in Botswana my second home, especially as it is much closer to Zimbabwe than Uganda.
I work for a group where particular people identify challenges in business and who is the most suitable candidate to fix them.
It happened that Botswana was chosen among the countries which are closer to home.
However, it was not a matter of choice but a question of being fit for purpose for what needs to be done at BIC.
Q. What is BIC’s mandate?
A. We offer short term insurance products but do not insure life like funeral policies.
Botswana Life, as part of our group and sister company, offers the products that we do not; we complement each other.
We offer the best insurance for yourself, your property and your business
Q. Why is it important for one to insure their assets?
A. It is to sustain the economic value that you have created.
If you don’t have insurance and something happens to you, like for example you are involved in a car accident, then you have to find money to buy a new one.
If it is insured you pay little premium and the insurer replaces your asset.
It actually demystifies the belief that insurance is for the rich.
In my view it is for the poor because the rich can easily create new money whereas the poor can hardly do it to replace their lost assets.
Q. What sets you apart from other companies offering insurance?
A. The focus for me is the environment our employees work in; we want to put a smile on their face so that they serve our customers well.
When your employees are happy they will do their job exceptionally well, including customer services and that makes us the best!
Q. How does the insurance sector in Uganda compare to Botswana?
A. Botswana is not as green as Uganda in terms of the opportunities for growth and the new challenges.
If you look at Uganda, it is a market that is still growing with a lot of opportunities and there is going to be a market growth in the near future.
Infrastructure wise, Botswana is advanced and it comes with a lot of insurance for us unlike in Uganda where it is still to happen.
Uganda has just discovered oil and gas – oil alone is likely to double their GDP in the next few years! In Botswana the growth will come from economic diversification like power and fuel from coal; those are the things that can bring more money.
It is a more mature market in Botswana whereas Uganda still has a lot of growth opportunities.
Q. What are some of the major challenges you face in this industry?
A. The biggest challenge is the lack of understanding of how insurance works for many ordinary people.
Like I said, many people think it is for the rich.
People think if they have insurance this year and do not claim then the insurance is useless but it is not the case because they have enjoyed peace of mind for the whole year.
Some colleagues within the bracket that is insured had losses that have been paid through your contributions.
The way it works is that many put a little money into a pool and a few will have losses that will be paid from it.
If an individual does not encounter a loss this year they believe they wasted their money.
Q. Recently there has been a notable mushrooming of insurance businesses coming up with new packages, how are you going to beat them?
A. What I realised is that people use the price as the strategy to enter the market.
My warning to policy holders is you might be tricked by the notion that they we will give you cash back but you have to be careful of the excess you pay.
What we do at BIC is try to increase awareness on how insurance works to potential and existing policy holders so that they make wise decisions.
It is not a coincidence that BIC has been around since 1975; there are certain things we are doing right!
Q. What does your role as CEO entail?
A. My role is to ensure that all stakeholders are happy, most importantly our employees, our customers and shareholders.
To create an environment where everyone enjoys coming to work for BIC.
Once that is done and they understand the direction I want the business to go then my role is complete!
Q. I understand that the company you worked for in Uganda was ranked the third best in the country when you left.
How are you going to ensure you take BIC to the next level?
A. Fortunately BIC is the opposite of the Uganda situation because when I took over Lion Assurance Company was ranked ninth out of 22 and when I left it was number three.
BIC has been in position one for many years in Botswana but are currently position three – now it is my challenge to take them back.
My tenure comes to an end in five years and I want to leave BIC on top.
Q. How has working in different countries helped in your career development?
A. The major reason most expatriates fail in their position is having this cultural thinking that how you do things in Zimbabwe is the same as in Botswana.
I think that is the biggest source of failure because you need to understand people and their culture.
In Uganda, for example, if one of your employees has a funeral they would expect you to sit at the fireplace – to them, this shows that you sympathies.
Sending condolence messages does not mean a thing to them; so you need to get to the bottom of understanding their way of life in order to succeed.
Q. What Corporate Social Responsibilities are BIC involved in?
A. There are so many across almost all sectors: sports, health and education for now.
Going forward I want to have a particular sector we are known for in terms of support because the more we spread our resources the impact is not felt as much.
It is something I still have to discuss with management.
Q. What changes do you intend to make at BIC?
A. Previously I was told there was no local skills and talent.
Eight years later I came back and am told the same story!
I took a deliberate move to say that I am going to localise some positions and when people think they do not have the potential I will take the risk and the consequences as they come.
I have done it already. There were quite a few positions occupied by foreigners so I decided to release them and elevated some employees to those positions.
Q. What encouragement can you give young people aspiring to be in leadership positions?
A. Leadership is not a popularity contest but is about what you believe in.
Keep focused to what you want to achieve and do it with passion.
Don’t listen to many things that might draw you back.
Q. Who is your inspiration?
A. Well interestingly it is my Chairman. He is a serious inspiration, from where he started.
He brought this group and also owns Cresta Hotels and Sable Chemical.
He has achieved a lot but remains a humble person.
He is inspiring me to run my own businesses in the near future.
Q. How do you relax?
A. That’s a very good question.
Sometimes it depends on how tired I am; if the mind is tired I go play golf and if it’s the body I read books about leadership and running a business just to up skill myself in terms of what is happening in the world.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, What are your plans for the weekend?
A. The unfortunate part about these roles is that every day is a working day.
The board members can call at any time.
You have to create your own time to relax and refresh.