Dr P. Nandagopal has worked for over 25 years in India’s leading Banking, Asset Management, Financial Advisory, General and Life Insurance organizations.
Before he joined the life insurance industry at the beginning of the historical opening of the sector in 1999, he was heading the retail sales at DSP Merrill Lynch. He has also been associated with large organizations such as GIC Asset Management, New India Assurance, Andhra Bank and Indian Oil Corporation before moving to the insurance industry.
At the time of liberalization of the insurance sector, he joined Birla Sun Life to be part of its start- up team to set up their financial advisory business followed by the Bancassurance, Alternate Distribution Channels and Group Businesses at Birla Sun Life Insurance. He pioneered the bancassurance business in India working with over a dozen large Indian and MNC banks as distribution partners of Birla Sun Life Insurance taking the company to the second position in the industry at that time. He later joined Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group as President and CEO to set up its life insurance business under the umbrella of Reliance Capital.
Dr Nandagopal has graduated in Commerce, did his MBA in Finance and Marketing and Ph. D from Andhra University. He is also a Fellow of Institute of Company Secretaries and Fellow of Insurance Institute of India. He has authored a book on financial planning titled Investors’ Handbook and has also been instrumental in drafting the ” Life Insurance Development Plan” in conjunction with the Life Insurance Council. He has also chaired various industry associations and conferences – both national as well as international. At present he is the Chairman, Insurance Committee, ASSOCHAM. Dr Nandagopal has many interests and hobbies – photography, movie making and Indian music are his current passion.
I wanted to work for the government “ I was a reluctant entrant into the financial services business. I didn’t enjoy the thought of working in financial services when there were more creative pursuits. I wanted to work for the government, I think public service is a good idea. I got into insurance because it offered the opportunity for study leave, so I appeared for the civil services exam while I was working. I could have got into police service, but I was not cut out for that because personally I find regimented discipline very difficult.
Administrative services was my first preference.
Look for the larger purpose Any job, if it has to be engaging should offer three things – it should give you monetary benefits, which insurance does; it should be intellectually engaging, and it should allow you to see the larger purpose. I started seeing the larger purpose in life insurance, because you are talking about health, you are talking about the welfare of the family, the canvas is wider. I attached myself to this larger purpose and that is what kept me going. Life insurance is a structured discipline, but you are selling security.
We are in the business of selling promises and how you structure those promises is very important.
A leader has to contribute During a typical day, I grapple with business challenges and try to find solutions – for instance, how do we open up the sector…? We have a lot of impromptu work group sessions to discuss issues. Ours is a genuinely flat organisation so a lot of my time is spent meeting team members – they come in to bounce off ideas; then there are structured meetings. Travel also becomes very hectic, especially in the latter part of the year, when there are client meetings, distributor meetings – around October, Diwali time. In the first quarter travel is less, though people usually go on leave around May or June. In the second quarter, this travel is still sporadic, more needbased.
In the third quarter, it is push travel, to persuade customers. Then in March, there is consolidation.
When you are dealing with people, advising them, or supervising their work, you have to be able to do the same thing a little bit better, whether it is law or sales, you have to know what you are talking about. A leader cannot be a coach, he has to be a captain, he has to contribute.
Growth happens when you deliver results When you are in a growth sector, a hands- on approach is required. ou need to be very close to the action, double- check, cross- check everything.
Sometimes the reports that you see do not give you the full picture.
ou also have to be task- oriented. If you care about people, and their careers, you have to ensure the task is delivered. Growth happens when you deliver results.
My management style is informal, but people tell me I can be moody and temperamental – that is my personal weakness. I get impatient when people take a long time to tell me a problem – I believe you should state your problem in three words and then look for a solution. I also give maximum support to the people who are at the lowest levels, and minimum support to those who are highest. That’s because those at the lowest levels should get maximum benefit of resources, those at higher levels are already competent to do the job.
Do your homework I feel a lot of time is wasted when you don’t know what the problem is. Doing your homework is very important.
There are some problems that need an in- depth approach, but very often, 20 per cent of the problems take up 80 per cent of your time, while the remaining 80 per cent do not get enough attention.
If there is a problem that needs attention, I mail it to my personal id and check it at night. I believe in working from home when you are handling difficult issues, when the routine of the office might sap your creativity. I also encourage my people to do the same thing.
Before going for a meeting, it is also important to be mentally prepared – that will save you a lot of time and increase your productivity tremendously.
Reading is a must Films are my first passion, then literature, music, photography. I am also trying my hand at film- making, and in office, invariably the lunch- time chat is about movies. We have a music and fine arts activity in office as well.
We are also selling insurance policies through video; insurance is a human story, and if you don’t believe that, you can’t take insurance as a career.
As for literature, I used to be an avid reader, in college and before marriage; good fiction interests me. I believe that reading is a must; it refreshes you.
Literature helps to cool your mind, and offers penetrative insights; it takes you into other people’s worlds and offers you insights from their experience. But you have to be selective about what you read, and what you retain is important, whether in books, newspaper articles or education. How do you connect to it, how can it be applied in your life… Internet helps so much in this. I did not believe in the power of Internet reading earlier, but I have realised things get pushed into your Inbox and you can read much more in less time. I now have a Kindle and that helps.
Be organised It is said that if you want something done, you must give it to the busiest person. And one will always find time for what one wants to do, it is important to be organised at a personal level.
How do I define success? It can be defined in the traditional ways, having goals and meeting them, having a car, a house. But if you go deeper, then what is important is the benefit you derive. ou may own a luxury car but do you get to enjoy driving it – feel the wind hitting your face? It’s not what you have but what you get from it – the ends are more important than the means.
Mumbai nurtures talent I came from Andhra Pradesh, from a small place called Vishakapatnam but I love Mumbai. This is a city that nurtures talent, gives you the opportunities to be successful.