Aon chairwoman calls for emotionally intelligent leadership amid turning point

Veteran leaving the firm after 33 years of service

Aon chairwoman calls for emotionally intelligent leadership amid turning point

Insurance News

By Gia Snape

Insurance companies need to innovate to survive, but they need to so with fewer resources while facing rapidly evolving customer needs and economic headwinds.

This decisive moment in the industry’s history calls for leaders to be courageous and emotionally intelligent, according to Marguerite Soeteman-Reijnen (pictured), chairman of the executive board of Aon Holdings BV, the statutory shareholder and parent company of over 400 Aon companies.

She delivered this message during her a keynote address at the Insurtech Insights Europe 2023 summit in London last week.

“Innovation is about meeting unmet needs,” she said, speaking to an audience of insurance and insurtech leaders. “However, what we notice is in our business, we are asked to do more with less. Infinite growth at a finite limit is simply impossible.”

Soetman-Reijnen will step down as chairman on April 1, 2023 after 33 years in the company, Aon announced on Thursday (March 9).

‘Not enough has changed since yesterday’

During her speech, Soetman-Reijnen reflected on the changes she has seen in the industry over time. But she also lamented that insurance was not keeping up fast enough to deliver what consumers want, the way tech giants such as Amazon and Google can.

“Every time I’m back in London, it feels like not enough has changed since yesterday,” Soetman-Reijnen said. “There's still work to be done.”

While large incumbents are positioned to remain in the market for the decades to come, newer companies need to fight the ongoing battle for relevance.

Data and technology, which are already abundant in the market, will play a key role in innovation. But change needs to come from insurance companies themselves, the Aon Holdings chairman urged.

“How do we as an industry stay relevant and make sure that the products and services we produce meet those unmet needs? How do we learn and adapt our business models accordingly in our companies?” Soetman-Reijnen asked leaders. “That's the big challenge.”

Emotionally intelligent leadership

Organizations can better innovate by emotionally intelligent leaders, Soetman-Reijnen argued.

“If you have a product that you think is unique and relevant to the world, you want to make sure it's being followed. Emotional intelligence is important to bring that message and ensure people are following,” she said.

The importance of emotionally intelligent leadership has reverberated strongly across the global workplace in the wake of the pandemic. But there’s not enough of it at the highest levels of leadership, according to Soetman-Reijnen.

“The higher [leaders] get in the ranks of companies, the less emotional intelligence they have,” she said, citing a study by the World Economic forum.

Apart from being able to respond and cater to the needs of their employees, emotionally intelligent leaders are better equipped to handle innovation and change.

“What’s most important in this moment of the world we’re living in is how you adapt. Can you show the a situational awareness needed to bring your product or service to the people who need it most?” Soetman-Reijnen said.

Adaptability is one of the most important elements of leadership because it allows individuals to change and go along with change when necessary. But Soetman-Reijnen also highlighted resilience and “failing early and failing smart” as critical skills insurance leaders need to master.

Stepping down as Aon Holdings chairman

“True leadership is when people follow you even when you are no longer there,” said Soeteman-Reijnen, who is leaving Aon after more than three decades.

She has served in several leadership roles during her time at the global financial services firm, including global chief marketing officer for Aon Inpoint.

Outside the firm, she has embraced various non-executive and ambassador roles, such as member of the global alumni board of Harvard Business School and member of the board of directors of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Netherlands.

She has also advocated for women’s empowerment as ambassador of UWC Maastricht, supporting their MENA Women Empowerment initiative.

Eric Andersen, president of Aon, said the company would celebrate Soeteman-Reijnen’s contributions at a farewell symposium later in the year.

“On behalf of her colleagues at Aon, I want to recognize Marguerite for 33 years of service to the firm and the many contributions she made to our business, corporate governance, and inclusion and diversity initiatives. We wish her the very best in this next chapter of her career,” Andersen said in a news release.

Soeteman-Reijnen expressed gratitude for the honour of serving the firm and for being able to pursue her ambitions on risk, leadership, inclusion, and diversity within and outside Aon.

“In my journey from trainee to Chairman of Aon Holdings BV, I have been fortunate to work alongside so many talented people from diverse backgrounds, who were all as passionate as me about the firm’s goal to partner with our clients to help shape business decisions for the better,” she said.

“It is the right time to follow my curiosity for new dreams and new challenges.”

How can the insurance industry embrace innovation amidst today’s risks and challenges? Sound off your ideas in the comments below.

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