An Interview with
CEO- Asia | Europe
IC Frith (Asia Pacific) t/a Brightside Co
IC Frith (T/A Brightside Co) is a Insurer, broker, claims manager and technology business with operations in 11 countries.
The company started as IC Frith (1983) and became pioneers in the insurance and extended warranty industry in and Australia. Working closely with Harvey Norman and other retailers the business has grown over time to incorporate a variety of product and solutions. In 2015 we changed our name from IC Frith to Brightside Co, and expanded our offerings to deliver in field sale solutions and third party administration services, all driven through our ever evolving technology platforms and solutions.
20 July 2021
Tell us about your background, and what are you most passionate about?
Ive been in this role now for 3 years and I've enjoyed the challenge of operating across a large territroy, especially challenging over the past 18months with trvel being so difficult.
I have over 25 years’ experience working within the manufacturing, financial services and insurance industries. Prior to joining Brightside Co I was Managing Director for Domestic & General, and General Manager at General Electric (Capital) delivering growth and new product initiatives to clients throughout Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
I've been very fortunate to do a lot of travel in my life, in my younger years with sport and as my career developed through work. Playing sport in different countries through my teens and ealry 20's gave me a taste of life in other countries and I've always enjoyed meeting new people and experiencing different regions and cultures. Fortuntaely I've been able to combine my love of travel and adventure with my work, holding roles across Australia, New Zealand, Europe and Asia. Fortunately my wife and 2 daughters also enjoy travelling and the experiences that come with living in different countries, although life is a little different these days with Covid.
Hand in hand with travel and experiencing different cultures comes food and drink. Ive always enjoyed trying new styles, new tastes and different dining experiences, so much so that my wife and I, for a number of years, also owned a restaurant in a little country town in Australia (Coffin Bay) which was a key oyster region in Australia. We loved working with the Chefs and the team to deliver different experineces, both food and beverage for the customers, and obviously sampling all the dishes!
Currently we live in Kuala Lumpur and whilst Covid has made conditions a little challnging, we are loving life in Malaysia. My role does cover both Asia and Europe, so I am looking forward to being able to travel again and reconnecting with the Europe bsuinesses face to face.
Describe a time you had to make a tough decision (e.g. budget cuts, organizational restructuring, market withdrawal, etc.). What did you do and what was the result?
We have been very fortunate through the pandemic that our bsujness has remained strong and our staff have bveen safe and well. We havent neede to make any tough people decsions due to the pandemic and we continue to grow, opening 2 new countries over the past 12 months.
However we have had to make some tough operational decisions over the past 18mths or so, to ensure we remain lean and enable us to invest in key areas for growth and development. One of those decisions was to close our Singapore Call Centre and relocate this to our Malaysia office, which is fast becoming our SEA Hub. Strategically and Financially this was not a difficult decision. It allowed us to better scale our opertations and deliver faster, more timely and consistent services that affceted customers and clients. Obviuoulsy it also allowed us to greatly reduce the underlying costs of the business.
There was though, an enormous impact to people. The Singapore team and been in place since 2005 and many had been with us since inception, which made the change diffcut for all. The overall people managment was something we took very seriusly and ensured we engaged staff at all levels, communicately clearly and regularly, and supported wherever we could in a variety of capacities. Overall we were extremely satsified our planning and management minimised ensured continuation of service for our customers and clients and supported our people through a very difficult change.
Ultimately the move has been highly succesful, with our key call centre metrcs exceeding expectations (our NPS and CX KPI's grew) and cost reduction giving us greater capacity to reinvest in both the business and our people.
How would others define your communication style? Do you prefer to be close to your employees or maintain a healthy distance, and why?
When it comes to ciummuunication style its important to be versitile, be able to talk at any level of the organsiastion or client, and as CEO my role is to give absolute clarity, without any ambiguity to all levels of the bsuiness, be very clear about what is important. Priorities are critical if you want to execute. Our team need to be crystal clear where we are headed, and what role they play. Once clear, my role is to encourage, pursuade and drive.
I like discussion and debate. I believe when you have vigorous debate and disagreement, you get the truth - and then you can manage it and drive real alignment and agreement.
And finally i dont like setting too many rules, particularly at the higher levels of leadership, the team dont need me looking over their shoulders. I like to set boundaries with freedom in the middle. The boundaries are commitment, trust, execution and teamwork. Within those guidelines, I give plenty of opportunity to add their personal "flair".
How has the industry been changing in recent years? What do you think are the biggest challenges your industry will face in the next 5 years?
There is an old GE saying, "when the external environment is moving and changing faster than your internal environment, your dying".
Thetre is no doubt the insurance, financial services and Insure/Fin tech space is changing rapidly, and has been for the last few years. Customer experience and expectations, data and claim transparancy, regulatory engagment and technology are all evolving. Add to that the work from home, contactless socitety we are now living in and the industry ( like most) have changed irrevocably. There are many smaller players in our industry that cannot keep up, that do not have the capital for necessary technology investment and margins everwhere are being squeezed by low cost models.
Emerging capabilities such as artificial intelligence, big data and claims automation to name a few have become more prevalent as organisations have doubled down on using technology for optimization of both cost and processes, but it comes at (quite often) a high cost.
I expect investments in and partnerships with insur/fintechs to continue to increase, however ensuring costs are managed, and driving real value from technolgy is going to be a key area of focus for many. Organsiations will need to be able to drive technology to deliver not just front end efficiency but also ensure operating costs are vastly reduced, as like most industries product will increasingly be price sesnitive and commodotised. As margins are eroded though competition and increased personalisation of customer data / solutions, efficiencyand waste removal are going to be critical. Regulatory engagment and requirements is increasing and becoming more onerous for many. This will continue to add additional complexity.
What personality traits make a good leader?
Firstly i'll say you need to like people, be interested in them . Particularly i like to undertsand why they are in the business and why they stay. More and more its employement at will, people dont need to be where they dont want to be, so what keeps them turning up?
In terms of what makes a good leader - Ive been extremely fortunate to work is some great comapnies and for some great leaders , so here's what i think ive picked up along the way - ive tried to keep it to 5 but i could have a lot more.....
1. Try to always embody a sense that everybody counts and that each individual voice matters. Get out from behind the desk and talk to people, understand them, and always be candid and fair, and want the best in people, and when it doesn't work, they need to know it's not personal.
2. Be numbers focussed , what are they, how do we get them and what do we do with them and why. Metrics matter, they keep us accountable.
3. Resilience. There is no greater example than right now. Constant lockdowns, pressures on staff wellbeing, changes in operating models, and all those other daily issues that were there before Covid make it tough to be a leader. The ability to get up everyday and face into challenge, to pick up not only yourself, but your team and drive forward when its tough
4. Simplify and prioritise constantly. Good leaders can clearly explain the top three things the buiness is working on. If you can't, then you and the team are going to find it harder to deliver
5. Keep learning and seeking and sharing best practice. Keep striving to grow, to continually improve, yourself, your team and your business. leadership is primarily about teaching, coaching and mentoring. People dont necessarily need to agree with you, but they need to see that you are willing to share what you've learnt
Ultimately there are amny things that make a good leader, but at the very least at the end of every week, you have to make sure you've spent your time around the things that are really important: setting priorities, measuring outcomes, and rewarding them.
What does the future hold for your company?
Growth. We are very fortunate that we have strong partners and solutions that have helped us weather the covid storm well. During the pandemic we have invested heavily in technology improvement and functionality for our platforms and it is now begining to reward us with improved capabilities and underlying efficiancies. We have launched 2 new SEA countries in the last 12 months and have another 2 to launch over the next 12 months, with 2 European markets to closely follow. We are always looking for new Retail, Insurer or Manufacturer partners to work with and pleasingly our BD pipeline is looking very healthy.