Kamesh Goyal, the new CEO of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company, describes the challenges and excitement of the job he is indulged in
The long wait is over. Year 2004 begins with a bang for Kamesh Goyal. On 1 January, Goyal, 37, will become the youngest chief executive officer of an Indian general insurance company - Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company.
The decision to elevate him from the position of chief operating officer was taken a while ago. Did he spend the intervening period with a bated breath? "It was business as usual; I didn't feel specifically tense," he says.
His wife, Kanika, concurs. "Yes, he was not unduly excited. In fact, he broke the news of his elevation only after coming back from the office. He didn't even call home and give us the good news." The cool-headed executive doesn't want to rock the boat soon after taking over as the CEO. "I will continue with the present strategy."
Born and brought up in the Khetri district of Rajasthan, Goyal is the youngest of G C Goyal's three sons. The eldest brother, Aadesh, is the CEO of the business process outsourcing (BPO) company of Hughes Software and the second brother, Amrish, is with Birla Sun Life Insurance.
A bright student at a local school, Goyal's father thought that his son's grades were going down and decided to put him in a boarding school, Birla school, Pilani. "Well, my grades certainly improved and I used be among the top ten in the class," re recalls.
From Pilani, Goyal came to Delhi to join the BSc course at St Stephen's College. And after graduation he decided to do law to gather a full-fledged idea of working in a company. "I had no intention of practising law."
At the same time he also wrote and passed the recruitment exam for getting into the nationalised general insurance industry. Family circumstances in 1988 forced him to accept the job as an assistant administrative officer (AAO) with New India Assurance Company, briefly discontinuing the law course after the third semester. "But I did complete the law degree in 1992." After that he did MBA at the Delhi University.
Life at New India for this bridge player chugged at a smooth pace. Goyal got his first promotion in 1993 as an administrative officer with marketing responsibility. That was the year he got married to Kanika. "He didn't want a working wife because taking care of the children will prove be a problem," she says.
From administration to marketing… Goyal didn't find himself like a fish out of water. Proving that he is not a dummy, Goyal bagged accounts of companies like GE and Telstra and soon his premium portfolio bulged to Rs 3 crore.
Those were the times when the talks about opening up the insurance industry were on. A young Goyal started contemplating shuffling jobs. And in 1997 he quit the government company to join KPMG in Mumbai. At that time Ashvin Parekh headed KPMG. "It was then the industry was slowly opening up, so I decided to have a share of that excitement," he reasons.
But the family was apprehensive of the move. "Quitting a government company to join a private company in Mumbai was a difficult decision for us to digest. Moreover, once you quit a government company there is no question of going back if the new job doesn't suit," says Kanika. Goyal did not budge. "And he was confident of succeeding."
At KPMG he was involved in looking at the possibility of General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC) floating a separate health insurance subsidiary. He also worked closely with Allianz AG, which wanted to come foray into India when the sector was opened up. Though Parekh moved out soon after Goyal's joining, the latter didn't have any issues with J Rajagopal, who succeeded Parekh.
"The stint gave me an opportunity to look at issues at macro and strategic levels. But the culture change was great. The only complaint I had then is that my water consumption went down. At New India, the peon used to refill my water glass regularly. But at KPMG I had to go to the water cooler to drink," smiles Goyal.
He struck a good rapport with the Allianz in the meantime. In 1999 he decided to join the multinational insurer as the second employee in India. The first one was Sam Ghosh, his predecessor, who now heads Allianz Bajaj Life Insurance.
Once the general insurance joint venture with the Bajaj group went on stream, Goyal drew upon his New India marketing experience in convincing the corporates to switch over to Bajaj Allianz General Insurance. Goyal is satisfied with the performance of the two-and-half-year old company, which closed its books with a premium income of Rs 300 crore and a net profit of Rs 10 crore.
"This year we hope to do Rs 400 crore and post some underwriting profit. For the first half of this fiscal, we have booked a premium income of Rs 218 crore," Goyal says. The company expects a claim bill of Rs 110 crore this year, as against Rs 70 crore last fiscal.
According to him, the premium retention (gross premium minus reinsurance premium paid) is as high as 64 per cent and ranks at the top among other private non-life insurers. "The company has reinsurance agreements with GIC and Allianz. For healthcare policies, we have signed reinsurance agreement with Munich Re. We also accept reinsurance premium. Last year the reinsurance accepted was around Rs 1 crore."
For Goyal, the profitable business portfolios for the company are fire and engineering insurance. In all the others it is underwriting losses. One of the few non-life insurers in the country to insure ship hull, Goyal says: "The marine - transit and hull - insurance portfolio is not really big for the whole industry. For us the marine business gives 4 per cent of the total premium." Similarly the company has made a small beginning with export credit guarantee insurance, earning around Rs 1 crore.
A father of two children (daughter: Anushka; son: Vaibhav), Goyal, according to his wife, is a lenient father and a nice husband. Though not a strictly religious person, Goyal never misses a chance to visit the Vaishnodevi temple whenever he goes to Jammu.
Goyal has also written several articles in leading financial dailies and business magazines. A homing pigeon, he loves only home-cooked food. "Busy touring schedules forces him to eat out, so we don't eat out much when he is here," sums up Kanika.