In conversation with Tapan Singhel, CEO & MD of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance - Exhibit Tech Interviews
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In conversation with Tapan Singhel, CEO & MD of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance

Tapan Singhel, the dynamic Managing Director and CEO of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance, is a visionary leader in the insurance industry. With a remarkable career spanning over three decades in the insurance sector, Singhel has steered Bajaj Allianz towards unprecedented growth and innovation. His strategic insight and commitment to excellence have earned him recognition as a stalwart in the field. Singhel’s unwavering dedication to driving positive change makes him a formidable force, shaping the future of insurance in India and beyond. Our Editor-in-Chief, Ramesh Somani, took him on a drive in the BMW X7 to decode more of him and what has pushed him to be amongst the country’s top leaders and also wear the power hat of being the Chairman of the General Insurance Council of India.

Ramesh Somani: Before Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company (BAGIC), what was your story like?
Tapan Singhel: First and foremost, it’s my pleasure to be with you here. Before BAGIC, I was working in a PSU. However, I have always wanted to be a scientist, and when I did my M.Sc., my friends were competing for government exams, such as the IAS, banking PO, and insurance, and one of them bought an extra form and asked me to compete for the same. I was not interested, but they convinced me in the name of an IQ test, and I sat for the thrill of it. After the results, I was among the top who qualified for it, and I was relatively young to be a Class One officer. Somewhere around 1999-2000, the government allowed private companies to join hands in the insurance field, and as a result, a lot of private companies came in. Again, one of my friends said, why don’t you be a part of the initial team setting up an insurance company and challenged me to be a part of the start-up. I thought of giving it a shot, and that’s how I entered into insurance. If you look at my life, most of my decisions happen because of the thrill that excited me, which got me to wherever I am today.

Ramesh Somani: You once famously said you earned your MBA from the Street University. Had you done it from any Ivy League University, would your trajectory be different?
Tapan Singhel: A lot of people who met me for the first time would expect me to have an MBA. So they’d ask me which Ivy League university I studied from. And I would think, I’ve not done my MBA, so what do I answer? After my Master’s, I started working, and I was so involved in it that I didn’t get time for anything; I just kept moving on. I have a lot of honorary degrees, but those are not the ones I studied for. Then one day I answered them, I’ve done my MBA from the “Street University”. In fact, I ran a serious cause of street MBA because I felt a lot of kids who have not done an MBA may feel discouraged to think that they can’t make it to the club and they can’t make it big if they are not an MBA. I have many friends who are really good entrepreneurs, and they have not gone to any Ivy League Universities. The requirement to move up is something different from a degree. The ability to take risks, be resilient, and think out of the box works better when you don’t have a good degree to give you the comfort of being able to take everything and work outside of a backup plan. When you have nothing to fall back on, it pushes you to focus on the target.

Ramesh Somani: Who do you look up to for inspiration, and do you have any inspirational books you would like to recommend?
Tapan Singhel: I get inspired by everybody. Let’s say right now I’m inspired by you. When I saw your magazine, I thought about the kind of work that you have done. A boy from Calcutta is moving to Mumbai, and setting up this media house is amazing. I read books to acquire knowledge and look at the business I work in, which teaches me a lot, but the biggest knowledge I acquire is from people I meet. It’s like downloading a library in a couple of hours. I’m in sheer awe and wonder of the human competence and capability that any individual has been able to push the bar in their life. When you are young, you’re trying to conquer the world. As you age, you learn to conquer yourself. The shift from conquering the world to conquering yourself is important, and I recommend a few books such as Yoga Sutra by Sage Patanjali, Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra, Bhagavad Gita and Ashtavakra Gita to get the job done. These books give you unique perspectives about life, how to look at things, and how to look at spiritualism in a scientific manner, and it just blows your mind.

Ramesh Somani: How do you keep your mind and spirit aligned? What’s your fitness regime, and what does your day look like?
Tapan Singhel: There are three secrets I would strongly recommend to everyone. A lot of us don’t realize. Let’s say I tell you to walk from X to Y distance and cover as much as possible in that distance; if you continuously keep on walking for 12 or 18 hours, you will definitely get tired. And after some time, you’ll get fatigued and unable to cover the maximum distance. Now, let’s say that after every half hour, one hour, depending on your stamina, you rest and then walk again. You’ll be able to cover a much bigger distance and a much larger place. Now, that is on the physical part, but what we don’t understand is the mental part. From the time you get up to when you go to sleep, your mind is on a constant treadmill. So one of my learnings in life has been that, let’s say, after every couple of hours, I would take a five-minute break, and I would meditate by either just simply breathing, watching my breath or on some object, or even watching a tree. I would give my mind that five-minute break. Secondly, you have to be careful with food. A lot of the problems that you have today are caused by not watching what food suits your body. So you’re following a kind of diet that everyone else is saying, but it may not deliver to you the desired results. So, when you have any food, after a couple of hours, watch the impact it has on your mood and how you feel? If you feel good, that food is doing good for you. The third thing is before I start the day, I do some stretching exercises, and when I end the day, I walk for at least 45 minutes.

Ramesh Somani: You work with many people and team members. What characteristics do you look for while hiring someone?
Tapan Singhel: When I interview people, I don’t look at their qualifications or years of experience. I try to figure out a few things. One is whether the person is genuine and a good human being. Second is their desire to make a difference in society or the world. Third is how passionate they are about any cause. So, if you have energy, integrity, and a good heart in the right place, you can do any work in this world.

Ramesh Somani: How do you retain your employees because it’s one of the serious issues entrepreneurs and CEOs face?
Tapan Singhel: If you look at most of my leaders, they have been there for at least 15 to 20 years. I think the first thing is money, as it covers your basic needs, and the second thing is trust. When you trust them and offer them the freedom to experiment and deliver, that makes employees stay for a long period.

Ramesh Somani: What mistakes did you make in your 20s that you could have avoided?
Tapan Singhel: Any mistake that you have made becomes the learning curve for you. Anyone who says they have made no mistakes all their life, and I will be very surprised if that person is doing any good. Mistakes are very good. What’s bad about it is when you get completely engrossed in your mistake, and you are completely lost and start self-doubting yourself or criticising yourself, that is where the problem is. But it’s an excellent sign if you believe in yourself, realise a mistake, learn from it, and then dust yourself off and return to the ring the next day. So, I have made many mistakes. In my first year of college, I hardly studied and, as a result, failed in quite a few subjects, but the good part was that all my friends also failed. In the second year, again, I failed, but in the third year, I cleared all three years in one go.

Ramesh Somani: What are the tech that is used for customer benefits in the insurance business, especially in BAGIC?
Tapan Singhel: I was an IT head 28 years ago. So, I am also a trained programmer. So, for me, tech is very fascinating. Right now, what I am fascinated about is the generative AI. We use machine learning for claims on the spot. So if a car has an accident, you just have to click pictures, upload them, and within 10 minutes, we will pay you the claim amount. Secondly, when flights get delayed, we can get confirmation that your flight is delayed using blockchain. So, we send you a message along with a claim. You don’t have to raise the claim separately. I think tech is so beautiful when you use it as a tool to solve customer worries and problems.

Mr Tapan Singhel has a massive following on LinkedIn, with 6,70,000 followers. He can be reached at this link: www.linkedin.com/in/tapansinghel. Stay tuned to YouTube/exhibitmagazine to watch the full drive interview!


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