Jeremy Andrulis is getting ready to find solutions for more clients in fresh markets as Aon Hewitt’s new CEO of Southeast Asia, writes John Cremer.
Moving to a new role in Singapore after 11 years in Hong Kong, Jeremy Andrulis takes with him the wisdom accumulated during a fast-track career and the ambition to keep breaking new ground. The main challenge awaiting him as CEO of Southeast Asia for Aon Hewitt Consulting is to build the company’s client base in established markets, venture further into Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines and, where possible, take the business in new directions.
“For both the emerging and mature markets, the aim is to look at the corporate landscape and what it presents and then to focus on clients and what they need,” says Andrulis, who as managing director for Hong Kong and Taiwan led the firm’s performance, retirement, rewards and talent practices. “The move dovetails with the personal as well. Everyone has to take risks in their life, and what drives me is to take opportunities when presented – in this case, to grow the business in a ‘green field’ space and to help the company expand.”
When Andrulis first came to Hong Kong to join IBM’s Hong Kong operation, it was even more of a leap in the dark – and one made despite all kinds of reasoned advice. At the time, he was making strides as a Chicago-based consultant with IBM, helping big-name clients resolve management and transformational issues arising from new IT strategies and work practices.
“People said there would be more sophisticated clients in the US,” Andrulis says. “Like any decision, it was a mixture of the professional and the personal. I saw it as an opportunity and a calculated risk, but I had a keen interest in exploring different parts of the world and the feeling that sometimes you have to put yourself on the line. I didn’t want to look back on my life at 65 and see all the things I hadn’t done.”
Consultancy has always held its attraction for Andrulis, who opted for that sector on leaving Purdue University, in the US state of Indiana, with an MBA and an MA in political science. For him, the work, methods and objectives appeal on many levels. He likes pushing the envelope to find solutions for clients. He likes the need to always be one step ahead. Lately, he has also had the additional aspects of managing a P&L, day-to-day operations, the corporate sales effort, and the impact of constant change. “You are using your left and right brain,” he says. “No two days and no two clients are the same.”
While academic training provided a solid foundation, on-the-job experience was invaluable. At first, it came from listening to more senior colleagues and learning how they isolated problems and proposed answers acceptable to the client. Similarly important was to study data and leading practices for various industries to gain new perspectives and insights. A third element was observing how to react when challenged by a client.
“Issue-based consulting is a blend of hard and soft skills,” Andrulis says. “Early in my career, as a project manager, I worked hard, did all the analytics, and came up with the deliverables, but I was not managing the expectations of clients. Consulting is a people business where you have to address each client’s needs and build effective relationships. Learning that helped me tremendously. I am also a big believer in learning from your failures as well as successes.”
Two challenges stand out in his new position. One is creating a business for the future, while meeting the short-term needs of a publicly listed company. The other is devising a more sustainable business model. Since the solutions offered to clients three years ago are now becoming “commoditised”, competitors can chip away at any advantage. “It is a constant balance everyone faces, focusing on the future while not losing sight of the present,” he says. “I always have to think from three different perspectives: what’s good for the client, the team and the business – with strategic plans for the long term and a series of ‘pulse checks’ and follow-ups to track what we want to achieve throughout the year. Organisations have to change and evolve to offer a clear value proposition to clients and as employer.”
Work can dominate, but with two children under the age of five, Andrulis does all he can to put family first and even finds time for other outside activities which include hiking, kayaking, photography and travel, In fact, in 2006, he took a year off simply to explore and take stock, hiking through Patagonia, living in Ireland, and seeing some World Cup matches in Germany.
“The interest in travel is still there, but with a family, you’ve got to make choices, and that’s where I want to spend my time now.”
Tool up for continuous journey
Jeremy Andrulis shares six important aspects of successful leadership.
Build the team’s trust “This is something that takes time and should be regarded as an ongoing process.”
Don’t ignore minor matters “They may seem little to you, but will be important to someone else. Also, balance the long term with day-to-day tactics, not to the extent of micro-managing, but to make sure specific requests are met.”
Make yourself clear “Be transparent about your thinking in the terms of the process and how you make decisions.”
Know where to improve yourself “Because leadership is a continuous journey, know what you are good at and what you need to improve on.”
Be approachable “Think about things like body language, tone of voice and showing you are open to connecting with other people.”
Remain consistent “Do what you say you are going to do and make sure you have the team, resources and support to deliver.”