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Sure on the 'Zurich Way' of business

Published on Thursday, 10 Nov 2011
Joan Chung says the company’s one-year Global Associate Programme includes a four-week training stint in Zurich, Switzerland.
Photo: Felix Wong

Staff training is a cornerstone of Zurich Insurance Group's branding. But beyond ensuring that all its staff fulfil their potential and have a clear career path, training also serves a very practical purpose.

"It is quite difficult to source the right people, as some of the skill sets we require are rare," says Joan Chung, manager, talent management, learning and development, human resources. " So we grow people from inside the company, and familiarise them with the Zurich Way."

Each employee has a tailor-made development plan with follow-up activities and courses organised by the Zurich Academy. They also participate in rotations, mentoring and regional job placements.

The future leaders are trained in the one-year Global Associate Programme that offers participants a unique overview of the company. The programme kicks off for the 50 or so candidates from all over the world with a four-week stay in Zurich. This is followed by a 22-week tenure with the department that originally hired the candidate, and an eight-week rotation in another department.

Rachel Than, now an underwriter - accident and health, corporate and commercial SBU, was hired by the underwriting department and spent her international rotation with the actuarial department, while Yuki Lo - project analyst, global life Asia Pacific and the Middle East, who specialised in business development - got an insight into product development.

After the rotation, associates are back in Zurich for a "strategic week". Even the highest echelons participate in the training, and associates get the chance to meet the group chief executive, the executive board, the chief operating and investment officers, and hear their strategies for these particular functions.

"They also spoke about their careers, the success factors, even their families," says Lo.

Trainees then spend 10 weeks in another country on a job rotation. Rachel Than travelled to London, while Lo journeyed to Indonesia.

For the final training component and graduation, it's back to Zurich where participants must prepare a simulation of a business case. By now, they've been abroad at least five times.

But it's not all plain sailing. Though applications are accepted from both internal and external candidates, all applicants must already possess a couple of years of work experience.

The selection process involves a one-hour phone interview with the London office - where recruitment for the programme is centralised - an aptitude test, and a presentation to a panel that includes the chief executive, the hiring manager and human resources.

Applicants receive the presentation topic two days to one week before the interview. This year's topic was on changes over the past three years in the insurance industry and how Zurich should respond to them. 

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