Talent & Tech Asia Summit 2024
"Choosing the right team matters more than fussing about getting the business plan right": Azran Osman-Rani
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"Choosing the right team matters more than fussing about getting the business plan right": Azran Osman-Rani

Naluri's Co-Founder and CEO, Azran Osman-Rani, on the one habit he urges people to start, one to stop, and one to continue in order to build stronger mental resilience.

A well-known and respected venture founder, speaker and author, Azran Osman-Rani builds disruptive businesses that challenge the status quo.

His latest venture, Naluri, established in 2017, is a digital health therapeutics company that uses AI to augment professional care for chronic diseases and mental health, to make care more accessible and affordable for all. Headquartered in Malaysia, Naluri’s programmes are localised to support multi-national organisations across Southeast Asia, through local, registered professionals and support in seven languages.

Prior to Naluri, Azran held leadership roles at some of the region’s most prominent companies, including iflix Malaysia, AirAsia X, Astro All Asia Networks, Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, and at McKinsey & Company. Author of 30 Days and 30 Years: The Sprint and Marathon of Breakthrough Performance, he also mentors high-growth companies, invests in technology start-ups, as well as competes in Ironman triathlons.

In an exclusive interview with HRO, he shares timeless lessons on resilience, managing and scaling the workforce, and advocating empathetic leadership styles.

Q What an inspiring career you’ve had – building and scaling iflix, pioneering low-cost long-haul commercial aviation, and growing Astro’s portfolio regionally, to name a few – yet you’ve always maintained that you’ve never had a long-term career plan, rather just needed a place to start. What are some of the most memorable and timeless lessons you’ve learnt during this career journey?

I’ve learned that nothing goes according to plan.

  • A prepared business plan is required to convince stakeholders to start a project, but you can expect that with the highly volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment today, all the plan’s assumptions will likely be disproved.
  • Don’t execute a new business by following a plan and only focusing on the variances against the plan, as that leads to tunnel vision. Instead, be open to emerging changes and get ready to respond quickly to adapt, change, try out different ideas, and explore new opportunities.
  • There are many factors beyond your control, from natural disasters to unfavourable Government regulations and policies, new technologies, or unknown ways consumers will respond to your product or service. Expect the unexpected, adapt fast, learn and improvise.
  • When we start being successful, having more financial resources, and the situation appears stable, remember that this calm is likely a prelude to even bigger unexpected challenges ahead. So never rest on your laurels.
  • Failures are inevitable. Accept them and move on. When one door shuts, look for the next door, which is often unseen at first glance.
  • Be flexible and open when planning your career, just like a business. Have the curiosity to grab new opportunities as they emerge and have the purposefulness to persevere with challenges until your work is noticed, leads to more exciting paths, and prepares you for living and leading in today’s fast-changing world.

I’ve also learned that choosing the right team matters more than fussing about getting the business plan right.

  • Over time, the right team leaders and members who share a strong sense of curiosity and purposefulness, as well as skills, experience, drive, motivation, and values, could make or break an organisation. These are critical factors to look out for in candidates being considered for the team.
  • When resources are limited, it pays to invest in great talent developers and then hire young, energetic, and highly-curious people who are driven by opportunities to take on roles that they would otherwise not get at established companies.

Q Over the past five years, you’ve built Naluri from scratch into an evidence-based digital health solution that helps organisations predict, prevent, and manage chronic diseases and mental health conditions. Do share some milestones that you and the team are particularly proud of.

There have been several and each of these is an affirmation that we’re heading in the right direction. For example:

  • When we exceeded 100,000 people that we have helped to get healthier was incredibly special.
  • Building a healthcare cost model to quantify the economic value of getting someone physically and mentally healthier, and crossing US$100mn in value, too.
  • Another milestone was when we surpassed 100 full-time employees based across Southeast Asia.
  • Seeing our AI-based decision-support tools increase our health coach productivity and reach 5x in four years - from 100 clients per coach to 500 clients per coach, and increasing corresponding gross margins from 10% to 50%.

Q You’ve always advocated that employers need to change the culture at the workplace to make health a collective responsibility. Could you highlight some best practices or case studies that have worked well in delivering business outcomes, through your experience across Southeast Asia?

We have observed the most notable changes when company executives (including the CEO) learn more empathetic leadership styles through our programmes and then commit to providing a psychologically safe work environment for their team.

This is done through a series of facilitated virtual and in-person workshops where leaders can share their challenges and learn how to improve their own mental fitness and resilience, as well as skills that would make them effective mental health first-aid or early responders, for which they are certified.

Similarly, what works well is when companies offer annual flexi-benefits allowances to employees which can be traditionally used for things like dental, optical, or gym memberships and employees then choose to opt-in to a Naluri Health Improvement Programme.

If that employee then commits to a quantifiable health improvement, such as, say, a 5% weight loss, 10 mmHg blood pressure improvement or 1% HbA1c improvement, the company would credit that allocation back to the employee, creating aligned incentives between employee, employer, and Naluri.

Q What are some barriers that you and your team experience while challenging the status quo around health & resilience, and how do you plan to tackle them?

We are convinced that we must hire healthcare professionals (HCPs) as employees of Naluri and train them on our proprietary care protocols and digital and analytical tools - rather than a typical marketplace model where HCPs are mere independent agents. This ensures a higher level of commitment that translates into much higher productivity.

As we expand geographically, the challenge is to continue to recruit high-calibre, committed professionals in each country because they must have the necessary local professional certifications.

We overcome this challenge by working closely with the relevant professional membership bodies or organisations in each country to connect with HCPs who are interested to learn a new model of digital care.

Q Naluri has recently secured a US$7mn pre-series B funding round which has been earmarked for strategic expansion in Thailand and further bolstering the company’s operations in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Tell us what employers in the region can look forward to, as a result.

  • Regional coverage - consistent holistic physical and mental health programmes for employees across Southeast Asia, delivered in English, Malay, Indonesian, Thai, Filipino, and Vietnamese.
  • Access to Naluri digital health coaching and 24/7 carelines integrated into various health-focused super-apps.
  • More in-depth employee health analytics and insights and better programme management and coordination.

Q To end, give us your best advice! What’s one habit you’d urge people to start, one to stop, and one to continue in order to build stronger mental resilience?

Start: Measure sleep quality and strive for five nights of high-quality sleep per week.

Stop: Simultaneous multi-tasking - jumping from one app to another, one device to another, every few seconds reacting to notifications that pop up. Instead, batch process tasks in chunks of 15-30 minutes.

Continue: Regular daily or weekly check-ins by asking team members how they are feeling.

Photo / Naluri

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