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Q&A with Gurpreet Grewal, regional head of HR and organisation at Generali Asia. A candid chat in the company’s Hong Kong office with Human Resources Online.
1. Before joining the insurance company, you worked for several banks. What is the difference in the HR function between the two sectors?
For me, the main difference is that international banking organisations have very sophisticated HR systems. They tend to have a more centralised business model and initiatives are driven from the head office. Focus, therefore, seems to be on implementation.
For my own personal development – and given that I prefer the “build” phase much more compared with the “operate” phase – the environment offered in the insurance sector, and Generali in particular, was more challenging and personally more exciting.
The other aspect that I personally enjoy is that during the years while working in regional roles in banks in Hong Kong I did not travel much. At Generali, I usually travel about 15 days a month around Asia. This has given me the ability to understand the nuances across the countries where Generali operates.
I have gained knowledge by working with people across the region and today I am more aware of the cultural differences. It has also helped create deeper relationships with colleagues and I can support the teams better.
If I had to define it, it’s my ability to join the dots. That’s ultimately what it takes to look across both the business and HR.
As a coach and as a person who enjoys trying to understand people’s behaviour, it’s been an amazing experience and very valuable for my role. I don’t think there are very many organisations that allow this opportunity.
HR has a voice in Generali and is included in all business discussions across all countries. You can see that HR is a function that is working alongside the business.
It’s with a deep sense of personal satisfaction that I have supported my HR colleagues across the region and have a position of influence and direct impact on their business stakeholders.
2. You have been in Hong Kong in various HR roles for over 12 years after relocating from Mumbai. What has kept you in the city?
I have family motivations, but I also think it’s the sheer opportunities this city offers.
Within a week of getting into Hong Kong, I continued working with RBS and it felt like I hadn’t ever left Mumbai. The exciting part of living and working in Hong Kong is that it allows you the privilege of making friends from across the world, and learning about different cultures.
That’s enriching and I think as a person I’ve evolved. The opportunity I’ve had to travel around the region and Europe has broadened my awareness, and all in all, it has been a fantastic experience.
3. I get the sense you’re across both HR and business. What’s your secret to achieving that?
I understand the numbers. I am a finance person at heart since my background was as an investment banker where your training is on how to look at businesses and understanding their strategies. You develop the skill sets to look at a business and think “this is not making sense”.
If I had to try and define this, it’s my ability to join the dots. That’s ultimately what it takes to look across both the business and HR.
4. You have been with Generali Asia for three-and-a-half years. What is the greatest HR challenge the company has faced during that time?
Without doubt it is retention – especially in the areas of finance, risk and actuary where we are finding the market in Hong Kong to be very competitive.