Manny Rios transformed his personal and professional life to become the CEO of Telesure Investment Holdings, an innovative insurer in South Africa halfway around the world from his Cincinnati home.
It was a big risk. But after just a few months, it became clear that the new job wouldn’t work out.
“I was brought in and had plans to help Telesure disrupt the short-term insurance [property/casualty] insurance market, and that was the plan going in,” recalled Rios, a former president of Ohio-based American Modern, who served in the CEO spot from Feb. 1 until the end of June. “What I discovered after a month was, that was not what they needed. They needed more process innovation.”
While Rios declined to discuss specifics, he explained that Telesure’s chairman and himself ended up having to agree to disagree on vision and strategy, though everyone was cordial, even in the end.
“I had plenty of fireside chats with the chairman. His view of strategic direction and my view, we were just not congruent,” Rios recalled. “We said ‘Let’s split up before we have kids.'”
Rios added that both sides were mutual, amicable, and considered each other to be friends. What’s more, he said he had an excellent leadership experience from which he learned plenty.
“My dream was to live and work in an emerging market country, and that’s what I got to do,” Rios said. “I got to cross something off my bucket list.”
As an executive, he said he was already thinking about future opportunities after he resigned.
“The more change that a guy like me goes through, it is not as big of a deal,” Rios said. “When people stay with one company for too long, they are really afraid of change. As I signed my resignation, I said ‘hey, I can’t wait to go to the next thing.'”
The Next Thing
What might that “next thing” be?
“I learned in the South Africa market that disruption in the U.S. market is on its way,” Rios said. “My goal is to help companies get ahead of that disruption. “I don’t want to be with traditional status quo companies…. I want to get with companies that want to disrupt.”
Rios noted in South Africa, everyone has a cell phone, rich or poor. Because of this, companies market via cell phones. The banking system is also all electronic, and that environment has allowed for innovations from companies seeking to reach their targeted audiences. Telesure innovated accordingly, offering innovations such as broad use of telematics, disappearing deductibles and monthly policies through its subsidiaries.
After his time in South Africa, Rios said he hopes to take that spirit of innovation with him to his next job in the insurance industry.
“I am in the insurance business for the rest of my life,” Rios said. “This is what I like, but I want to help companies or lead companies that want to get ahead of the coming disruption. I am not interested in joining any company that wants status quo.”
One thing he learned from running Telesure, happened, ironically, back in the United States. Google held a conference for companies from emerging markets, and invited their CEOs to the search engine giant’s California headquarters. Rios was among the executives who attended the event, and he learned that Google uses emerging markets as laboratories to test new ideas. He wants to bring that approach to future leadership opportunities.
“We can do so much more in emerging markets—test and learn, test and learn, and then apply those experiences to markets like the U.S.,” Rios said.
Rios said he hopes to work both in the U.S. and in South Africa in the future. In the end, two words sum up his Telesure experience: No Regrets.
“There are so many people that play the ‘what if’ game.” Rios said. “You can’t play ‘what if’ with things like this. You dive in and work to the best of your ability, and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work. I looked at this as a gift.”
He added: “I feel like all the cynicism that builds up after 32 years in the business was washed away. I feel like I am brand new.”