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What the pandemic taught Tarun Chugh of Bajaj Allianz Life

Tarun Chugh, MD and CEO of the insurance company Bajaj Allianz Life, on working with agility, what he learns from other leaders and CEOs, and more

Tarun Chugh likes to listen to Bollywood music as a way to unwind. 
Tarun Chugh likes to listen to Bollywood music as a way to unwind.  (Bajaj Allianz Life)

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Tarun Chugh, MD and CEO of Bajaj Allianz Life, took over the reign of the company in 2017. Last year, the company was given the certificate by Great Place To Work, which he holds dear. “We put various policies in place to make the company more empathetic to its employees, especially during the last two years. However, I wasn’t expecting it (the certification) this soon,” he says. Before joining Bajaj Allianz Life, Chug had worked in PNB Metlife India Life Insurance, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, and also as an investment banker.

An alumnus of IIT Delhi and IIM Lucknow and an avid Machester United fan, Chugh speaks to Lounge about the importance of choosing one’s battles, on learning from peers, and why he loves to listen to work related podcasts. Edited excerpts:

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Who do you consider your mentor and why? 

I have been blessed to have had a series of great leaders and people to work for, and work with. I find myself continuously picking attributes from them, to strengthen my way of life or work or build on something new. From Sanjiv (Bajaj) and late Nanoo Pamnani’s (former chairman of Bajaj Finserv), I learnt to have a pragmatic approach while being focused on consumer delight and agility. Then, there are a few former bosses and current circle of leaders whom I engage with, whom I consider mentors as well. 

For instance, the one key attribute of leadership, which is to remain sharp (and focused) on the objective without getting distracted, is something I picked up from the CEO of a new-age bank. I also admire how a CEO of a large bank incorporates the first principles of problem solving – de-cluttering and getting beyond matrices and not getting lost in the quagmire of optics – in seeking simple and effective solutions. He’s been a constant source of learning for me.

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What does being a mentor mean to you? How do you mentor your colleagues at work? 

Mentoring is about enabling colleagues and mentees to build their individual style and thinking. Hence, having open discussions, either over a cuppa or lunch always helps. And it’s not always about arriving at a solution, but bringing in objectivity, empathy and similar attributes when it comes to decision making. 

What's your morning schedule like? 

I wake up by 6.30 am and the first thing I do is check English Premier League (EPL) scores. I then respond put messages and schedule calls with my sons, who are studying abroad. By around 7.30 am, I prepare tea for my wife and myself. It’s a ritual for us to spend time together while having tea. It’s also the time when I go through e-papers. From 8 am onwards, I prep for work, respond to messages, go through presentation pre-reads, etc. and by 8.30 am, I am on my way to work. 

I wind down my work by 7.30 pm and go home to have dinner with my wife. In case, she is travelling, I catch up with team members for dinner.  

What's the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic? 

Like many across the board, I believe the pandemic gave me time to reflect on all the things that are going on around me, indulge in practices that ensure work-life balance not just for me but also my team members, and alter my way of working in a more agile and seamless manner. These philosophies guides me both at work and in my personal life. 

What are your productivity hacks?

The first productivity principle I follow is to work with the principle of empowerment, delegate work to people who are good at doing it, and not indulge in micro management. Basically, putting the monkey of worry on the shoulder it belongs. As a leader, you have to choose your battle. 

The other concept I follow is asking teams to prepare and distribute pre-reads before any presentation. This enables everyone to be prepared for the meeting before it begins, and therefore reduce time. I also insist on a 10 minute break between calls, to collect my thoughts and jot down the key points discussed during the meeting. 

What’s the one tech innovation in fintech sector that you are looking forward to or excited about?

I am looking forward to deploying artificial intelligence in using vernacular languages for customers, (which will enable them) to understand financial products and tech better. It can take into account the nuances of dialects like Bhojpuri. It’s a way to reach out to consumers in their voice and to help them make sense. 

How do you unwind?

Working out twice a week, walking and listening to Indian Bollywood music are my ways of unwinding. 

Any book/podcast you would recommend about mentorship and workplace growth? Why? 

I listen to podcasts on varied topics. Some of my favourites are Worklife with Adam Grant, Simon Sinek’s A bit of Optimism, and Atomic Habits by James Clear. I feel they get to the root cause of the issue and don’t beat around the bush. Information and inputs will come our way from everywhere. How we filter them, know what’s beneficial, and then apply what we learn will help in becoming good humans and good leaders.

Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.

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