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A higher goal at Standard Life
Published on Friday, 16 Sep 2011
Roy Halliday
chief executive, Standard Life (Asia)
Photo: Berton Chang

Despite being forced to quit his career as a professional footballer, Roy Halliday continues to live up to some lofty goals. As chief executive for Standard Life (Asia), a leading provider of insurance-related investment products, he continues to raise the bar both for himself and his employees. His determination and skill in bringing out the best in his team have helped him yield a 30 per cent spike in projected revenue growth for the year. He tells Rick Gangwani about playing the field and winning and losing.

How did you end up at Standard Life?  

Probably by default. I was a professional footballer when I was younger and incurred a bad injury while playing. I had eight operations to try to repair the damage, but things were never the same again. That finished my football career. After a year or so, I started sending job applications to banks and insurance companies, not really knowing what any of them did. In 1987, I took up a position at Standard Life and have been with the group ever since. 

Having held numerous management positions over the years, what have you learned about effective leadership?  

I've learned that it's important to look back - I've made a lot of mistakes over the years. But while it's important to look back, I think it's even more important to look forwards. Another thing I have learned is that you need good people around you. There are only a finite number of things you can do yourself, and they usually don't amount to much. For me, the managers I look up to are those who select good people and stretch them - allowing them the opportunity to make mistakes, take risks and try things that are different. 

Who inspires you professionally?  

I've had some very good bosses who have allowed me to prosper, and I've recognised their ability to get the best out of me because of that. This is something I've tried to adopt with my own staff. Externally, there are a few key business people out there, people like Steve Jobs at Apple who does things that nobody else thinks of doing. 

How would those working for you characterise your management style?  

They're probably more relaxed with me now than when I first arrived. I'm quite inclusive in decision-making - I don't just dictate. I actually expect people to provide input so that we've got more ideas with which to help formulate decisions. I tend to expect as much from my management team as I do myself - and I'm very demanding of myself. People who work for me are well supported in the good times and the bad. However, they are also expected to deliver. 

How do you deal with uncertainty?  

Believe it or not, I actually relish uncertainty. I think it's a great opportunity for visionary management teams to do things differently. If you've got two or three things on the table that are uncertain, most management teams look for the safest path through - in essence, to reduce their risk exposure. But for me, I feel that as long as you have your risks well managed, you can afford to take more speculative decisions since you're fully aware of the parameters that are moving with them. 

What's your remedy for mistakes or errors in judgment?  

I think that if you're a mature manager, you will accept the fact that things sometimes do go wrong. You yourself will make bad decisions and will get things wrong. And you have to be big enough to let people see that. One of the things that surprised me when I arrived in Asia was the inability among people to say, "I got it wrong." While I understand the "face" thing a lot more now, I still prefer my managers to say that they get it wrong, when they do. We can all learn from our mistakes, and once you do, you move on from the situation and come away a little wiser as a result. I think one of the reasons I'm in the position I am in now is because I've made quite a few mistakes. But I've always tried to learn from them.


The unblind side

Advice to young managers

  • Don’t be nervous about relying on others – the discomfort will pass with time and experience
  • Switch disciplines when possible – leaving your comfort zone can be a valuable learning experience
  • When faced with crisis, stay calm and avoid making impulsive decisions based on emotion