Back to Middle Matters

Humanising Business with Qoala’s VP of Operations

June 2, 2022

Jonathan Ong shares how Qoala’s mission of humanising insurance for Southeast Asia also means doing it from within. Here’s how he's getting it done.

When Jonathan Ong found himself spending quality time with family instead of jetting off for consulting work, he came to a shocking revelation.  

“I spent a week at home and it hit me - just looking at my parents, seeing how old they have grown, how frail they have become. It dawned on me that life is more than work”, he said.

“At some point, everything that we have is finite; it's temporary. You need to remind yourself that one day, there's always the end of the road for you and me.” 

For a man that found his calling in finding solutions to serious business problems, he realised: “Life is more than work. There are more important things in life.” He sought to make the most of it for himself and others around him. 

Jonathan is now the Vice President of Operations at Qoala, Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing omnichannel insurtech company. In this edition of Middle Matters, he shares with us how he’s doing his part in humanising insurance from within.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

The startup scene in Malaysia is bursting with fresh and raw talent. There is excitement to push faster and harder, but Jonathan weighs in on the importance of strategically advancing instead. 

“You need to have foresight. You need to be able to think about sustainability in what you do and future-proofing in your team, in your organisation, because it costs more to fix than to create,” he explains. He adds that there’s a snowball effect that happens when you’re trying to solve more problems than you can handle, which can quickly spiral downwards.

“A lot of companies that I see . . . . want to get things done fast. Yes, they get the results the next day. But sometimes that creates more problems than it actually solves.”

Humanising Management

Sustainability doesn’t just come in the form of managing his teams’ workload but helping them expand their mindset as well. In a fast-paced, high-stress environment, Jonathan recommends that his managers lead with empathy - especially when mistakes happen. 

“I think leaders need to understand that everyone wants to succeed. Nobody wants to do a half baked job,” he says. “People are not married to their jobs. They have a life outside of work. So you'll never know what's happening at home [or] what's bothering them. Everyone has their own issues, their own battles to fight. So that may trickle into work.”

As a firm believer of Murphy’s Law, he notes the importance of being stoic. Because when things go bad (and they will go bad), the team will be looking to their leader to be rational, calm and mature. 

Accepting Imperfection

Just as a leader’s direct reports are bound to fail, so will they. “Leaders are not infallible. Be ready to put up your hands and say, “I'm wrong.” Admit that you're wrong and then move on. I think the team will respect you more for that,” he advises. 

In moments like these, Jonathan stresses the need to exercise humility

“When something goes wrong [or] turns out the way that I [didn’t] expect, the first question I would ask myself is if I did something wrong. Had I not conveyed a message properly? I’ll always have this self-reflection first before I look outward. That's what I try to do - to be humble and to recognise that sometimes the fault could be mine, not the team's.”

Empowering Honesty

The ability to give feedback comes from being able to receive feedback as well, one of the topics NewCampus covers in our Management Essentials Sprint. Jonathan reaffirms that with his mantra, “Listen to understand. Don’t listen to reply.” 

Grievances, no matter how small, are valid. “We have got to recognise that different people are at different stages in their careers and in their lives. A grievance may be small to you now because you are at this stage in life but it may be a huge thing for someone just starting out in their career. So it's all relative.”

Reflection questions

Some businesses look at their organisation like a well-oiled machine, but Jonathan reminds us not to lose sight of the human element that keeps these parts running for longer.

  • How wide is the gap between your personal and professional goals? What steps could you take to bring them closer? 
  • When was the last time you had the chance to reassess your priorities? 
  • What did you learn about yourself from the last time a team member gave you feedback?

Post-Credits with Jonathan Ong 

While the borders reopening is a signal for most to book a resort vacation, Jonathan has instead set his sights on Iran. 

“Before the pandemic, I was supposed to return to Iran because I wanted to complete my trip. I had to end my trip prematurely the last time because I fell ill in Iran and I had to fly back ahead of schedule,” he says. “This thing is gnawing at me right now and I need to just do it.” 

“I like to travel on my own because it gives me a chance to reflect, to disconnect myself from the world and do a bit of reflection and introspection as well.” 

“I make it a point to travel to somewhere as foreign as it can be from a culture that I'm familiar with,” he shares. “The thing about being lost in a culture or country with no similarities with you is that you learn about yourself - more than you would in any other setting.”

Needless to say, we’re rooting for Jonathan to scratch his travel itch and catch up again very soon. 

Continue reading