Interview with Mr.Girish Kulkarni – Managing Director & CEO

Star Union Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Co. Ltd.

He learnt the ropes of his life as a young child travelling 40k.m to and fro every day to his taluka school from his village house. During his school days, he earned a sobriquet as a story teller as he would narrate stories learnt from his mother in his inimitable style. Soon he would be invited by neighbouring schools to tell stories.

His passion and ability to narrate things would dazzle his friends and acquaintances. There was always a fire in his belly. Girish Kulkarni’s meteoric rise in the corporate ladder is no surprise to those who know him. In 2012, he became the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Star Union Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Co. Ltd. a joint venture of Bank of India, Union Bank of India and Daiichi Life Insurance Co. of Japan.

His working style has endeared him among all his colleagues. In the peer group also, he commands lots of respect. Today he inspires confidence to all small town boys and girls who dream to make it a big in the corporate world by his leadership speeches in various B Schools of eminence.

Articulate and affable, Girish Kulkarni goes about his job with precision and passion. In a tete-a-tete with Dr. Abhijit K. Chattoraj, Mr. Girish Kulkarni talks about himself, his company and his future intentions.

Insurance Times: -You signed off the just concluded financial year on a high note. Could you please specify the reason behind your success this year …?

Girish Kulkarni– Yes, we fared reasonably well in the just concluded financial year. Our Individual Retail business has grown by 64%, our renewal income grew up by 24% , Profits have grown by 142 % and our ambition has grown by many bounds. All this was possible due to our disciplined planning and execution, tremendous support from our Distributor Banks and consistent guidance from the Board.

Insurance Times: – Over the years, life insurance penetration has been going down in India, although, there is growth in volume. Do you think the Indian life insurance industry needs to relook at its business model, something on the line of Takaful which is in real sense a participative model ?

Girish Kulkarni:- Yes , life insurance penetration in India has a huge opportunity to grow. Awareness remains the main hurdle. But I must add here that Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana has hugely impacted the awareness level. This particular Yojana has already covered more than 3 crore lives, almost singlehandedly equalled the entire industry penetration.

Insurance Times: – Bancassurance for obvious reason is your main business model, whereas other major life insurance companies thrive on agency model. Do you also plan to introduce this business model vigorously in days to come ?

Girish Kulkarni:– We generate around 94% of our business through Bancassurance model, only 6% business is generated through Agency force. Agency as a model has been facing huge challenge. Something needs to be done to revive this model. Salaried based employee over pure commission based agent is one such option. We are attempting one such model called “Life plan designer”.

Insurance Times: – Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company Ltd. the Japanese partner of your company is an established life insurance company since 1902. How has it contributed to the growth of your company in India ?

Girish Kulkarni: – The scenario in Japan is very different from India. Every Japanese looks for security of long time  therefore, they are aware of the need life or health insurance. Selling is highly methodical in Japan and nothing is short cut there. In India, awareness is still a tricky issue.
However Japanese companies are known for their honesty and discipline. The same culture is palpable in our company in India as well. Dai Ichi has 40,000 salaried women agents and succession of women are well groomed for this profession.
Dai-ichi impact is very much visible in our company. Close to 10 senior level officials including the CFO and CRO posted here are from Japan. The Japanese expertise in process and also their discipline has made huge impact on our functioning.

Insurance Times: – What kind of CSR activities did your company initiate this year ?

Girish Kulkarni: – We have a committed management team which looks after our CSR activities. Our motto is not to outsource CSR work and do it ourselves. The core strategy and Vision here is to create “Self Sufficient villages in terms of Health, Education and Income”.
As a small beginning, wehave adopted two villages Bolegaon and Mohpuri in drought hit Marathwada region of Maharashtra. We arranged water supply for the villagers and two bags of wheat for each family. The school building was constructed by us with separate toilet for girl students.
We also installed solar lights and dug bore wells for the villagers. Another major work that we did was to desilt local ponds. We work towards creating self-sufficient villages to capture the larger goal for self sufficient India. We also imparted agricultural training programmes to 400 families with a view to creating self-sufficiency in agriculture.

Insurance Times:- What are your defining moments in life ?

Girish Kulkarni:–  There are too many. Very difficult to narrate one or two. Life is all about continuous refinement of character.

Insurance Times:– As a CEO, you are always on your toes …How do you manage to unwind yourself ?

Girish Kulkarni: – After almost 14 hours of work, I normally confine myself to reading, music or movies. The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is a masterpiece and it influenced my life to a great extent. I advise all youngsters who want to go up leadership ladder to go through this book for it is like a bible which tells you what is good and what is bad in your life.
I also love watching movies particularly the English and French movies. Of late I have also developed liking for Japanese horror movies. I like the famous Hollywood actor Robert DiNero. I find nobody better than him. I also like Merry Strip, the famous USA film actress. I just finished reading Nassim Taleb’s latest book  My Rules For Life. He is a well known scholar with a poet’s heart.

Insurance Times: – How have you managed to be so humble even after so much so early in your life?

Girish Kulkarni: – I am the way I am. I can’t change it now. But jokes apart, I have learned not to get positional about my position. On the other hand, I would be happy, if my legacy is known afterwards. I don’t change my behaviour as per the audience. I try to be consistent in my dealing with people.