RALPH Liew is a contented man. After 28 years in the insurance business, the chief executive officer of Jerneh Insurance Bhd is more than happy to let go his position when his contract ends next year.
“I want to concentrate more on spiritual and social matters and do some leisure travelling,” he said of his plans during an interview at Jerneh Asia head office in Kuala Lumpur.
He said the last 28 years in the insurance industry had been fulfilling, and that he was grateful to Robert Kuok for giving him the chance to helm Jerneh Insurance in the last 10 years.
Liew came from a modest background, his father was a government servant and mother a homemaker looking after nine children and Liew is the eldest.
Living in Kuala Lumpur, Liew learnt to be humble and at the same time learning all the traits of the trade to be a good businessman,” I used to save my 20 sen allowance so that I could go and watch a movie or buy a pair of shoes.”
He landed a job as a teacher but stumbled upon the chance to be an insurance agent when buying a record (nowadays it would be compact disc) in a music store.
“I was in this shop and made small talk with a man who happen to be an insurance agent for AIA. It was 1965 and I opted to be a part time agent to make extra money,” he said.
Instead, Liew earned a lot of money that he was made the agency leader soon after.
At AIA, Liew met his mentor, Liau Eng Siong (later retired as AIA vice-president of services), who spotted his leadership and management skills.
“He asked me whether I would like to set up an agency in Sandakan. Only 24 years old then, I jumped at the chance. With only RM250 in my pocket and two suitcases, I left Kuala Lumpur to be AIA's branch manager there,” he said.
The year was 1969 but “I made a lot of money and managed to buy a terrace house in Bangsar Baru for RM25,000 in 1970.”
“I worked for AIA until 1992, and left for Jerneh when Robert Kuok offered me a job in Hong Kong.
“I took up the job as it allows me to manage the whole group instead of just managing one division,” he said, adding that he stayed in Hong Kong until September 2000 before moving up to his current position.
Liew said he has put his succession plan in place and that it would be a smooth transition when he left. - By Hasni Mohd Nasir