Turning uncertainty around
Starting out as a social economic researcher for the British government, Vaughn Richtor, CEO of ING Banking Asia, moved into corporate treasury and banking, and has been in the banking and financial services sector since. Today, 30 years on, the Anglo-Indian executive is based in Singapore from where he oversees ING's banking operations across 13 markets. Richtor talks to Hilda Poon about travelling for work, his management style and dealing with uncertainty.
How essential is travel to your job?
I spend a lot of time travelling to attend board meetings. One thing we need to understand is that while we can do a lot of things via telephones and video conferencing, at the end of the day, our business is about people.
Whether it is clients or staff, I think it is important that we visit, so we don't just see our people, but also understand and feel what is happening in other countries.
People talk about Asia as if it were homogenous, but the reality is that every country is different in terms of its business environment, structure and economic state of development.
It is a misconception to think you can manage your business sitting in an ivory tower in Singapore - or wherever you happen to be. Therefore, it is important to travel.
What advice do you have for those who travel a lot?
Relax and enjoy. Today, travelling is a lot easier than it was. And we have technologies that make communication so much easier. So, doing your job while travelling is less stressful. Don't let a flight delay stress you out, and use your time to the maximum. Sometimes it is good to just sit back and watch a movie on a flight.
What about work-life balance?
I personally find it very difficult to draw the line between work and life because I actually enjoy work. So for me, talking to a group of young talents within the group is not work at all, it is enjoyable for me. Meeting clients is extremely enjoyable. I am very lucky to be doing things that I really enjoy.
How would you describe your management style?
I believe one of the important things about being a manager is that you don't come in and say, 'Okay, I have all the answers.' I think what you need to do is take everything in and listen to what people are saying - not just the people that you meet, but a much broader base than that.
Hear what is happening in the organisation and listen to advice. Often the best ideas come from your employees. I think what's more important than knowing all the answers is that you ask the right questions and ensure you get the right information - sometimes hard data, and sometimes soft data. Look at what the options are and make decisions accordingly. I think my management style is much more focused on building and developing people as opposed to knowing the answers myself.
How do you track down the best employees?
You can't always have the people you really want. It doesn't work like that. You have to start by thinking about what you've got, rather than looking for what you don't have. Look for the strengths in your people, focus on these strengths and then work on developing them and dealing with some of their weaknesses. It is your job to get the best out of your people.
How do you deal with uncertainty?
Whether you like it or not, there is uncertainty in life. We can't control what happens outside, we can only control our reactions to it. One of the important things for an organisation is that it has a clear strategy and vision, and that this is communicated effectively. In other words, make sure that you are building an organisation that is able to cope with uncertainties.
Apart from teaching people to deal with uncertainty, it is important for an organisation to make sure people take responsibility for working on and developing themselves.
I try to ensure that everybody has a personal development objective. This can mean doing an MBA or learning to cope with stress better. It can be anything, as long as people recognise that in the future, they need to be able to build the skills that are going to sustain them, no matter what happens. It is not up to the HR department to develop people. People should recognise their careers are far too important to delegate to anybody else.