22 Apr 2020 / Article

“Influence it, don’t just endure it”

Appointed CEO of Mauritius Commercial Bank, the island’s largest private bank, in April 2017, Alain Law Min has worked at the financial institution for twenty-five years. Starting out as Business Process Reengineering project manager before moving to head up MCB’s retail division, the Mauritian opens up about the challenges of his daily life as CEO, and explains how the current health crisis has changed the way he works.

 

Work: the 5 o’clock starting pistol 

I’m a very early riser. My alarm clock goes off at 5 a.m., and I have a ritual from which I never deviate; I read the news on the CNN, BBC and Bloomberg sites to understand what is happening around the world, then leave for work at around 7 o’clock. One of the advantages of getting up early is that it allows me to avoid traffic jams, which are part of our daily life in Mauritius! At my office, the local newspaper is waiting for me and I read the island’s economic news. Obviously, I am more interested in the news directly relating to the bank’s activities. For me, it’s a moment of calm. At 8 o’clock, there are still not many people in the bank, so this is the time I usually meet with my assistant to discuss the day’s schedule and my diary for the coming weeks. 

Since becoming CEO, I attend many more meetings than before, something that I try not to dread too much. That’s one of the challenges of the job; to influence things, rather than just enduring them. That’s why I determine the priorities of each meeting in advance to make them truly effective. Of course, you also have to accept that you can’t predict everything, and that some meetings cannot be shortened.

 

Key to success: keeping in touch helps you understand 

Apart from meetings, I feel that my primary duty is to be in direct contact with other CEOs of companies in Mauritius. I try to meet each of them at least once a year. It is crucial for me to be close to the CEOs, both of the big companies and SMEs, to find out what they expect and what their needs are. It is vital to maintain this dialogue for MCB, which represents about half of the Mauritian banking market. 

 

His work style: openness and respect for employees

I do everything I can to get out in the field as much as possible and maintain links with all the bank’s departments and branches. As CEO, you’re so much in demand that there can be a tendency not to get out and about. But this is fundamental for checking the bank’s pulse, understanding the challenges, what motivates employees. At my level, it’s very rewarding to get this feedback to help you improve. 

I really do everything I can to free up time in my diary for such meetings with clients and colleagues. This is a necessity because it helps you spot potential problems on the horizon. 

Since becoming CEO, I no longer answer e-mails late at night or during the weekend. That was not good for me, nor was it good for those I was in contact with. Family time should be respected. That is how we can ensure a sustainable organisation. 

 

Home life: dinnertime is sacred 

When I was appointed CEO, the Chairman of the Board told my wife that very soon she would no longer see me at home (laughs). But even though I come home a little later than I used to, at about 7.30 p.m., we always find time to get together as a family over dinner. This was already the case when all my children were at home. During dinner, which lasts until 9 p.m., we talk about everything apart from work. It’s a time when we focus on the children – two of whom are now studying abroad – on planning holidays, or what is happening over the coming weekend. I think it’s been very beneficial for me to have kept up this routine. When I have time, I do the cooking. 

 

Identified area for improvement: putting people first

Being accountable for the impact of our actions is a top business trend today – our impact on people, society, communities and, of course, the economy. We should minimise the negative impacts and multiply the positives. The bank is profitable and we are making sure that we carry out our strategic plans for the future, but our successes also give us a form of civic responsibility. We have to put people – our customers and employees – first. We certainly have the means to do this.

 

Covid-19: What’s changed

The current lockdown has meant I’ve adopted a different way of working. For the past few weeks, my days have been mostly spent at home. My responsibilities as Chairman of the Mauritius Bankers’ Association (MBA, which comprises most of the country’s banks) and at the MCB mean that I find myself involved in many discussions concerning the measures put in place by the state to assist businesses and individuals. The assistance plan requires that I attend regular meetings with the Bank of Mauritius and government representatives by videoconference. Of course, at the MCB, I also participate in our daily crisis committee meeting, where we review our activities and find and implement solutions to any problems that might arise. 

 

In terms of efficiency, at home I am more focused and work faster, but human interaction, such as meeting with colleagues, is greatly lacking.  However, I have been able to make several visits since the beginning of the lockdown, which has allowed me to see first-hand the conditions under which our teams work and to help motivate them.  Furthermore, I remain in regular contact with members of the Leadership Team and other colleagues to ensure the coordination and smooth running of the business. It is also good to know that we have a very dynamic corporate social network, Workplace, which allows all our employees to be connected to everything that is happening across MCB.

 

Regarding new arrangements for employees, one month before the start of the pandemic in Madagascar, we had already put in place an action plan. This enabled us to react quickly, going from alert level 1 to 4 (the maximum) in the space of 48 hours. In line with this plan, most of our teams are working from home and a very small number of our colleagues, less than 10%, are in branches or offices to ensure that service continues. We have also made every effort to ensure that those working onsite are equipped with masks and hydroalcoholic solutions, while ensuring that the strictest social distancing guidelines are respected. We also ensure that offices and branches are cleaned daily. In addition, for those who have to work in an office, we make sure that they receive a food basket containing non-perishable foodstuffs.

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