PAN-AFRICAN financial services company, Liberty Life Insurance, recently forayed into the Lesotho market. The life insurance company is headed by Managing Director Makhakhe Maliehe, who knows the industry like the palm of his hand. Lesotho Times (LT) reporter Bereng Mpaki this week caught up with Mr Maliehe to find out what makes him tick.
LT: Who is Makhakhe Maliehe?
Maliehe: I am a 44-year old Mosotho man who is married, and has three beautiful daughters. Born in Mafeteng, I grew up went to school in Maseru. I grew up playing street soccer like most kids and ultimately played for Matlama Juniors until I enrolled at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) where I joined Rovers. I then joined Arsenal briefly after completing my degree and then hung my boots. I still play soccer to keep fit in five-a-side format. I also love travelling and reading inspirational books. But playing with my little daughters is my favourite pastime.
LT: Briefly outline your educational background?
Maliehe: I studied for a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting as my first degree at NUL. I then did a postgraduate degree at the University of the Free State where I attained my Honours and Masters in Marketing and Business Administration from 2003 to 2007.
LT: What was your first job?
Maliehe: My first job was working as a temporary cashier at the bursar’s office at NUL and I mention this because it was a defining period in my professional journey. I had studied accounting and excited about experiencing a real accounting environment. I learnt a lot by interacting, though briefly, with accomplished professionals. But I also discovered that accounting was not what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. As fate always interferes, I got a full time job as a Marketing and Advertising Manager in the Ministry of Communications and that is where I fell in love with marketing and advertising and the power of persuasion. My responsibility was to fill the advertising space for the government newspapers with adverts and then see that the copies are sold throughout the country. This was very tough as advertising was not as big in those days and corporates were really not seeing the value of spending money on advertising. But through hard work and knocking on doors we managed to fill advertising space every single week.
I then moved to Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA which is now Water and Sewerage Company) as a Marketing Manager. This was a different ball game since Basotho believe no economic value should be attached to water since it is a natural resource.
LT: When did you join the insurance industry?
Maliehe: In 2012, I joined Metropolitan Lesotho as Head of Retail. I was fortunate to get an opportunity to join a financial company. I worked really hard to understand the insurance industry and I also grew personally and professionally because when you are entrusted to look after financial interests of people you have to do that with integrity, honesty and the highest level of professionalism. I also acquired a professional certificate in order to improve my insurance proficiency.
LT: What influenced you to join the insurance industry?
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Maliehe: It was my plan to ultimately join the private sector and move into mainstream marketing and sales.
LT: Tell us about some of your outstanding achievements to date
Maliehe: I introduced a few things at WASA. For example, I set up a customer service area where clients could go and apply for services in one place and also make enquiries and queries. This really changed the experience of clients when interacting with the company as previously as a client you had to go directly to relevant departments to request a service or complain.
I also qualified for a few performance-driven competitions at Metropolitan as my team did quite well every year under my stewardship.
LT: When did you join Liberty?
Maliehe: I joined Liberty in 2015. Liberty actually approached me to apply for the position of Managing Director and initially I was very reluctant as I was still doing well in my previous job. But when we discussed their plans and I got a view of their model and products, I made a decision to join them. Liberty had actually done their homework on the environment and understood the needs of clients.
LT: What can Basotho expect from Liberty under your leadership?
Maliehe: Basotho can expect to be served by a company that understand their needs. Our research revealed that Basotho are looking for three fundamental things:
Peace of mind from the knowledge that their wealth is protected should they die, be disabled, or suffer from critical illnesses such as cancer, stroke, heart attack and so on.
Basotho are looking for affordable solutions.
And lastly, they are looking for simple solutions and this does not only talk to products but the service in general, but claim processes among others.
Because our point of departure was a clear understanding of the market needs, we are introducing products that address the three fundamental needs above. Our products are simple and affordable. For example, we recently launched a funeral plan that gives clients high pay-outs at very low premiums. We have the best technology to manage the service process, that is, from a point of sale to claim stage. We are going to empower our brokers and give them gadgets that will allow them to make sales and issue contracts without necessarily having to come to the office and that is the power of technology and innovation.
So as a leader of this company I am going to ensure that we listen to clients and continue working hard to meet their insurance needs. I expect the same from the team that I work with.
I should also add that the insurance industry in most countries, and Lesotho is no exception, is riddled by commission-driven sales which most times have nothing to do with the needs of clients. We at Liberty were once burnt by this model and our model is not driven by commission but we allow clients to buy what they need and not push them to get a sale through.
LT: What message would you like to pass on as a leader to prospective clients?
My message to the clients and prospective clients of Liberty Life Lesotho is that we are here to make financial freedom possible for them. Liberty has travelled the journey and Basotho should know that they are in the hands of a company that knows what it is doing. We fold our sleeves every day to make this possible. We are also known for paying claims and that is why people buy insurance in the first place.
For me leadership is when you believe that a vision or goal is achievable and you are able to inspire people to take the journey towards through your actions, support, listening and being disciplined and firm on traits or behaviours that have to be lived.
I have so many things that inspire my leadership style and most are from my own personal journey and some from the things I see in life. The strength of my single mother who raised three kids on her own. The inspiration sometimes comes from little things like watching small kids playing and seeing how one of them is so charismatic and naturally influences the others. It could be from icons like Chief Mohlomi who was King Moshoeshoe I’s advisor who when the King, then known as Lepoqo, asked him what the secret of great leadership is, the great sage said “Motse ha o hauoe ka setlhare, sethlare ke pelo”, meaning the only true medicine to be a great leader is the heart.