Damien Mu: Keeping it in the Family

By Zoe Meunier | Vol: 38 Issue: 4 | Dec 2015
  • Life Health and Retirement Income
Damien Mu

Damien Mu learned about the importance of family at a very young age. Born in Melbourne in 1975 to a Sri Lankan mother and a half-Burmese, half-Chinese father, his family lived under the one roof alongside his aunt, her family and his grandparents.

Describing his upbringing as typical of “many first-generation migrant families”, Damien reflects that it instilled in him from an early age the importance of a collective effort in getting things done.

“There was a lot of love in the house,” he says. “It definitely had an impact on me later on, in terms of enjoying being with and working with a number of people, and the lessons of everybody pulling together to help each other and get the best out of life. I really enjoy that aspect of bringing people together and looking at how you can create that team spirit and – through the collective – get a better result.”

FINDING A PURPOSE

Damien realised he’d found his calling in insurance and superannuation after falling into his first part-time job at Colonial Mutual. He had previously undertaken a Bachelor of Accounting Degree at Monash University. 

“Growing up, you have different dreams. But what binds us all as humans as we get older is that you just want to make a difference,” he says. “That’s the common thread. Working with superannuation and life insurance, you’re actually making a difference to people’s lives, whether that’s helping them achieve their retirement dreams and outcomes, or being there for them and their families in the most difficult circumstances. So there’s something very purposeful at the core of what you’re doing.”

COMPANY AND COMMUNITY

After making his mark in a number of managerial roles at Superpartners, Damien joined AIA Australia in 2007. He held various positions including Head of Group Insurance, Chief Distribution and Marketing Officer and General Manager – Life Insurance, before taking on the role as CEO in August 2014. Throughout his tenure, AIA Australia has experienced phenomenal growth, rising from eighth in the field to the second largest life insurance company in Australia. Damien puts this down to a brilliant group of people that have a collaborative mindset, are constantly looking to innovate and work with clarity of vision and purpose.

“We really wanted to look at how we could build upon our success, accelerate, and have a differentiated value proposition that meets the life insurance needs of every Australian,” he says. “We felt there was a real service and partnering element that could be brought to life insurance.”

Pivotal in this was the launch of AIA Vitality in 2014, a leading global health and wellness program with over seven million members worldwide.

“Most people take out life insurance and hope that they don’t have to claim out on it, because it means having a serious injury or illness,” Damien says. “We wanted to be more of a part of their lives in the here and now, and also potentially help them not have to claim because they’re leading a happy and healthy life.”

LIVING THE VALUES

Damien is just as invested in his own health and wellbeing, training at the gym daily, even though it means a 5.30am start. “I don’t need a lot of sleep,” he laughs. “But I think keeping fit helps keep my energy levels up. I get to the gym, go for a run and have that hour to myself to really let the endorphins kick in. Then I get to work and have time to get some things done before the day gets away.”

Nonetheless, Damien concedes that work-life balance remains an ongoing challenge, especially now that he and his wife of 14 years, Simone, have started a family. Daughter Bailey is four and son Kai is one.

“Do I get the balance right?” asks Damien, who gave up his weekend sport of AFL – a passion since school – to spend time with his kids. “Probably not all the time. But my wife Simone taught me a very important lesson, which has hopefully also helped me be a better leader. It’s not how much time you spend, it’s that when you’re with them, be present. That was really hard, because I like to think I’m a multi-tasker. But I’ve really tried to challenge myself to be present and I think I succeed most of the time.”

Damien says becoming a father has also helped him in his leadership role when it comes to dealing with difficult situations and having perspective.

“We’re in white-water all the time, right?” he says. “It’s never smooth sailing. Sometimes you’ve just got to sit back and appreciate how lucky we are and get some perspective that also helps you to think more clearly. I look at leadership as a privilege and remind myself of that every day.” And when you’re at the helm of a family as big as this, it also means accepting that things can get a bit crazy at times.

“We call it the ‘AIA family’, an army of MAD people [Making A Difference]. That means you have the great parts of a family but also elements of challenge and debate, and that’s all accepted,” Damien says. “There’s a genuine excitement within the business and where we are going; most pleasing is when our clients and partners comment on the energy and passion that’s coming through in this team. I feel very blessed to have worked with some amazing people here at AIA, and also elsewhere in my career, to achieve great things.”

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