During his career of more than two decades at Prudential, Dylan Tyson has racked up a number of significant achievements. He was presented with the opportunity four years ago to be transferred to Korea and then Taiwan, and brought his family along for the experience.
Dylan is now wrapping up his assignment as President and CEO of Prudential Taiwan, and will soon be traveling back to the U.S. to head the company’s annuities business. He sat down with Taiwan Business TOPICS Deputy Editor Jeremy Olivier to discuss his time in Taiwan and the life insurance business. An abridged version of the interview is below.
What did you major in in college? Did your studies prepare you for a career in financial services?
I was a history and psychology major, which I think prepared me very well for my eventual career. The world is a very complicated place, and to be a leader you need to think analytically about situations. Of course, you have to supplement that foundation with technical expertise in your field, and insurance involves a number of complex concepts. However, the common thread is the ability to engage in that analysis and to figure out how the different parts must come together to deliver the right results. My liberal arts education was helpful in that regard.
What attracted you to the insurance industry? Would you make the same choice if you were starting over?
After graduating from school, many of my friends chose to go into fields that didn’t really appeal to me. I wanted to do things differently: to start a career, to invest in learning, and to become a leader. I wanted to help create an organization that was good for society and where people could have fun working. Prudential fit the bill for me in that way. It’s a deeply good company, and it’s a company that understands that in order to foster the next generation of leaders in a complex industry, you have to give them the right experience. Given this, I would definitely make the same choice if presented with the opportunity to start over.
Your last two assignments have been overseas. Did you actively seek out the opportunity to go abroad?
I started expressing my openness to an international assignment pretty early in my career, although nothing came of it at that time. But in 2015 I was presented with the opportunity to take over the position of Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer in Korea. Around 40% of Prudential’s earnings is derived internationally, so the overseas offices are an incredibly important part of the business. I was excited to try something that I believed would be richly rewarding on a personal and professional basis.
What were the pros and cons of the expat experience? Was there a big difference in living and working in Korea and Taiwan?
One of the biggest advantages of being here is the ability to remove yourself from your normal frame of reference, to experience things at a level that is just not possible as a tourist. I found that I’ve developed an appreciation for this part of the world, and my time here has helped me challenge some of those unexamined assumptions that I and other Americans sometimes hold. I also think that being able to come here and experience all of this with my family and to take advantage of how easy it is to travel around this region has really helped broaden our horizons.
On the flipside, there are some negative aspects of being an expat here. You’re presented with this tremendous learning opportunity, but sometimes that can feel quite overwhelming. Sometimes you just want comfort – to not have to think too hard about small transactions or interactions. I think this can be overcome, but you have to have a sense of humor for when things don’t go right.
One of the biggest differences between Taiwan and Korea is the weather, which took some getting used to. Also, in Taiwan our operation is led very prominently by women, while Korean companies tend to be more male-dominated. You can see this difference pretty clearly in a company’s ranks and who the star performers are.
However, both places ascribe to Confucian ideals and both are very safe. Also, the local people are very gracious to foreigners. Their kindness and generosity, as well as their willingness to provide help when needed is something that my family and I will always appreciate about our time here.
What do you regard as your main strengths as a manager? Do you have a certain philosophy of management that you follow?
Where I think I’m best is being able to look at the different pieces of the business and figure out how they can fit together. Determining what changes need to be made in order to make the pieces work better, to generate a unifying sense of how the company should be run. I enjoy very much working with smart people, and so it’s important for me to be in a place where I’m learning a lot from those around me, where I’m able to test ideas, and where I can help put together a plan to make the company better.
My management philosophy is that if you trust that people are ultimately very intelligent, understand what their hopes and dreams are, and then match that with what the business needs – putting people in areas where they’re doing what they love and where the work is well aligned with the company’s goals – it makes getting results very simple and creates a lot of positive energy.
I think it’s particularly important to insist on the idea that tomorrow can be better than today – that there are a million little things we can do to improve, that people are incredibly powerful, that our job as leaders is to put people in places where they can make a difference – for the company, for their families, and for society.
What are the most significant characteristics of the life insurance market in Taiwan? What are the main ways it differs from other markets?
I believe that Taiwan is trying to move towards a stronger protection regime. The government’s top-down leadership is helping focus the industry on the importance of protection, and there’s no question that life insurance is an incredibly important market here. Taiwan has led the world in terms of its insurance penetration ratio for over a decade, and life insurance premiums as a percentage of GDP are higher here than they are in any other country. However, that doesn’t mean that Taiwanese people are necessarily well-protected yet. There is still work to do, and at Prudential we are working towards that goal. But it’s an imperative that applies to the whole industry.
Something that is not unique just to Taiwan’s insurance market, but to a number of East Asian countries, is the issue of longevity. People in Taiwan are living longer and healthier lives. This is definitely a blessing, but it also creates challenges, such as making sure people have a protected lifetime income and that they’re able to plan for their later years. Taiwan should be thinking about these things in crafting its public policy.
You devoted time to AmCham activities as a committee chair, supervisor, and member of the CEO Mission to Washington. How worthwhile was the Chamber experience?
AmCham Taipei is a great example of an exceptionally run organization with tremendously passionate people on staff who are taking care of important tasks every day. Although Prudential had been involved with the Chamber for some time before I arrived in Taiwan, I decided to dive in and take an active role almost immediately. The experience has allowed me to not only engage more deeply with my own industry – during my time in the insurance committee, we would have quarterly engagement sessions with the government, which was important to developing and maintaining strong relationships – but it also helped me look across industries.
The culmination of my experience at AmCham was the CEO Mission to Washington, where in four action-packed days we met with numerous politicians and officials, pushing forward the things that are important for the Chamber’s members.
AmCham’s role of leveraging its relationships to promote the many commercial opportunities between Taiwan and the U.S. is something that needs to be recognized. Organizations don’t run well without strong leadership, and I’ve been very fortunate to come in and play some small role in working with people toward common goals.
What advice would you give to someone considering an assignment to Taiwan?
Come! Don’t give it a second thought. Taiwan is an amazing place with a rich culture and so many new things to learn and experience. The warm, welcoming society that you get to be part of, and the ability to be outside of your home country, changes you and makes you see things in a different light. For me, coming here has been the privilege of a lifetime.