EP 190 – Jan Mandrup Olesen – Head of Delivery – Seven Peaks Software – You Need to Be Change-Ready

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Michael Waitze worked in Global Finance for more than 20 years, employed by firms like Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, primarily in Tokyo.  Michael lived and worked in Tokyo from February 1990 until December 2011.  Michael always maintained a particular focus on how technology could be used to make businesses more efficient and to drive P/L growth. Michael is a leader in the digital media space, building one of the biggest and fastest-growing podcast listener bases in the region.  His AsiaTechPodcast.com show has listeners in more than 170 countries and his company, Michael Waitze Media produces some of Asia’s most popular podcasts.

I am a global professional who thrives in international, complex and changing environments. My true passion is to transform business and organization from the frontline, as a passionate, inclusive, and inspiring leader or recognized subject matter expert. Through my international career, I have had the opportunity to work on some of the most complex business transformation programs which have provided me with diverse and crossfunctional experience across all aspects of a successful digital transformation journey I am recognized as an inspiring, change-ready, and super resilient individual with an “Out of the box thinker with a let’s get things done mindset”

The Asia InsurTech Podcast spoke with Jan Mandrup Olesen, the Head of Delivery at Seven Peaks Software. Jan has a long history of digital transformation in and out of the insurance industry. We covered a lot of topics, including how important the proper mindset is and how his insurance industry colleagues were hungry for technological change.

Michael Waitze 0:04
Hi, this is Michael Waitze and welcome back to the Asia InsurTech Podcast. I want to give it my best shot. Yeah. Today we are joined by Jan Mandrup Olesen, the Head of Delivery at Seven Peaks Software, one of our favorite conversational teams, Jan, it’s great to have you on the show. How are you doing today?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 0:21
Great to be here. Michael. I’m doing fantastic.

Michael Waitze 0:24
So thanks for coming out. I think before you got here, you thought, oh my god, it’s so far away. Should I take a plane? Maybe should I rent the car kind of thing? It wasn’t that bad? No,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 0:32
it was brilliant. I haven’t been to a true digital park before. And it’s actually very convenient and amazing location. Yeah, it’s

Michael Waitze 0:40
not bad. And I don’t know if you notice on your way in, but they’ve just opened up a new building next door,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 0:44
or whatever, there was so much going on. I mean, I think this great environment.

Michael Waitze 0:48
Yeah, I love it here. I actually love it here. And you saw on your walk on the sixth floors, we came up to the seventh floor like it’s a massive, it’s a massive undertaking. And I think what they’re trying to do is build this ecosystem around startups, media and stuff like that. And I think it’s working for the most part. Before we get into the main part of the conversation, we like to ask all of our guests what they think the biggest trend or one of the interesting trends in insurance and InsurTech. And I want to ask you that as well. What do you think, I think is

Jan Mandrup Olesen 1:17
two things. One is how people are working, because traditionally doing things in a certain way. So everyone is redefining how they work. Okay, which is we can get to that later. Yeah. And then the other trend is really to start embedding some intelligence in AI into how can we make decision faster, and reduce risk without having a human eye? Looking at it?

Michael Waitze 1:42
Wow, that’s really, really so we’re gonna get back to that in a second. And how about you? Can I get some of your background do like we’ve known each other for a while now. And I don’t feel like I know that much about you.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 1:52
Sure. Well, I am a I am a Dane, Dane growing up in Denmark, in the cold, cold north. My original background is actually in electronics. And the last part of electronics is that you know how to troubleshoot and identify where problems are in the different machines, right. And when I was in electronics, there was where the early days of computers and Windows three point something three, something I was there to exactly. And you didn’t really have a dedicated IT function at that time. So that was at least where I were that was the tech team that was also doing that. And that really triggered my interest. And since that day, I never looked back. I kind of like,

Michael Waitze 2:34
well, you weren’t a software developer? No. But do you write software now?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 2:38
No. Okay, that’s

Michael Waitze 2:39
even more interesting. How did you how did you go with then tell me this? Again? How do you go from electronics into software delivery software? Because look, I think there’s a misunderstanding between a lot of people that like a CTO has to be somebody who’s writing code constantly, right? You have to understand like what the point of software is, and the architecture around it. I guess, if you were there for Windows 3.0. We don’t really have to date ourselves. But that was a while ago. Yeah. Do you remember the difference between Windows two point something and Windows three point something?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 3:08
Probably I only seen das and then three point something. But really, yeah.

Michael Waitze 3:12
But when you saw 3.0? I’ll tell you my, my understanding of this, right. We use Windows one, we use Windows two at Morgan Stanley. And it was really clunky. But we didn’t have many other choices, right? Nobody was using Mac in an office. You have

Jan Mandrup Olesen 3:26
OS two from IBM. I installed a lot of those.

Michael Waitze 3:29
Yeah. So we try that to be fair, and we installed OS two at home as well. But companies just didn’t uptake it. They just didn’t do it. There was something about the sales part of Microsoft back then. Was it Steve Ballmer and, and Bill Gates, if I remember correctly, yeah. And everybody was just using Windows, right? But when 3.0 came out, everything changed. Because it was much easier to use, it didn’t crash as much. You know, we talked about the blue screen from hell still crashed. I mean, think about this. I can still type onto Twitter, three words. And everybody within 15 years of my age knows exactly what it means. Right? Do you know what those three words are? Control as the lead exactly, I noticed I didn’t have to finish the minute so that’s my point is that it was just so ubiquitous, right that it was everywhere. But how did you go from the electronics into that it functionality into what you’re doing today?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 4:29
So great question. So background in electronics is really about you get super analytical you get super Did you study electrical engineering? Yeah. So I can build

Michael Waitze 4:39
a circuit board. Okay, so I should leave now. Like why am I talking to you?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 4:43
Well, what you also did was that you were the one that was called upon if one of these new computers came into the house and needs to be connected, still dial up modems or whatever. So you were doing that and you saw these, this transition into these PCs, etc. Coming in just not getting the network connected, etc. And that was just exciting. Back then there was also if something didn’t work, there wasn’t an internet community, you could reach out, you had to figure out why the machine stopped working

Michael Waitze 5:11
from the port from zero in a way, right? Correct. Like literally when people talk about sorry, zero to one. And again, I don’t think most people understand what binary means. But we can talk about this, you literally had you just didn’t go, Okay, what’s not working, and then kind of back into where it started, and then try to figure out along the way, where it was broken? Yeah,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 5:26
yeah. But even if it was a server, or a laptop, you still need to figure out why did something crash? Yeah. Whereas today, you will probably just restart it. And now problem solve, but back then, you will actually figure out what it was right? Why did it behave as it did, and as coming from the electronic analytic troubleshooting background, it just felt natural to drill into and figure out why did something not work, and there was always an explanation deep in somewhere in the machine, right? Whereas today, you will Google it, and there’ll be either recipe of what to do, or you will just try and restart it. Now. It magically worked.

Michael Waitze 6:02
Right? And back, then you would you couldn’t do that said today, even if you do the magical restarting, or even if you go to the source of what I call all knowledge, YouTube, yes. Right. Which again, will give you a recipe for fixing do this, do this do this. And part of the issue for me is then I don’t learn anything. Correct. I know how to solve a specific problem. But I don’t know how, like the overall framework of why that problem happened. And then how to fix bigger things without going back to YouTube. Correct? Right. But back then, there was no YouTube, you had to there was no nothing, right? Yes, there was maybe some guy in another town who knew and you’d have to call him

Jan Mandrup Olesen 6:37
correct on the landline

Michael Waitze 6:40
to be able to fix it. But now that we’re here, what’s the difference, though? Do you know what I mean?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 6:47
Well, everyone keeps saying, Oh, it’s getting too much too low, but too complex to figure it out. But for me, that’s not right. Because there’s a root cause a computer it software, electronics, it’s not behaving, it’s not going rogue in any way. It’s bound by whatever we’re programmed to do. What you told me, so there’s something that’s make it happen or not work. And there’s always an explanation. And if you accept, I think it’s a little bit how do you accept people to solve a problem? Do you accept that they just quickly fix it? And without knowing why it happened? Hater? Yeah? Or do you need to you demand that people actually figure out the root cause? Because that’s the only way preventing something from happening again?

Michael Waitze 7:29
Again? No, right? I mean, this is the thing I’ve always wanted to know why. And even though I wasn’t a computer programmer, nor was I even remotely qualified, ever to be an electrical engineer, I always wanted to understand why. Right? So when I was on the, the other side of the delivery mechanism, right, where people were delivering things to me if they didn’t work, I really wanted to dig deeply and figure out why. So one of the things that I like to say, because one of the traders on the desk at Goldman Sachs, who was an engineer, like you once said, to me, an engineers job fundamentally, right, is to minimize noise, and to find signals. Right? So if you and he explained it to me like this, if you have a line, right, like a physical on a copper wire, some kind of wire, and on that wire, there’s all this data, all this information going through it, right? There’s a lot of noise there as well. But there are signals there for the stuff that you’re trying to find. And if you can minimize because he said to me, you can’t eliminate noise. But you can minimize it. And then those signals get amplified. And this gets back to the problem solving. How do I amplify those things that I really want to understand and minimize the noise? So that I can actually hear those signals? Does that make sense?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 8:41
Not sure. I think there’s too deep into the engineering space. To talk about today. Yeah. Big because, I mean, what I was going to say is that even though I started in electronics, I abandoned that space quite early and pivot into the more software and IT and from there it really, you use your analytical background, right? But you basically were okay, now I’m going the it route.

Michael Waitze 9:07
Did you see this as a massive business opportunity back then? Like, I don’t even know how old are you?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 9:12
I’m 47. Okay, I thought you were a lot younger. Yeah, I’m just frozen in time.

Michael Waitze 9:18
It feels good to be frozen in time. Okay, this is gonna get a lot more interesting. Did you see back then, that this was like a massive opportunity? In other words, did you know I did, the reason why I’m asking you is I was sitting on, I was sitting just before I joined the trading desk, I was sitting there going, I need to understand the way all this tech works. Because I can fast forward 20 years from now and think that everything we do is going to be tech and every company is going to be a tech company. And if I don’t understand it, I’m gonna get left behind. Right. So you moved you switch domains. Right? You took all the analytical benefits of understanding how engineering works, and said, I’m moving into software. Was that purposeful? Do you know what I mean?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 9:54
Yeah, it just felt that was more interesting. And then, again, arbitrary Did you know that presented itself and said, Oh, let’s jump on that.

Michael Waitze 10:03
So what were those opportunities? Well,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 10:05
there was, as you said, there was a lot of traction in Pcs being sold, devices start to get the network connected. All the large companies were investing in this. And hence there was a list of job openings versus the electronic industry was a little bit more stole. So I just jumped on one of those and never looked back.

Michael Waitze 10:26
So you remember the first network stuff you installed? Oh, you heard about the hardware? I’m talking about the soft Oh, yeah.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 10:30
That was the good old PC, LAN connections, that token ring network. That’s what I wanted. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 10:35
Was it Novell? Well,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 10:37
we use IBM, but yeah, Novell was one. Novell. Yeah. Or IBM. I guess that’s

Michael Waitze 10:42
I was talking about this a few weeks ago. I remember when they installed a network, right? We had email at Morgan Stanley mainframe mail, like when I first joined, that was in 1987. Morgan did a really good job actually, having like, great tech, from the beginning was one of the reasons why it was such a great company. But when I moved to Japan, with Morgan Stanley, we had to send stuff to London and send stuff to New York. And it was a pain, right? Like, how do you keep track of did I send you that file? Like we used to name files, who would be like the date? And then would say final? Final load to write? Right? Because you didn’t know? Yeah, but it was vital. And then somebody in London made a change. But once we installed the network stuff, which is why I asked you, you didn’t have to do that anymore. Right? It changed everything. No,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 11:26
yeah, it starts to get interconnected. Now you start to have the collaboration. But with that also came all the other headaches with security. Yeah, security and things where like someone could get access to things they’re not supposed to.

Michael Waitze 11:38
So again, I tell the security story all the time. But when I first when I got my first son workstation when we first started installing them, or Morgan Stanley, because for two or three years, I was actually is that true? Internet connection to two years? I was a Unix sysadmin. Oh, yeah. You

Jan Mandrup Olesen 11:54
didn’t? Yeah, well, good ol Unix,

Michael Waitze 11:56
you didn’t know that. I mean, Unix is still I mean, that’s what the Mac OS is, is Unix, right? And to be fair, I would guess that a lot of Windows has been ported over to some type of Unix. So anyway, we can talk about that later. But the point is that once we got all of our Sun workstations connected, and once the internet really started happening, right, kind of like in the mid to late 90s. And you understood telnet commands, and you understood, you know, super user of stuff like that. I was just like at my desk on the weekend, because I loved coming in just playing on the computer just went, I wonder if I could get into amazon.com. Right. Right. Which you could, this is the security thing you’re talking about, right? I remember like, tell netting into amazon.com. And I was just like, on one of their servers so nervous, because I was like, Oh, nobody knows. I just like logged out.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 12:45
Oh, so part time, Hager.

Michael Waitze 12:47
I wasn’t a hugger. I don’t want to talk about being a hacker. But my point was that like security wasn’t a big concern back then.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 12:53
So one of the opportunities I took in Denmark was from a shipping company immerse, largest, and they had an ITA. And they were actually installing servers and machines and firewalls in every single office around the world, which was like 100 Plus, yeah. So we were shipping out boxes, people were traveling around connecting them. And security was always a concern that you had because you operating in countries were you were even further behind. Yeah, so firewalls and all of that. And that was kind of like where it really said, this is exciting this so much future in this. And that was also the gateway to come to Asia.

Michael Waitze 13:31
So I was gonna ask you that, right? Because we’re sitting in Bangkok right now. And we’ve only really spent time talking about Denmark, right? How did you get from there to here? And when was that, by the way?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 13:40
Well, in 2005,

Michael Waitze 13:42
it’s a while ago,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 13:43
as a while ago, most decided to sell off the ITR to IBM and then outsource the service back back years, probably. And that was correct. Well, they have to either invest to grow to support their global operation, or they need to sell it to someone that was already global present. Well, they

Michael Waitze 13:59
had to ask themselves like, are we a tech services company? Correct? Or are we going to outsource that to a company who’s going to service us great on our technology? So

Jan Mandrup Olesen 14:06
they were moving boxes around? Right moving stuff around company? Yeah. So that was also the golden ticket, because with the IBM acquisition also came that they also acquired a subsidiary in Japan. And my boss said, Hey, and you indicated for the last many years that you would like to go abroad. Now there is an opportunity. It’s in Japan, are you interested?

Michael Waitze 14:27
Because you’re still young in 2005? You were 30. Actually, I

Jan Mandrup Olesen 14:30
arrived the day before my 30th birthday Aronoff and I was like, Yes, I want to go. But I was sure it’s a different country in Japan. Yeah. Isn’t Tokyo. I want to go in Tokyo. I said I want to go. I said, Are you sure thing about I don’t want to think about I want to go and I think that’s another thing. If you want to succeed in the tech, you really need to be changed. Ready?

Michael Waitze 14:50
Yeah. Let me tell you my favorite story about this. You know, I was at Goldman Sachs. And we had we had built a really great portfolio trading businesses in Japan. It took some time. It was hard work. A lot of the work was actually tech work, the trading stuff we knew how to do. But it’s a heavily technologized business, I just want to get back to this, you have to be prepared to change. My boss came to me on a Monday in December, tapped me on the shoulder because we had a whole other Asian business that we needed to build out. And he said, we’re having some issues in Hong Kong, would you be willing to go to Hong Kong to help us fix that business from a trading perspective, and also install best practices on the tech side, which you’ve done here? And I was like, I’m already packed. Just like you. Yes, I wasn’t packed. But that was my metaphor for saying, I’m ready to go. Well, the funny part is, he came to me on Thursday, the same week, and he said, you’re leaving tomorrow? Now luckily, I didn’t care. But it’s the same thing or Yes.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 15:42
Yes, exactly. So I went on the lane. And interesting enough, I mean, you are traveling around on vacation, whatever. But actually, that one way ticket I had, somehow I felt calm. Yeah, I didn’t feel excited. See what’s happening. I felt no, this is going to be an adventure and coming to Japan. Completely different culture. super difficult. At that time. Yeah. But super exciting. 2005

Michael Waitze 16:07
I was there, but also because you’re Danish, which means on average, you’re tall. Yes. So for the first time in your life, on a day to day basis,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 16:18
you also stick out? Oh, yes. And you felt that immediately,

Michael Waitze 16:22
right. This is an interesting thing. Culturally. Sorry. Go ahead. Yeah, no, you really

Jan Mandrup Olesen 16:25
felt that and at that time, we were having the the subsidiary office was in May. So Luca, he sits outside of Tokyo, and that is just on the border where the signs on the subway, stop being in English. Because it was only those station that was part of the World Cup to my understanding there was translated at that time I

Michael Waitze 16:44
got it. I got its insight. If you know the way if you know the way Tokyo setup, it’s a bunch of concentric circles. Yeah, it’s like Dante’s Inferno.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 16:51
So if you outside like that, you really felt that different culture.

Michael Waitze 16:55
Yeah, I’m trying to remember the name of the street that if you’re inside, it’s kind of like you’re in the city. And if you’re outside, I’m trying to remember I can’t remember anymore. It’s been 10, or what now? It’s completely changed. Yeah, that I understand. Yeah. And might have that experience, like, how long were you there in Tokyo? So I

Jan Mandrup Olesen 17:09
was there until 2008. So basically, the job was quite tough, because the job was basically to close down the office integrated into IBM. And without interrupting the service that that office delivered to the clients. So it was very hard. It was a huge change management task. And Japanese don’t like change. So it was really hard. You’re almost baptized with fire

Michael Waitze 17:35
from the beginning, though, like correct from the get go. Right. So

Jan Mandrup Olesen 17:39
but super time, but you also learned a lot and you got build some of that resilience. Yeah. When the contract was up, job was done, said I’m not going back to the cold north. I got to like Asia. I liked the culture. I liked that standing out at but you also saw that there was so much momentum here. Yeah, you could feel it. Right. Right. And in 2008, basically, on the peak of the before the financial crash. Yeah. So got a internal opportunity in Thailand, moved to Thailand was here eight years with IBM. Oh, wow. Yeah.

Michael Waitze 18:10
What were you doing here? What were you doing with IBM in Thailand?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 18:12
So I was I mean, first of all, if you engage IBM in Thailand, you’re probably one of the multinationals or you really have a really complicated project, because the rates are not IBM is not cheap.

Michael Waitze 18:22
Are you talking about if you’re a company in Thailand that

Jan Mandrup Olesen 18:25
engage IBM on a project? Yeah, it’s either you are part of a global gigantic Framework Agreement, or you are like having a project that’s so complicated that you need that expertise. Yeah. Because IBM is not cheap. No. So I was the program director and programs and projects that I got was hence that super complicated, right? So we were sold transformational programs, transforming business processes using technology, and it was project delivery. What were

Michael Waitze 18:52
some of the things that you notice moving from Tokyo, which is very organized and moving to Bangkok,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 18:58
well, let’s organize less and less conformed, right. But again, there was also like, it gave opportunities because you were not bound by that. That norm, right.

Michael Waitze 19:09
So here’s the thing that I like to say, because I moved from Japan, to Thailand, just like you did. Yeah. Right. And a lot of people said to me, was it really hard to move from Tokyo, which seems really civilized into Thailand, which seems a little bit crazier. And I said to them, Look, what you see from the outside in Bangkok is not what we see on the inside. And that inside of what I call chaos is order. And as long as you can understand that order, it’s very on different in a way. Here’s the other thing. It’s a Buddhist country that has a king or something like an emperor as a leader, and it’s very family oriented. And in that sense, not that different for me from living in Japan.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 19:47
Yeah, so I think that workwise equally as tough culture wise, equally different in its own way. chaos and order. Yeah, probably more chaos. Yeah, you need to actually open your eyes when in Tokyo you wouldn’t There will be someone preventing you from falling into the hole. Yeah, if there was a hole, you will fall into it if you walk around blindly, right? So you just needs to be mindful. But yeah, it was a great transition again, super tough, exciting project. Yeah. And here’s the thing, a lot of the projects at that time the transformational projects was driven by software that was already built SAP or the likes, got it. And everyone said, oh, so yeah, what module of SAP? Do you know, because I was an SCP project director. And I was like, I don’t know any of them. Oh, that’s very typical. Because normally, you start as a consultant, and then you progress to project management. And I said, Well, I have the advantage that I’m not getting sucked into that module. I’m not biased, correct. I’m staying in the helicopter view. I’m looking across all modules, all processes, putting that analytical mindset to use, which I think is what made me successful in the delivery part, right. So what happened was, I was actually quite happy with delivering things, seeing the outcome, seeing the changes and the results. And over the years, the projects became more and more agile in nature, and less software, packaged software and more bespoke development.

Michael Waitze 21:14
So what does that mean? I’ve heard a lot of conversations about, you know, again, I’m 10 years older than you, right? So agile as a thing, didn’t really exist until sort of the later part of my career. Most of the software development stuff that we saw was waterfall style. Yeah. Right. And you can define that if you want to. But what do you mean when you talk about agile, so

Jan Mandrup Olesen 21:35
I mean, a classical software waterfall project says you have all the requirements, it’s locked in, and then you start realizing or building it, right. And I think people saw that there’s a time aspect when you’re transforming Time is of the essence, right? If you do it too late, whatever you’re transforming into, it’s already obsolete, right? If you do it too fast, you might also miss something. So you need to find a balance, you need to find a way of working where you can pivot. So what Agile says that you don’t need to know you still need to lock the requirements before you start doing it. But you don’t need to lock all of it right. So you can say I just need to know this for me to get started. And then I need to know more along the way, which will allow me to get started on something new. So it’s a rolling, iterative approach, which will allow you to go faster, but also to say, now I’ve done enough, let’s stop or if something happens, let’s pivot.

Michael Waitze 22:25
Let’s change, right. Yeah. And again, like you said, with a one way ticket to go to Japan, if you can’t get rid of your own biases on any particular module, or a piece of packaged software that you’re already using and saying this is the solution to everything, right? And if you don’t want to even leave the location in which you’re operating, your ability to do what you do is zero really, right? Because your your mind is closed to new opportunities, new ideas and new ways of doing things. And in a way you’re none of your life is agile. Is that fair? Yes. Because the way you live your normal day to day life, if it were fixed, you never would have gotten on a plane and got to Japan,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 22:57
correct. You would not you might have a plan of where you’re going on vacation this year. But you don’t have a plan that says what are you doing every day of the year?

Michael Waitze 23:04
Exactly. Exactly. And that’s a great way I think to explain this. How did you get into the insurance business? I don’t even see the entry point. Yeah, so

Jan Mandrup Olesen 23:11
being with IBM, after 12 plus years, I got a little bit tired, but then say I want to try something else. Okay. And you had all

Michael Waitze 23:18
these skills? No. Yeah. So

Jan Mandrup Olesen 23:20
strong delivery background, exposed to Agile exposed to building digital solution. That was the last thing I did have some of the projects. Out of the blue comes an offer from Hong Kong. Manulife wants to really do a big step, pivoting into a more agile way of working, and they needed to build an agile Center of Excellence.

Michael Waitze 23:39
Had you been working on projects for them? No. So how did they find you?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 23:44
Well, they there’s not that again, at that time. 2017. Okay, at the aisle, there was a lot of people talking about some was doing it, but you still didn’t have a very large talent pool in Asia. So fair enough. They need to look around who knows something of it. And apparently I did. Yeah. I said, this is awesome. Let me try move to Hong Kong. Sounds like a good challenge. And yeah, so the task was very clear. Jan, we have 11 countries in Asia, I want you to build a center of excellence that can help drive that those 11 countries start changing the way they

Michael Waitze 24:19
work. This is a massive job, though. Yes. And have you ever been to Hong Kong before?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 24:24
Been on a business trip? A long time they’ve never lived? Where did

Michael Waitze 24:28
you live when you went there for Manulife one cha cha, it’s you’re laughing, right? My first time in Hong Kong was 1990. And back then one Chai was a different place. Right. But it’s been gentrified in a way that we couldn’t have imagined back in the early to mid 90s. Right. So you’re smiling. I’m smiling for a different reason we can get to that later. Did you know anything about insurance before you got into Manulife? Like Had you worked on insurance projects that IBM or

Jan Mandrup Olesen 24:52
I worked on on the last insurance project here for ACB life which was sold which was sold to FWD correct so before they sold it, I was Leading we build a electronic KYC solution. Okay, so you could do it in in minutes rather than they says weeks. Yeah. And a POS solution. Right. Okay. And Manulife was having already having a roadmap of what they wanted to do. What they needed was someone who could help challenge how they get it done.

Michael Waitze 25:17
Got it? Yeah. So did you have to learn a whole bunch of stuff about the insurance industry? And I guess the more important thing is, what was the benefit for you as an outsider coming in? And just going I don’t know anything about this, taking that 35,000 helicopter view, again, with helicopters don’t go that high. But you know what I mean, and then saying, I think I understand how to help here.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 25:36
Great question. So part of my job was, I need to get those 11 countries started. So I trained all the leadership in all living countries on agile on agile. So when I was training them, they all came with this. But if when we are doing this, this won’t work because of this. And I said, Well, I don’t know what you’re doing. I know this will work. So instead of thinking of that, whatever you did, before, what however you used to do it, I don’t know any of that, right? Because I’m not a deep insurance expert. I am here to change and challenge you to do it in a new way.

Michael Waitze 26:06
But can I ask you this, though? I have this real bias, maybe the wrong word. I don’t know what the right word is. But just work with me. I don’t like when people tell me stuff can’t get done. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, where they say, Oh, that’s not going to work. It just there’s something inside me that doesn’t like that phrase. Maybe they can say it hasn’t worked up until now. Or we don’t know how to get that to work. But that’s not going to work, particularly in the software sphere. It can work. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, because it’s software. Sorry, go ahead.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 26:33
So I think the reason why I managed to get an impact and succeed in this role was that there was actually the Roblox was clear already, that the whole top management, global to regional to country level was on board that we need to change. So they had already decided when need to, they still have doubt that can it work? Or how will it work? That’s the first roadblock, if someone says they really don’t want to change, your job gets 100 times hard. Yeah. And you will probably never succeed. So the path was already laid. Now it was for me to build a team of experts that could show the way right.

Michael Waitze 27:10
Was there some kind of concern internally with people that had been around for a while? Did you sense a fear of because management change is great, but cultural change is harder, right? And when you’re changing the way things get done at their core, even if the pathways there, you still have to change the mindset of the people that are like digging the road along that path? Yeah. Because they’ve already been building. I know this from when I was a golden, they’ve always been programming always been building the same way. And to be fair, it’s worked at some level, right? Did you have to change mindset to

Jan Mandrup Olesen 27:36
you did, but surprisingly enough, there was actually a huge hunger to understand what this means and tried to be part of that transformation. That’s kind of cool. Yeah. And it was surprisingly, functions like compliance audit, they came and said, Hey, I want to get started. What can I do different release was like very a typical, because normally, I would expect that the IT guys will say, Yeah, let’s use that. But but it was actually also the business side.

Michael Waitze 28:02
But how did they know in other words was there’s like a big proclamation that a senior manager made, we’re going to change the way we deliver software and the way we do stuff. And then company, little divisions inside the company, like, yeah, we need that.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 28:13
So it was published from global that is part of a strategy to change the way we work, there was KPIs, etc, targets around it. So of course helps to get people on board, you, you’ve been to Hong Kong, you want to get your bonus, that’s quite significant. So you really want to make sure that happens. So there was a motivation to get on board. But actually, that wasn’t a post thing. This team must do it. This team can wait, that wasn’t there. That was up for for me and the different organization to figure out so that those coming to the table saying, hey, I want to also get started was actually amazing. And it made the job easier.

Michael Waitze 28:51
You were older than I mean, there’s a big difference between being 30 years old, or just the day before your 30th birthday, right and landing in Japan and ending up in Hong Kong at 42. Yes, right. In a way. You’re like a completely different person, if you want to be honest with yourself, right? Oh, yes. And all this stuff that you’ve learned over time. And in the interim, had you ever moved back and lived in Denmark? No. So you’ve literally left 2005 17 years ago? Yes. And you’ve never lived at home since? No. Okay, so you’re on the same trajectory that I was your age?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 29:21
Well, I think Japan that challenge as well as these very, very tough projects in Thailand with some really tough companies that really build you that resilience and you really got battle tested. So with that resilience, I think is key if you’re trying to change the mindset because you cannot be put down with someone who don’t understand it. Or someone who don’t want to change you need to keep you need to be that game machine where the the just keeps coming back. Yeah, exactly. keep popping up, right because you need to keep finding new ways to try and convince people that this is the right way to do so.

Michael Waitze 29:57
By the time you got to Manulife you weren’t even afraid rate of going into a new industry, right? Because insurance is very different than I mean, you’ve done some messed up life stuff here right to be fair, but Manulife global company, real scale on the insurance side, right? And you weren’t afraid at all, because you’d already been whacked down a bunch of different.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 30:14
So I said, Well, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let me tell you how you work, right? And then then you tell me what it is you need to do, right? For an insurance business to run. But you also need to do a little bit of studying. And I think that’s another trait of mine that been very resourceful and learning enough of a new industry for you to be impactful.

Michael Waitze 30:33
Do you feel like there’s something actually super important, and I wonder if you can feel it as well. People talk all this kind of garbage, like constant learning, constant learning, constant learning, right? But the reality is, again, going back to the mindset that you had, when you were 30, or 29, when you moved to Japan, if your mind is open, you don’t even have to convince yourself to learn. You’re just always doing it anyway. Yes. And even at 47, you’re not afraid to do new things, or learn new stuff or enter a new industry or even just help build a new product. Yeah, right. Which is so key, because you can see the differentiation, frankly, at 25. It’s hard to tell who’s who. But as you go along in your career, you can see the guys and gals that like stop learning, like I do this really well. And I’m gonna keep doing it, versus the guys and gals that are like, I don’t know, I’ll go there. Try that kind of thing. It’s like a completely different animal. No,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 31:21
yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, during the eight years or nine years and IBM, Thailand, I mean, I did in coal industry, refining, petrochemical manufacturing, banking. So you always I mean, the great thing is people are in any industry is proud of what they do. Yeah, yeah, ask the right questions. And you will have to shut them off, they will stop talking and you can’t shut them off, right. So it’s not like people are holding on to it. And you coming in knowing nothing, there is no danger and then sharing the information. Whereas if you came in from a competitor, they’ll say, oh, cat, talk to Michael about pet MRI. So everyone was open, it was up to you how much knowledge you could absorb, and what you needed to know, to be impactful and effectful in

Michael Waitze 32:03
detail, you’re using all the stuff that you’ve learned. Working at Manulife, you also worked at Sunlife. A little bit as well. Yeah, yeah. So could you take the stuff you did at Manulife? Or was it a similar thing to do at Sonnar? No.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 32:13
So I managed to get that agile, get them changed in the way they work, get this embedded into them. And actually, the best manifesto of that it really worked was when COVID hit. I already left her Manulife at that time. But just barely, though. Just bear Go ahead. Yeah, one year later, I caught up with one of my friends from from annual ovente. And you will know what we managed to actually pivot very quickly. Because, of course, there was a sense of urgency generated by COVID. Right. But people knew what to do join your training, the 2000 plus people you trained Wow, actually somehow had it in their spine, they might not have used it until that day. But they didn’t go into panic, they have something. So really well done is like a sleeper cell of knowledge that suddenly was was activated and put to work.

Michael Waitze 33:00
So when you heard that part of that conversation, what did it make you feel? Well,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 33:03
of course, I was proud that I’ve been one of the driving factor of of embedding that I didn’t leave because I didn’t enjoy doing this agile Center of Excellence. I left because there was an opportunity in sonlife to combine the many years of delivery experience with the agility way of working was they wanted to build a digital platform. Okay, they needed a platform owner, they understood how to work agile, right? And could get things done. So

Michael Waitze 33:30
now an even bigger job. Different job. Yeah, yeah, sorry. I don’t want to make it Oh, no, I compare them per se. But like, you just keep progressing. Yes, along the way. Right. And yeah, much different job. You had to use all the Agile stuff you did was the software development methodology, like at some when you got there? So did you have to do any of this sort of sleeper cells stuff? You did it manually? No.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 33:50
Well, it was tasked there was like, when Steve Jobs invented the iPhone, you go into a room, you get the people who need or you hire the people into that room, he locks the door, right? Not to keep people in, but keep other people from coming in. to disturb him, right. So it was the same. It’s a good estimation by the same philosophy there. Here’s your room, you can fill it with the people you need

Michael Waitze 34:12
and get it done. Was that fun for you as well.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 34:15
Super fun. We tried to within and financial services, very compliance, very regulated, we try to build a startup culture. And because we had our own space, now visiting true pocket where we have all this co working space around us, but because you had similar setup because you had your own space, you could do things that you couldn’t do in the traditional offices where the underwriters were setting and

Michael Waitze 34:37
this is like the Macintosh rights appointment. Yes, it’s exactly the same thing. It’s like we’re already making computers. We’re already making insurance, whatever it is, but we don’t want to get distracted by that thing. It’s not like you’re doing a bad job. You want a killer job over there. We just don’t want to be distracted. Yes. So we’re just gonna go over here and do it. Yeah.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 34:53
So that was awesome. Super Challenge and amazing team.

Michael Waitze 34:56
So what brought you back to Banco COVID

Jan Mandrup Olesen 34:59
You So Hong Kong took it quite still very seriously. It’s very hard to stand on the Kobe Cyril COVID policy. I’m

still I hadn’t seen the Thai girlfriend for two years. So it was like saying now it’s this is not this is not where I want to be here. Because

Michael Waitze 35:14
with no COVID Literally traveling from Hong Kong to Thailand, you come for the weekend. And I did. Yeah, I’m just saying it’s easy, without like, without being remiss in your job responsibilities, and frankly, without being remiss in your personal response, correct. It’s just so close. Right? Right. So and Hong Kong is easy to travel from,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 35:29
oh, you leave Friday after work? And you come back Sunday evening or Monday morning before work?

Michael Waitze 35:34
And nobody knows. Like, it’s it’s not like you’re hiding it per se, but it’s just like, so easy to do.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 35:38
Absolutely. Yeah. Okay. So I mean, seeing at that time, a true ACL will say, Yeah, but an amazing airport. super efficient. Yeah. And now just getting devastated. Well, he’s

Michael Waitze 35:49
you can’t go anywhere, you can’t do anything, you can’t leave. And you have to look, every country dealt with COVID differently. And none of them are right, and none of them are wrong. Let’s just be fair, right? Like, hindsight isn’t even 2020. In this case, you can’t even look back and go that was because he’s just don’t know. Yeah. Because there’s no way to compare it. I heard this argument a couple of days ago for someone who was like, well, Singapore to this, but the US did that. And you’re like, Yeah, but Singapore, 6 million people and uss 339. Like, it’s just you can’t compare them anyway. I don’t want to I don’t want to

Jan Mandrup Olesen 36:16
have that. That’s a whole different.

Michael Waitze 36:18
I don’t have a conversation. But I do want to make the case that like, I understand the reason why you would want to move from there to here. You just have relationships you want to maintain. It’s just important.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 36:26
And that, but there was also like, and there has been an out flocks of people. So even if it wasn’t that relationship, on your personal level, there was a lot of friends that was the whole city changed. Yeah, I

Michael Waitze 36:38
didn’t even talk about your girlfriend. That’s none of my business. It’s just like, Yeah, the whole thing has changed. If you want to maintain your relationship has to be in a place where you can actually see and meet and visit people to have discussions. And that’s, again, from a human standpoint, I think really important. So what do you do now?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 36:53
So coming back to Bangkok, still too early to retire

Michael Waitze 36:56
way too early? Because you’re still learning? Like, it’s funny that you say this, right? Like, I’m 10 years older than you. And I’m having so much fun doing what I do. I don’t even think about retiring. Like how old is Rupert Murdoch’s like 90 something years old?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 37:11
I don’t know what you need to keep exercising your brain. Yeah,

Michael Waitze 37:14
exactly. Because I know plenty of people where they’re like, ah, 65, they retire five years later, they’re gone. Like, just mentally, they’re just gone, even if they’re still alive. I don’t know. Anyway, go ahead. So you came back.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 37:24
So definitely, you need to keep keep active. And that was always the idea. Yeah, had some friends, who’s who’s behind seven peaks and got an opportunity. They’re scaling and this fast, really fast. And they said, We need someone who can, I don’t want to replicate IBM and whatever, no, lots of big corporate. But we need to get some more structure, we need to have a process that can help us scale in a way where we still delivering quality in everything we do.

Michael Waitze 37:52
So you mentioned and I didn’t ask you this, when you were talking about Sunlife, you said you wanted to have like a startup mentality. There are several pieces much more like a startup. But have you ever worked at a startup per se? No. But you’ve done a lot of work on understanding what that means. I’m presuming, right.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 38:05
But you always in Sunlife, your head team and you try to build the startup culture, but you’re still within the framework of of a massive organization. So coming to seven peaks were like the first thing you got your laptop was like, whereas Microsoft Office, we don’t use that here. Okay, so you really need to learn a different methodology companies have done different things. And it has been eye opening, because think about it big corporations, especially financial service, they’re 100 years old, I’m sure everyone who’s sitting in any department doing something, the person who created the process in the first place doesn’t exist anymore.

Michael Waitze 38:41
Yeah. And the person actually might not exist at all. So everyone have their,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 38:45
their this is how we do it. At best they might have impacted or influenced the process and changed it a little bit. But no one knows why we’re doing it. It’s always been there. What is that inertia? Well, it’s kind of like you’re sitting doing something that someone else 80 years ago started. So coming into seventh peak was a we don’t have a process here first. Okay, so let’s write one, right, which was super exciting. Because you had that startup world, correct. So that Greenfield you can influence how something goes from, from nothing to something.

Michael Waitze 39:16
So I think this might surprise you. But in this way, I think you and I are really similar when I got to Morgan Stanley in Tokyo, besides the fact that windows had not actually fully rolled out yet. And I wanted to try every piece of new technology, right? Because again, just like you don’t worry about it. I thought it was fun. But I also thought there was gonna be impact. I was using a spreadsheet that somebody had built, who was no longer there, who was considered like a genius in Lotus 123. Okay, and I said, I want to move this to Excel. And back then nobody had Morgan Stanley was using Excel.

Jan Mandrup Olesen 39:50
Right? Right. So is IBM customer. Yeah, exactly.

Michael Waitze 39:53
Right. So I just said Just give me access to it. So I just want to test some stuff. So I got it because back then again, security stuff was much more lenient that it would be today, you couldn’t just like install stuff I didn’t install myself. It had to do it. But it was slowly but surely rolling this stuff out. And I took this thing that this guy did. And I just changed the whole way it was done, because I just want to try new stuff. And in a way, it felt the same way it feels to you at seven peaks. It was greenfields, right. Because I was willing to say, Yeah, that guy was a genius. But that’s old. And I started from scratch. And I just tried to keep doing that. Anyway. So how long have you been in seventh May, when I got there was not even that long? No,

Jan Mandrup Olesen 40:30
quite new. But it’s interesting, because I remember that when I was building the startup team in in Sunlife, you said, How many people do need Yeah, and oh, I need this many great what this army of people could get done compared to what we can sell five people at seven peaks and what they can get done, because they’re not constrained by all these layers of governance. It’s mind blowing. And it’s really making me think back that what we did the manual life, trying to change how we work, how big an impact that has, if you get it right, right across, there’s so many layers of governance controls red tapes around you that not saying that, that doesn’t need to be some I get it. But if you can reduce that and start working in a different way, you can get much more out of the people. So less is more.

Michael Waitze 41:20
So yeah, I agree. And I’ll let you leave after this. But I think that you can spend 100 years building procedures, but a lot of companies miss the opportunity early on in the life and seven pigs is not one of these companies early on in the life of the company to build procedures that are built for smaller companies, right, with an idea that we’re going to be around for the next 100 years. But if you build those procedures early, and they are agile, it means as you grow that that actually enable scaling. Yes. But what it doesn’t do is it doesn’t stop you from continuing to learn if you build the right procedures, so that even if, again, 20 years from now, the guy who built it doesn’t exist anymore. There’s a mindset there that says the only way to really grow without messing stuff up is with procedures, it feels bad, right? Because when you’re in a big company, your thinking process, yes, your big company is slow. But small companies need processes as well correct to maintain quality. Yeah, this is the thing very few people talk about. But if you do that early on, then there’s a mindset that you have processes are necessary, but the process shouldn’t get in the way of delivery, and process should ensure quality. Does that make sense?

Jan Mandrup Olesen 42:29
That makes sense. But you also need to be brave enough to not always add on to it to say, actually, you know what, instead of increasing it, let’s step back and say no, this is no longer needed, let’s scrap it or let’s start over, reinvent ourselves, because what I seen is that in the large companies, probably there’s a tendency that we need to tighten it. And it becomes more and more and more rigid, you will never take anything out. Right. And that’s the easy things to do as a comfortable thing to do. Especially if you haven’t been part of the initial creation of the process. Yeah, got

Michael Waitze 43:04
it. I think that’s the perfect way to end this idea that the proceeds are necessary for quality. But sometimes you can actually take stuff out and still maintain it. And that’s how you get to scale. But that’s also how you can keep the speed going as well as

Jan Mandrup Olesen 43:18
scaling the lean way on the word.

Michael Waitze 43:21
That’s perfect. Thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it.

Episode 260
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