Monday, November 17, 2014

Interview with Michael Babikian, President and CEO of Transamerica Brokerage

I'm delighted to have as my guest this month Michael Babikian of Transamerica Brokerage group, part of the Transamerica Life Insurance company. I have worked with Michael and his team for many years. Together, they are leading the industry in innovation and strategic initiatives focused on protecting families. 

JS: In your opinion, what are the skills that executive leaders need today?

MB: Our greatest competition is status quo. Doing things the way that they have always been done—whether bringing products to market or managing people. As leaders of organizations, we are in the business of optimizing human performance, which in a world of constant change, is all about change management. 

In the past, leaders focused on the development and optimization of individual performance. An organization that was made up of strong individual contributors could be great. But today, leaders have to optimize not only individuals but also ecosystems and group dynamics. In order to get great performance for organizations, we must invest in ecosystems in the form of EQ skills.

For example, marketing used to be more of an art form. Now, you have to be an information officer with a marketing background, and be able to work in a complex ecosystem made up of virtual teams with various reporting structures and priorities. Individuals that develop the skills to navigate through this complex system while working with a group add to an organization’s strength and create a collaborative culture.

It’s not what you know as an individual, or even as a group, it’s how quickly can that knowledge be shared, understood and implemented within the entire ecosystem. EQ and collaborative learning, teaching and engaging are the basic skill sets necessary for effectiveness as leaders today.

JS: You have been a strong supporter of the development of emotional intelligence in your organization. What benefits have you observed as a result, particularly when maneuvering through industry change?

MB: There is a trust deficit in our world today at all levels and in all types of leadership—in government, in large multi-national companies and other institutions that many of us have previously placed our trust. Developing and encouraging emotional intelligence should be an integral part of an organization’s efforts to reinforce trust, both internally and externally.

Developing emotional intelligence between individuals and within groups fosters alignment. And alignment begins with authenticity and an acknowledgement of vulnerability, which creates trust within the team’s dynamic and in the ecosystem that surrounds it. For us, alignment and the trust it fosters are critical; they start within our organization and lead through the levels of product distributors all the way to the consumer.

JS: What leader in your own life has had the most impact on you and why?

MB: There are several leaders in my life that have had a great impact on me. Each of these individuals, whom I admire even more today than I did in the past, have demonstrated three key traits: authenticity, connection and trust.

Authenticity. The leaders who had an impact on me were those who I trusted. I never questioned their intent because they were authentic about who they were, what they were trying to accomplish and why. There were no masks; there were no hidden agendas. It was this authenticity that led to trust. When problems arose, which they always do, there was no question of intent of the action. For example, a mistake might have been made, but you don’t spend time and energy questioning intent—you work through a solution.

Connection. Human beings do things because of a connection. Whether it’s an idea, a goal or a person, it’s all about a connection. So In a world where collaboration is important, maintaining connections is even more important. The great leaders in my past have had strong connections with the people, teams and systems around them. They had the ability to communicate a goal or an idea across the board that led to stronger engagement throughout the workforce that resulted in a more positive and thriving organization.

Trust.  Establishing and maintaining trust is a critical component of great leadership.  It is how we motivate teams to accomplish great things. One element of trust is making an environment where people can fail. I had the opportunity to work with great leaders who supported fast and forward failures.  Trying to maintain perfection is impossible and can get in the way of getting things done.  With trust, we learn quickly from mistakes and are better positioned to reach our goals.

About Michael Babikian

Michael M. Babikian is president and CEO of Transamerica Brokerage, a marketing unit for Transamerica Life Insurance Company and its affiliates. He was formerly Executive Vice President and Chief Product Officer of the Transamerica Life & Protection Division and Chief Marketing Officer for Brokerage; Senior Vice President of Marketing; Vice President of Strategic Marketing Services, and an Advanced Marketing Consultant.

Prior to joining Transamerica, Babikian was general counsel to Infinite Source Technologies, Inc., where he advised on all legal and tax matters. Previously, he was an attorney for the tax law firm of Baker, Olson, LeCroy & Danielian, a tax specialist in KPMG’s Multi-Family Office and worked in the legal department of the California Franchise Tax Board and for the Internal Revenue Service.

Babikian is chairman of the board of directors and a professor at Glendale University College of Law; chairman of the board of directors of the Children’s Music Fund; and a board member of the Chief Marketing Officer Council and a member of the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall Corporate Advisory Board.

After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of California at Irvine, Babikian went on to receive a law degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. He subsequently earned a master of laws in taxation at the University of San Diego and a master of business administration from the University of Southern California. In addition, Babikian is an alumnus of Harvard Business School, having graduated from the program for leadership development.

Michael can be reached at: