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Tom Aaker: Behind a successful leader is a great team

  • Sudibyo M. Wiradji

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sat, October 13 2012 | 01:34 pm
Tom Aaker: Behind a successful leader is a great team (JP/Vicky Dwiwardhana) (JP/Vicky Dwiwardhana)

(JP/Vicky Dwiwardhana)Tom Aaker believes in having the best team assist him in successfully performing his role as a leader of a bank. The CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Indonesia said that team support allowed him to focus on his job as a leader.

While saying that a successful leader must have followers, Aaker added that: ”If I hire 11 people for my top team who are very talented, then I can let them go. I don’t need to be looking over their shoulder every minute. Each does his or her job and I don’t have to worry about it,” said the US citizen with 24 years of experience in the finance and banking sector.

”My job is about coaching, mentoring, thinking about strategy, meeting with government officials and clients and thinking of bigger issues,” said the athletically built 50-year-old.

On problems, Aaker said, “I ask for the opinions of my trusted management committee. Sometimes there are different opinions. As a CEO, I have to make the decision at the end. I am proud that I now have a very strong management team.”

However, he acknowledged that finding the right people to build a talented management team was a great challenge.

”Sometimes we have to find them in the marketplace but my preference is to promote from inside the bank, because this will inspire other people when they see their own colleagues promoted,” he said.

Currently Standard Chartered Bank Indonesia has 4,000 employees working at the bank’s branches across the country, including five or six expatriates.

As a leader, the banker said, he has to be able to keep employees excited and motivated, given that banking is a service industry that depends on people.

“I have to make people happy and perform at high level. This makes customers happy,” he said.

Keeping employees excited and motivated did not necessarily mean paying them more.

“We make them feel proud of working for the bank by offering them an opportunity to develop their careers. We have to have a career path for every member of the staff. Otherwise people will sink and get bored.”

Career options

Aaker studied accounting but chose banking for a career. He has an MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University in Chicago.

He worked for different banks for five years in the US in the 1980s prior to joining UK-based Standard Chartered Bank in 1993 and has held senior positions since then. Standard Chartered Bank attracted him because of the international opportunities it offered, he said.

Aaker joined Standard Chartered Bank Indonesia in December 2009.

“It is much more exciting for me. I’ve been able to live around the world and learn about culture here in Indonesia. It’s very rewarding for me,” he said, adding that the bank fits his personal culture and lifestyle.

“Three years ago I did not know about Indonesia but today I can speak a little bahasa. I wear batik shirts. I’ve learned about Indonesian food and music. Everything’s interesting. My experience here is as exciting as when I was placed in North Africa, the Middle East and Hong Kong. Most rewarding to me are the relationships with people,” he said.

Leading by example

Aaker describes his management style as informal and approachable.

“My style is coaching, mentoring and leading by example. I want to make sure that my behavior is completely honest, trustworthy and of a high integrity that is reflected in my daily life,” he said.

His style, he said, was a good match for Indonesia.

“People in Indonesia work in harmony, respect each other, are polite and respectful and prefer consultation,” he said.

A lesson he has learned in his three years working in Indonesia is the importance of establishing personal relationships when it comes to pursuing customers.

“In some cases, [Indonesians] do not want to do business until they really trust us. Once they know that,
they will become loyal clients.” he said.

Aaker acknowledged that values that his parents fostered in him when he was a child have had a longterm effect on him, especially with respect to his personality and leadership style.

“My mother was a teacher and I think I learned the skills of teaching and coaching from her. While from my father, who was a real estate developer, I learned the ability to respect other people, to work in a team in order to achieve an objective and to have some sales and presentation skills. Those are the qualities that my father passed on to me. Honesty, too, because this relates to reputation,” he said.

“My childhood life experiences have become an important part of my management strategy. I have always tried to identify a role model or people that I respect who I can learn from.”

Aaker emphasized the importance of having a life-work balance to keep fit and healthy while working enthusiastically.

“Everybody in my bank has to have a life balance. In my own case, my hobbies tend to focus around sports and athletics. I like to do cycling and running. I enjoy swimming, snorkeling and diving.”

However, he admitted that it has not been easy to manage his work-life balance due to a tight schedule. Therefore, he starts his workouts early in the morning prior to going to work.

“I do it first thing in the morning with no excuses. Each morning I have a different workout schedule,” Aaker said.

Now, Standard Chartered Bank in Jakarta has a group of runners and yoga classes for its employees. Sports at the bank are obvious evidence of Aaker’s successful leadership.

“An employee has just bought new shoes to start running. Sometimes we practice together. Other staff and employees have started a yoga class that I also participate in. That’s great seeing people in a bank doing athletics for the first time. It’s very important to have a healthy lifestyle,” he said.

Name: Thomas John Aaker
Place and date of birth: Minnesota, US, April 12, 1962

1984: BA, Accounting, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, California.
1988: Master’s degree in management, J.L. Kellog Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University, US
1986, certified public accountant status by the State of California.

December 2009-present: CEO; Standard Chartered Bank, Indonesia
July 2004-January 2008: CEO and managing director; Standard Chartered Bank Zambia Plc, Africa
March 2002-June 2004: group corporate treasurer; Standard Chartered Bank, London, UK
June 2000-March 2002: executive assistant to the group chief executive; Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong
April 1998-June 2000: head of large corporates, corporate & institutional banking; Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong
October 1992-October 1993: Director; Standard Chartered Bank, Hong Kong
July 1988–September 1993: VP, private placements; Prudential Investment Company, Los Angeles, California
July 1984-August 1986: senior auditor at Price Waterhouse; Los Angeles, California, USA


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