by Pat Brans

Health and efficiency for Bupa’s CIO

May 25, 20114 mins
Financial Services IndustryIT Leadership

It’s been said that busy people have more reserve capacity than people with very little on their plates. Yasmin Jetha is a case in point.

Group CIO of private healthcare provider Bupa, non-executive director of a media company in Kenya and member of several other boards, she is also the proud mother of two grown-up boys.

“Life is finite. We sometimes talk about scarce resources in terms of finances and materials, but really time is the precious resource,” says Jetha. “I became acutely aware of that when I was a working mother with young children. But interestingly my career also progressed during those times.”

She rose through the ranks at former building society Abbey National and before long was managing 100 IT staffers. Jetha then grew into a customer services role, managing 5000 staff and 16 million customers.

“It’s important to carve off some time for reflection and planning. You don’t want to be caught up all the time by short-term pressures. You need to take time to think about the long haul. I do this in three ways:

– One is to have ‘away days’ with my team. It’s a diverse group and the time set aside for broader issues also helps me stay grounded – I also try to block off a few minutes daily to reflect on where we are, where we want to be, and what corrective actions we might need to take. This has to have practical relevance and I am fortunate at Bupa, where the directors come from different backgrounds and have a deep understanding of running successful businesses – The third thing I do is wider reading and engaging with other CIOs and business leaders. It’s not a formal process but I find the way they think and solve ­issues in their worlds really interesting and occasionally helpful in my work.”

Jetha’s moves between IT and line-of-business management has given a broader view and provided rich cross-fertilisation.

“I try to ensure there is never any doubt about what it is I want my team to do. I don’t tell them so much the how: it’s the what, and by when. It’s in some sense a negotiation, and a promise, with some discussion about do-ability and how urgent it is. It helps build an expectation from both sides that it will be done,” she says.

In return, Jetha makes sure everybody on her team knows what they can expect from her and by when. It’s a two-way process. In a sense it’s an SLA with her team.

“If somebody sends me a business case to make a decision on, they get an answer within 48 hours,” she says.

“Delegating to competent people and making sure they have the resources to ­deliver is a good way to manage time. There is only so much you can do by yourself. But a key way of making this work is to have mutual trust”.

She says it’s also important to have good communications. You need a two-way flow between the leader and each member of the team and among all team members.

“Transparency has to be on everyone’s agenda,” she says. “Flush out the issues. I want honest appraisals. If I do not, I have to allow for additional uncertainties and that is hardly efficient.”

And she looks for ways of engaging with business colleagues and understanding their pressures.

“Having held roles in lines of business gives me an advantage. People know you aren’t just about wires and boxes. They can cover with you matters relating to customers, margins, competition and regulation.”

Jetha has three tried-and-tested rules for dealing with problems. Fix it first. Then find lessons from the experience. And ­finally, challenge yourself not to make the same mistake again.

No matter what her work has been, Jetha says she’s fortunate to have always loved her jobs.

“I’m glad to be alive! Every day is a good day. But you should always be working out how to do something better for tomorrow. It’s a continuous process. I don’t see it as if I reached a certain level and I can sit back and say ‘Gee, aren’t I doing well?’ If I did, I know, the seeds of failure would have been sown.

“Learning is important to me. I guess it goes way back to having been born in Tanzania and leaving the family to come to study A-levels in the UK. The importance of life-long learning was instilled in me during my childhood, both from my family and my community, whose spiritual leader is the Aga Khan.”

Pat Brans is author of the book Master The Moment: Fifty CEOs teach you the secrets of time management