Casparus Kromhout has spent his three-decade career in two nations: South Africa, and now, India. Kromhout is the managing director and chief executive officer at Shriram Life Insurance and is based in Hyderabad, where he lives with his wife and two children. He calls South Africa home, but after residing in India since 2010, “It feels just like home to me now."
Kromhout admits he didn’t know what to expect about the country before making the big move. His manager gave him some advice to prepare him. He recalls, “My boss in South Africa told me to watch Slumdog Millionaire and that it would give me an idea. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked." His experience, however, was different. It was positive right from the start, says Kromhout, who credits his colleagues for making him feel at home.
Culture at work
Working in a country with a culture that is different from one’s own can be difficult at first. “It does remain a challenge to lead a large business while not from this country or culture but I have had enough years of experience here to make it work. The Shriram leadership and teams are also giving me a lot of support," says the 51-year-old.
Before Shriram, Kromhout worked in the South Africa-headquartered Sanlam Life Insurance. Holding a corporate job in a familiar territory versus heading a family-owned organization in India was certainly daunting for Kromhout.
He admits it was difficult for his colleagues to understand him initially, and vice versa. Even getting to grasp the capabilities and work culture in India took some time. “However, it did not take long to settle in," he says.
In general, Kromhout finds India a fascinating country with a fast-paced work culture. “I’ll never forget reaching Mumbai for the first time at 2am on a Sunday morning. The streets were full and an old man was working at the side of the road," he recalls. He says India’s charm lies in its vibrancy. “There is never a dull moment and the country has such a variety of people and places. The food comes next. Altogether, everything is a sensory overload."
He also thanks India for some vital career lessons—most importantly, how to view and build a young life insurance business. And that there are other ways to run a company than the typical multinational or corporate way.
“I have also realized the value and importance of life insurance to families, the community and country, only fully after coming to India. Families in the aam aadmi customer segment cannot afford the lack of life cover for the breadwinner. Our purpose is to bring these families into the safety net of life insurance and that inspires me to keep working hard to build this business," he says.
Apart from professional learnings, the India stint has also enriched Kromhout’s personal life. For instance, he has taken vacations to several locations in India, in addition to holidaying in several South-East Asian countries. “My top travel experience, however, was a two-wheeler tour with my son on a very old Royal Enfield Bullet from Manali to Leh Ladakh," he says.
And then there is the time Kromhout did something very few Indians can boast of—drive a taxi in Delhi traffic. He had to ferry himself and his wife to the airport since his driver kept nodding off. “I let the driver sit in the passenger seat while I drove, and my wife navigated. The driver’s head hit the dashboard as he kept falling asleep, all of this while we were extremely stressed about missing the flight," he laughs. Thankfully, the adventure ended with them catching their flight.
Life has certainly changed for Kromhout and his family, thanks to his move. “My son was 10 when we came here and is now 19 and studying in South Korea. My daughter was seven and is now 17, studying in the International School of Hyderabad." When asked about South Africa and what he misses the most about it, he says, “Mostly family and friends. and also, the beauty of Cape Town and things to do there."
Expat Speak asks foreign nationals living in India what clicks and what irks them about the work culture of the country.
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