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Communication is the Key to Success

Interview with Kevin Xu

Kaiwen (Kevin) currently works at American International Group (AIG) located in Houston, Texas. He earned a promotion this week to Senior Risk Analyst. His thoughts on email and spoken communication are insightful for those who work with others and show the importance of effective communication within a business. According to research performed by Dr. Lovlyn Ekeowa Kelvin-Iloafu published within the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science. Her research showed that all organizations agree that communication is the key to success in any organization no matter the size.

  1. What is your professional history (include your timeline and roles)?

“Before my current job as Senior Risk Analyst, I was a consultant for AIG Operational Risk Control. I managed numerous large projects for AIG’s Life and Retirement business. I am knowledgeable with financial institutions and also life insurance. I have dealt with numerous compliance issues for the company. Prior to AIG, I was an accounting manager for a credit union, where I was in charge of payroll, general ledgers, as well as analyzing and purchasing financial products such as CMO. In my early career, I started as office assistant for International Affairs and later became the director.”

  1. What writing advice do you have for professional communicators?

“One word—straight-forward! No small talk and right to the point! Oftentimes, business professionals deal with multiple issues at the same time. They do not have time to read anything else other than the issue.

Email is the key communication tool.

Black and white—so called evidence! We spend a lot of time during the day reading and replying to emails. If you have attended project management courses, you have learned to use bullet points to lay out the talking points. They make it easier to read and to make comments. However, there are situations in which a face-to-face meeting is better. If that is not possible, at least, make a phone call.”

  1. What is your one pet peeve when it comes to professional communicators?

“Not to the point! If I ask a question, I expect a straight answer. If they are not able to answer the question, I would like to know that. Then, I can make arrangements to find somebody to answer it. I have had instances where people reply with long email but do not give me a simple answer. In those cases, just say, “I do not know.”

  1. What kind of business reports do you read and/or compose regularly? 

“We use Microsoft tools to do our reports—PowerPoints, Visio, MS Project, Excel, Word, and our customized forms. Since we are a large company, we have thousands of our own reports which also are in Microsoft form. If I were to give you a specific example, we compose risk event reports on a daily basis. The report is updated by us and monitored by another. Let’s say a business unit reports a risk, we will evaluate it in terms of its gain or loss, impact to the business, or if it has any regulatory impact. It will all be documented. Later, I would take the event and come up with a solution, for implementation.”

  1. What are your writing suggestions to make that type of report successful?

“Good question! Organization is key. You can have thousands of words on your report, but no one will read it. However, if you organize the layout and order of your report, people know where to find exactly what they want. For instance, when I read someone’s annual report, I choose sections such as financial report and risk section. I do not really read things like new regulations. It is not that I do not care, but I just choose what I want first. That being said, in real business practice, you will have experts from different areas. They all hold different viewpoints based on their expertise. For example, an actuarial will not care much about IT systems.”

  1. What speaking advice do you have for professional communicators?

“Make it slow and clear! As you can tell, my first language is not English. Thus, I consider it is a challenge for me. But, if I speak slowly during my presentation, as long as I am able to make the point, people will follow my mind.

I have been to many presentations where the speaker is very intelligent, but he spoke too fast. The majority of the audience was not able to follow.

For any professional presentation, the goal is to transfer the information to others, to make them understand first.”

  1. Name one thing you wish you had known about business communication prior to your professional career?

“Stay calm and polite! At the end of the day, a profession is just a job for a lot of people. We are not here to fight. As young professionals, we can be very aggressive because we want to climb in the organization. However, there are others who just want a steady income. When there is any disagreement, there is no need to jump all over somebody. Instead, just step back and take a deeper look at the case. So far, I have not made such mistakes; but I have seen other young professionals who want to show their aggressive style.”

  1. After assessing the Burning Glass list of Baseline Skills (2016), which skills not in the top 5 would you move into the top 5…and why?

“I would take Writing and Customer Service out from the top five and add Time Management and Research. My reasons for deleting them are: (1) As the world is moving toward AI functionality, many things can be done with pushing a button. Also, we have become a smaller world because of the Internet. We are talking about hundreds of different languages. We cannot criticize someone because their English Writing is not good; (2) Customer Service is a good skill, especially in the sales and contact centers, but we cannot consider it a benefit for IT experts or the business owners or operators. Nowadays, billing can be accomplished online or with an automated system. All large companies are trying to decrease the human-working hours by building an automatic system.

My reasons for adding Time Management and Research are: (1) How we use our time at work is very important. My management style is simple. If you can finish the assigned work during the morning and there is no other work to do, there is no need to stay in the office in the afternoon. I would rather that my people have a good work-life balance. Therefore, they will be more energized and motivated to do the job. On the other hand, Time Management could be what you do each hour. Do you spend all eight hours today trying to finish one big task, or do you do one task in the morning and have enough time to perform another task in the afternoon. I think, if you manage your time better, you manage your energy and, thus, have a better outcome. (2) We do not need to go to the classroom to learn a particular skill. There is Internet. As a matter of fact, in my organization, there is a department called marketing and research. All they do is follow what is going on in the industry in order to be proactive in their marketing strategy.”

Credit: Burning Glass Technologies
  1. What team skills do you feel young professionals need the most?

“Listening and communication! The knowledge we learned from the classroom may or may not fit the real business practice. You want to listen to the experienced workers and ask the right questions. Never ever should you act like you understand when you don’t. Companies hire people to do the job. Ask if you do not understand. One good example I can give is that I have managed a large project that was nationwide. It included product, process, customer service, compliance, legal, actuarial, IT, and third-party vendors. I, of course, do not know everything; so, I just find the right people and ask them the right questions. After the completion of the project, I had learned so much.”

Key Takeaways

Kevin rates communication as the number one baseline skill in demand, agreeing  with the Burning Glass Report ratings. He also was in agreement with the report’s number two rating of Organization skills. However, he did substitute for Writing as number three the skill of Time Management. Furthermore, he substituted Research skill for the number four rating of Customer Service. He left Excel as the Number Five rating.

Being an international citizen himself, Kevin stressed and highlighted a slow and clear delivery of presentations, due to the language difficulty of understanding a fast delivery. He also stressed the need for workers to ask questions. According to Kevin, that is the best way to learn. He also gave his no-nonsense approach to management. If you are not busy, then it is not necessary to stay at work. It is better to leave and come back refreshed the next day. We also catch a glimpse of his management style in that he has compassion on those whose native language is not English.

Exactly, who is Kevin? He came to America to study at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, New Mexico (ENMU). The university has a program in which a student will study two years at a Chinese university. Then they have to pass academic tests to ready themselves to come study in America. Afterwards, in their junior year, they come to ENMU and study for two years in their major and get a degree from the university. Then, they go back to China and finish a year and get their Chinese degree. Kevin received a bachelor’s degree from ENMU in business administration. He also finished his MBA at ENMU. He has a LinkedIn account, but he said that it is not up-to-date. He likes his job at AIG and keeps getting promoted within. His organization’s website is: www.aig.com. When he came to America, he gave himself an English name. Kaiwen chose to go by Kevin, and that is the name he goes by at AIG.

 

Hunter Davis is a computer science major at University of Southern Indiana. He has aspirations to lead a successful programming career on the west coast. 

What do you think?

Written by Hunter Davis

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