United Nations, Irish style

Andres Hernandez is a long way from Manizales, the city in the coffee-growing region of Colombia where he grew up. Unlike most Colombians, who dream of heading to the United States, Hernandez has had his sights on Europe ever since he was a young boy. Hernandez made his first transatlantic trip in 2002. With one year of high school German under his belt, he headed for Munich to study International Private Law. When he left the Bavarian capital four years later, he was fluent in German, had a Masters in International Law to complement his degree, and had met the Spanish philology student who would later become his wife. The couple moved initially to the UK and then on to Ireland in search of work.

"I studied law, but I've always been drawn to business," says the South American. He joined AWC as a Client Services officer in December 2006, having heard about the company from a colleague at IBM, where he first worked in Dublin. In October 2008, he was made Team Leader of the Individual Management Centre, a team of seven people who support and liaise with individual clients and brokers worldwide.

He loves the international mix in his team, comprising three Irish, a fellow Colombian, one German, a Uruguayan and a French colleague, as well as working in English, German and Spanish. Hernandez also likes the fast-paced work environment: "The company is growing all the time," he says. "My team's key objective is to deliver customer service excellence when dealing with individual clients and brokers. Their day to day queries need be responded to quickly, accurately and with a sense of personal responsibility."

Hernandez sees being a clear and inclusive communicator as an important part of his role as team leader: "Working with five nationalities and in three languages, I have to make sure that there are no misunderstandings or that the English speakers do not feel excluded if I talk in German or Spanish." Being a good motivator is also crucial: "I have to let my team know that what they do is important not just for themselves and the customer, but also for the company."

Hernandez is approaching his third anniversary with AWC, which will celebrate 10 years of business in 2010 and is very much at home: "You really feel part of this company. Insurance companies can sometimes be hierarchical. That's not the case here; there is not a marked divide between management and the 'ordinary' workers."

Andres Hernandez

The bad weather first drove Lingling Bai from Ireland to Australia. But while in Australia she missed the cultural diversity and the warmth of human interaction she had grown attached to during her first stay in Ireland in 2001. One day she spotted a big advertisement for Allianz in Sydney harbor. Recognizing the brand from her homeland China, Bai went online to see if Allianz was represented in Ireland. A few weeks later, in early 2006, she started her training as a Claims officer at Allianz Worldwide Care in Dublin. Today Bai handles claims from international clinics all over the world.

Bai is a firm believer in the power of education to enhance personal and professional development. After arriving back in Ireland in 2005, she has added a first class Business Degree, a Masters Degree in Business Studies – with the support of AWC – and is currently studying for a Chartered Institute of Management Accounting qualification. A good education is important, Bai feels, as it can help overcome insecurities: "When you come to a new country, you are ambitious but you may not be confident of your ability to perform in a foreign environment." Education also helps people to get ahead. "In my case, I see it very simply," she says. "If I don't move up, I fall back."

Bai is hoping that, at some stage in the future, she might be able to work more directly with business that relates to China. AWC is currently in partnership discussions with Allianz China Life, to enable them to enter the Chinese health insurance market. "There is great interest in China," says the native Mandarin speaker who hails from Shanghai. If something in that area doesn't materialize, Bai has no doubt something equally interesting will. "Anyone can get ahead here," she says. "There is fair competition and the opportunity to get promoted no matter what part of the world you come from." And in her view there are equal opportunities for women too: "Approximately half of the middle management is made up of women and there is a woman on AWC's three-person board of management."

Lingling Bai

Gordon Delaney had visions of Hong Kong, but plans changed, and he found himself heading for Dubai instead. In January 2008, Delaney was appointed regional Business Development Manager, working with AWC's local business partner Arab Orient Insurance Company to develop business in the Middle East. "The commute is better," the Irishman jokes, comparing his 30-minute Dubai commute with the 90 minutes he spent in traffic every day when working at the head office in Dublin.

Other things in Dubai are different and take getting used to: the climate – notably warmer than Dublin's – and the social life. Business is different too. "In Europe, brokers share information easily," he says. "Here it is extremely important to develop good personal relationships with brokers before information sharing can begin."

Delaney has been with AWC since 2004, having moved from Client Services to become an Account Executive for Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) business and then to his current job. "Some of my SME accounts were based in the Middle East," he says. "So I started at that stage to become familiar with this market." Once the day's work is over, Delaney may not have Dublin Bay on his doorstep but the Persian Gulf is a good alternative. "The water too is a lot warmer than in Ireland," he says. For someone who likes to snorkel, that's a definite plus.

Gordon Delaney

Working on a constantly busy helpline is intensive and can take its toll. But helpline Team Leader and Trainer Pamela Oertel, loves it, and it's where she finds "fun," "drama," "challenge," and "something different to look forward to every day."

Dealing with ill or injured customers, especially the ones with whom a relationship has been built over a period of time, can be gratifying but it can equally be heartbreaking. "You might have been dealing with a person with terminal cancer for several years," says the Berliner who moved to Dublin nine years ago. "You suffer with them and are inwardly sad for them and you try to do whatever it takes to make life easier for them." But good news stories help counter the tough moments. Such as receiving an excited phone call from a client who has been undergoing infertility treatment and hearing the joyous news that the couple is expecting a baby. "That kind of news really lifts your spirits," says Oertel. "You can feel the happiness coming down the phone line."

Oertel has been working on the helpline – by choice – for seven years, after previously working in the Claims department. She has seen the company grow and the number of employees treble. "The company has spread into many new markets since I joined," she says, "so there's always something new to learn: maybe about the clients, or about a new country, or even new healthcare procedures or ailments that are emerging."

Oertel could have moved on to other positions, but loves what she does too much to consider that, for the moment, at any rate. She gets a lot of personal satisfaction from the job and draws support from the "great" team she works with. "If any of us are having a bad day, or have a particularly tough situation to deal with, we're all there for each other," she says. "When you know you can help people around the world, that's a great feeling. When your team, colleagues and managers are there to support and lift you, that's even better."

This article first appeared in the employee magazine "Allianz Journal".

Pamela Örtel

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