At work with Ruben Machuca

Efma feature

01 July 2019

When he’s not leading a team at GM Financial Chile in sunny ‘Sanhattan’, Ruben Machuca likes nothing more that exploring a new city via a long run. Here he speaks to Boris Plantier to explain more.


Tell me a little about your background

I started my career at AXA Seguros Chile at 1999 as head of claims, motors and properties. At that time, the company was facing big challenges in terms of operational efficiency and the repair costs were just high. A deep transformation took place and I was appointed to execute the changes. It was a time full of activity, travelling around Chile, visiting the vendors and subscribing SLAs with each of car bodyshop.

We achieved a dramatic reduction in repair costs that allowed us to break even. Thus, a new era began, when we started to find ways of optimizing adjustors’ activity in the field. We realized that a lot of time and money was wasted printing papers, organizing documents, visiting the bodyshops and adjusting repair costs. We decided to go paperless.

It was 2001 when we were having meetings with IT and technological partners to test our “Remote Adjusting Solution”. After testing several devices to install and run the solution, we gave our vote to a fantastic “iPAQ Compaq”, as it defeated “Palm”. It was the handheld era. It’s funny to remember that we just wanted an all-in-one device: camera+handheld+phone. We were told it was impossible to get that kind of device. We replied: “Perhaps there is something in Japan”. Today, no one would conceive anything less than a powerful smartphone.

The implementation was just successful, and our company became the market referent in innovation, though I´m sure the word innovation was not that popular at that time.

At the end of 2001, AXA left south America behind and, in the case of Chile, the operations were acquired by BCI group (Banking and Insurance holding). During the following years, a couple of catastrophic events (flooding) took place and tested our capabilities of dealing with huge volumes of claims.

In mid-2005, I was invited to join BancoEstado as project leader in procurement. BancoEstado is the public bank of Chile, with almost 13 million customers. There, I was responsible for purchases over US$1 million, taking care not only of cost savings but also transparency of the purchase processes.

Then, in 2009, I was called back to BCI as vehicles claims manager. This time, the purpose was different. A much bigger company, with almost 20% of market share but facing the challenge of optimizing large scale operations and managing a much larger headcount. In 2010, we faced one of the biggest earthquakes of all time, that produced a massive tsunami in more than 500 km of coastline. We were called to office that Saturday to start executing the contingency plan and be prepared for the huge wave of claims coming afterwards.

Two years later, the executive committee was wondering how to dramatically improve customer service levels in the motors division. The bodyshops were demonstrating low motivation to try new ideas. Thus, the BCI CEO asked me to search for something innovative. We realized more than 20% of vehicle claims had a low repair cost and they actually were quite simple to fix; usually scratches or small dents. After much research, I contacted a couple of Smart Repair companies in the UK, specialists in performing small repairs right at the customer´s house. I visited them and decided to move forward to a franchise agreement with one of them. The Board of Directors of BCI approved the project, forming a new, specialized unit to provide mobile car repairs, and I became General Manager of this new company. This spinoff took 3rd place at the Efma-Accenture Global Innovation Awards 2014.

After several years, I moved back to the insurance industry and I recently entered GM Financial Chile as insurance manager. I work closely with General Motors car dealers and the insurers. We are about to re-launch a Chevrolet insurance product with a different approach to the customer.

What does your workplace look like?

The GM Financial offices are located in a nice district known as ‘Sanhattan’. The space is open and bright. I have a fantastic view of Cerro San Cristóbal (St. Cristobal Hill), a large and beautiful hill right in the heart of Santiago. As night falls, great views of the surrounding buildings can be appreciated and then you understand where that funny Sanhattan name comes from.

Could you describe your usual working day?

My schedule is full of meetings, usually out of the office, with dealers and insurers. The meetings flow towards the analysis of the repair volume sent to the GM network contrasted with the policies sold by them. My role is basically to articulate agreements to obtain a win-win situation. My technical background permits me to speak simply, so each part can get a good understanding of the challenges we are facing and how to deal with them. It’s been rewarding to be back in the proper insurance business. I am certain that building trust is the only way to do business.

I spend no time watching TV and I don´t have social media accounts, except LinkedIn. So, my free time (before or after the office) is dedicated to sports. Lucky me, Santiago is surrounded by huge mountains (Los Andes), an ideal stage for trail running.

What is your favorite food?

Due to frequent trips to the UK, I realized Britons really enjoy Indian food. That´s how I became fan of the cuisine. Eventually, my daughter invited me to have a cooking lesson at a place called Kitchen Club. Then, I was able to cook my first Indian dishes and I’m glad I’ve found some delicious recipes.

What do you do when you need a break from work?

It’s just fantastic to have the opportunity to travel and I have found an efficient way to discover a city, especially when travelling for work with little free time: to go for a long run early in the morning. A GPS so I know how to get back to the hotel and €20 are all I need. Having the opportunity to match travel for work with a race, is just heaven.

I’m lucky to share my love of trail running with my fiancée, my dog and now, my son.

How do you build a successful team?

My experience shows me I’ve built successful teams based on clear targets and leading them with a straightforward dialogue. The other, and more important ingredient, is to be able to transmit the ultimate purpose of the business in an enthusiastic way, so everyone can feel part of it, understanding how she or he, can collaborate with that purpose.

There is a saying that we learn more from failure than success. Do you agree?

Definitely. My favorite book is “Execution: The discipline of getting things done” by Larry Bossidy & Ram Charan. One key point you really have to understand when you devote yourself to be highly oriented to execute things, is that you are more exposed to failure probabilities. I just don’t have a fear of making mistakes. I value the learning process and the satisfaction of travelling at high speed. It’s easier to lead a team when you are able to do things. That’s how you lead by example.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to succeed in financial services?

Engage with the customer. Innovate. Understand innovation is not necessarily an invention, but many times it’s something existing, adapted to a new purpose. Perhaps a simply bundled product can be disruptive if it makes sense to the customer.

Most importantly, enjoy life and be enthusiastic about how to get in touch with the customers. Realize, you are a customer too. Realize what you don´t like and what you would love as a customer.

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Keywords : Workforce management

Geography : Chile