Spotlight on Sajan Koch, CEO at InsightAsia

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This month, we catch up with Sajan Koch, InsightAsia’s CEO, to find out how the market research industry is evolving, both in Asia and across the globe.

He also shares his own perspective on what the future looks like for market research.

Hi Sajan! Tell us a bit about what it means to be CEO at InsightAsia…

As CEO, my primary role is talent management for InsightAsia. This involves recruiting, training, motivating and leading great researchers. Everything else comes after this.

I also oversee finance, legal, taxation, and labour across the eight countries where we have legal entities. This means understanding the rapidly changing industry developments, economic policies, as well as planning and adapting our Corporate Strategy to keep us strong and growing.

I also follow what’s happening on the commercial side very closely – clients, projects, new services and offerings, regional accounts and more.

What is your typical working day like?

I’m lucky to have the freedom to work from any location. Although my office is in Singapore, I often work from different countries.

My typical day starts at 7am, including weekends if needed. While in Europe, I start earlier for time zone reasons. Despite often working remotely, I am available to my team every day, from 7am until 10pm via email, telephone, Skype and Whatsapp.

My corporate management team and leadership country teams get 80% of my time. I also lead our quarterly performance meeting in Kuala Lumpur, where directors from each country meet to keep track of the company’s progress, as well as any emerging developments or business issues.

Attending regular meetups enables me to stay closely in touch with the country leadership teams, while also keeping up to date with the progress on the ground in each country. It also provides directors with a regular forum for sharing and discussing plans, collaborating to solve any potential problems before they may arise.

What is your favourite thing about InsightAsia?

InsightAsia Vietnam

Our biggest asset at InsightAsia is our team, and I really value them. It’s just a pleasure to visit and work with everyone across our various offices in different countries.

Of course, there are sometimes problems, but I believe that by meeting, listening, discussing and understanding any issues, they can usually be solved.  

Our teams, the individuals and the cultural experiences are what keep me energised and challenged in the company!

Where are your favourite places in Asia?

ASEAN is home for InsightAsia, and for myself. I love all the countries in this region.

I am originally from Kerala, India, but I’ve lived and worked across ASEAN for the better part of my life. I am proud to have an intimate understanding of the history, geography, culture and cuisines of ASEAN.

Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, The Philippines, Malaysia, China and India are all very close to my heart. So it’s impossible to choose favourites, as each country is different and beautiful in its own way!

What are your hobbies outside of work?

I have several! A man does not live by bread alone.

I love sailing, walking and trekking. I also enjoy architecture, and have built and renovated houses for friends and family.

I’m also a keen gardener, and I currently have a good crop of vegetables, herbs and salads thriving in our kitchen garden. I also dabble in a bit of cooking, when I get the time.

Last month I received my Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) certificate for open water diving.

Travelling, exploring and reading are also not to be forgotten. I read quite widely to stay up to date with economics, politics, and business developments globally. I draw inspiration from thought leaders in science, tech, business innovation and philosophy, and I’m particularly interested in space exploration, renewable energy and artificial intelligence.

My active lifestyle is reflected in my work, and I also encourage our teams at InsightAsia to take up hobbies and pursue their passions outside of work.

I am active in YPO/WPO where I lead two CEO forum groups. I am also a member of the INSEAD Business School alumni community. I mentor social entrepreneurship at INSEAD, and similar activities outside of the school, all of which help me to continuously learn and grow professionally.

What does research mean to you?

Tools and methodologies are used to extract information. It’s very important to get accurate, representative, relevant intelligence and get it fast and cost effectively.

How this information is used is far more critical though, hence our tagline: Discover the difference between information and insight.

We want our teams to inspire action and help businesses to move forward, illuminating new opportunities rather than clouding judgement by overloading them with data. The best research may use a combination of methods, online or offline, qualitative, quantitative, desk research, observation, immersion and more.

What is most important is that the research design is thoughtful and tightly focused on addressing the specific intelligence gaps our clients are facing.

How is the market research industry evolving?

As with all industries, market research (MR) is undergoing transformational change. Digital technology, internet and social media are revolutionising MR. Add analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to this mix, and one can only imagine where the industry is heading.

Annual Retreat 2017

Having said that, although market research may not look the same in this brave new world, unlike some other industries, it will survive and thrive. The current industry players and methodologies will continue to change and evolve, but the effort the industry makes to understand the consumer will continue to grow.

Today, Google is the largest advertising company. Perhaps tomorrow, Google or Amazon or a new entrant could be the largest MR company. This transformation is unstoppable.

What do opportunities look like in Asian market research at the moment?

Asian markets continue to grow rapidly year on year. Most InsightAsia countries are growing by 5-8% compared to the anaemic 1-2% for developed countries.

Besides, most Asian markets are not burdened with legacy systems and practices. So Asia can leapfrog, and it is more than likely that Asia will be the largest MR market in the world in the next 20-30 years.

What’s next for the market research industry?

Our industry is in the midst of a huge transformation and I believe that in the near future, automation of data gathering, advanced analytics of big data, services harnessing machine learning and artificial intelligence will be a central part of what smart research agencies will be offering their clients.

However, it’s easy to become blinded by the excitement of what digital technology and automation now makes possible in market research, but these are simply smarter and in many instances more efficient means to the same end.

What will remain constant and critical is achieving a deeper and richer understanding of consumer behaviour, attitudes and aspirations. This requires excellent qualitative skills. At the end of the day, human insight will remain our purpose, and will continue to be highly valued.

How is InsightAsia moving with the times in this growing and dynamic marketplace?

At InsightAsia, our philosophy is to focus on delivering outstanding quality and satisfaction to our customers.

As we are in customer research, we must be nimble, and constantly introduce new ideas and services to our clients to remain relevant. We must continuously learn and adapt.

‘It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.’

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