Rosaline Chow Koo, Founder & CEO – CXA
At the age of 21, Rosaline got the first hand sobering experience, as she recalls, supervising Procter & Gamble’s factory lines in Iowa, managing two production lines, staffed by older white men in their thirties. She rose to the ranks from there to land up at Bankers Trust on Wall Street, launched two dot-com start-ups before moving to ACE insurance and has to her credit, the success of growing Mercer Marsh Benefits’ to 14 APAC countries, a growth of 800% over 8 years. Her second startup, which she later sold, was co-founded with the former president of Dell Asia.
A graduate from UCLA Cybernetics and Columbia Business School, Rosaline was convinced that the antiquated paper-based industry was ripe for disruption. She invested her entire life savings of $5 million, and borrowed $5 million more, to found CXA. She recruited a world-class team to build Asia’s first benefits and wellness marketplace platform and acquired Singapore’s largest homegrown employee benefits brokerage.
Today, CXA has grown into a $100 million company working with employers to transform current healthcare spending from treatment into benefits and wellness programs where employees in Asia choose their path to good health.
Prior to establishing CXA, Rosaline led Mercer Marsh Benefits, the largest employee benefits brokerage and HR benefits consultancy in Asia Pacific, overseeing a 14-country operation with over 400 staff and growing the business eight-fold during her eight-year tenure.
Rosaline shares her experience & insights in this interview with Team ABT Singapore.
How has being a Woman, complimented your entrepreneurial journey?
From 1999 to 2001, I actually built two start-ups during the dot-com era, but had to quit since I discovered my 6 year-old daughter had epilepsy and a learning disorder. My two little kids were living in Singapore while I was commuting every Monday to KL and only returning Fridays at midnight, so you can imagine the guilt I felt as a mother building startups in another country while leaving my real babies at home. CXA is my 3rd start-up, which I can focus on 24 by 7 as my children are now in college in the US. I feel that the journey was very exciting, with all its hardships, making me more experienced, wise & ready to face any challenges.
Where do you find inspiration from?
Reflecting back over my 34-years career, I feel like Forest Gump as serendipity placed me as an active participant in so many innovations in both corporate transformations and start-ups. These experiences have taught me how to re-imagine a different future based on solving customer pain points and the execution skills to transform a vision into reality.
Some of my life changing experiences include Just in Time Inventory at P&G; shift from Product Specialists to Relationship Managers, from Deposits to Mutual Funds and Pensions to 401k at Bankers Trusts; Unified Messaging and Regional BPO during the dot-com; Worksite Marketing at Chubb; Regional Brokerage Mandates and Flexible Benefits at Mercer Marsh and Employee Flex & Wellness Ecosystem & SME Bancassurance at CXA.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have always had very good managers and mentors who helped me become much more self-aware and a better people leader. They’ve also helped me to integrate work with life so now I’m extremely healthy, whereas earlier I barely slept and ate and minimized my water intake since I didn’t have time to pee with my crazy travel and meeting schedule running 14 countries.
How did you come up with CXA? Tell us more about the idea.
Even though Mercer grew 800% during my time there, client complained that we and others in the industry were not addressing their pain points of rising healthcare costs due to worsening employee health and one-size-fits-all benefits not meeting their multi-generational staff needs. We finally figured out how to do this with technology, so for 5 years, I repeatedly begged NY HQ for $10M. But they wouldn’t, so I finally left to build my dream on my own. Little did I realize that the $10M would come from my family’s life savings, and that my retired husband would need to return to work and my daughter would have to work for her college tuition in Boston.
Firms that purchase their employee benefits insurance via CXA’s brokers get our marketplace platform for free, which allows employees to shift their unused insurance treatment spend into prevention to get healthier. So we help firms use existing spend to improve employee health to reduce premium costs. Now the largest banks are white-labelling our SAAS platform to cross-sell financials services to employees of their SME customers.
What’s been your career highlight to date and what do you still dream to achieve?
Last year, CXA was valued at over $US 100M after series B, so 75 high flyers from the HR consulting and brokerage industry finally felt safe enough to join our start-up. We hope to become Singapore’s first post-menopausal unicorn, since I started CXA after 50.
How do you balance motherhood & work?
I’ve always had difficulty balancing motherhood with work and have always integrated work with life. When I was on Wall Street, I had to leave work at 5pm to free up my nanny since she was attending night school. I quit my dot-com in 2001 when I discovered my daughter had epilepsy and a learning disorder. I started CXA with 10 employees in my living room, while helping my daughter apply for college and my son loudly gaming with all his friends in the house. Both my children summer interned for CXA.
Like every other working mother, I’ve lived with guilt about both motherhood and work. My guilt only left several years ago when my daughter told me that she wanted to grow up to be just like me. I really had no idea she felt this way and was so touched.
What Advice do you have for young Women Entrepreneurs?
Try to gain the necessary skills needed before starting your own business. I was fortunate to have years of experience running start-ups and implementing radical change for corporate turnarounds. This gave me the leadership, strategy and execution skills to build CXA.