What I Wish I Knew: Kevin Chean

What I Wish I Knew: a series of conversations around first jobs

Whether you’re looking to calm your first-day-on-the-job jitters or you’re looking for advice to help propel your career forward, our annual “What I Wish I Knew” series has actionable and insightful tips to help you kick your career into high gear.

In our third installment of the year, Kevin Chean, who has been with MetLife for 7 years and is Head of P&C Distribution, shares learnings from his unique post-graduate experience.

What do you wish you knew when you started your first job out of college?

Kevin Chean: I wish I had an understanding that working hard is only the baseline – networking, establishing relationships and influencing are additional skills we all need to have successful careers.

What are some critical dos and don’ts for starting a career on the right track?

The nature of your job should outweigh salary, in terms of priorities – always choose a job where you will develop key competencies, rather than work in a job that will become too comfortable and less satisfying over time. It’s important to look at your career in the long term, selecting roles that will help build your portfolio rather than focusing on how much you’ll make.

What is your current role?

I lead sales and distribution for Property & Casualty (P&C) at MetLife. I work with our agency and group P&C distribution teams to make sure we reach our customers in the most efficient and effective ways.

What is your background?

I grew up in the beautiful, Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic. I was fortunate to live in a melting pot environment where my friends were Dominicans, my school was American and we spoke Chinese at home. I came to the U.S. for college and studied electrical engineering at both Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Georgia Tech. I later received an MBA from Columbia Business School.

What did you picture yourself doing after college?

I always aspired to be a General Manager responsible for a large P&L because I’ve always looked up to legendary CEOs like Jack Welch and Bob Iger who were able to radically transform their companies and drive significant growth.

However, I never imagined working for an insurance company but the truth is, I’m loving it. It’s extremely satisfying to know that every day, we’re impacting people’s lives and protecting their financial wellness.

What was your first job?

I worked as a scientist in General Electric’s research laboratory developing next-generation technologies for the various GE businesses. My role gave me the courage to bring new ideas to the market place and it also taught me the importance of using data and analytics to drive business decisions.

What qualities do you most admire in leadership?

Clear thinking and taking a structured approach to problem solving are qualities I admire most.

What do you find here at MetLife that embodies the culture you have looked for?

Execution through relationships with colleagues, business partners – MetLife is highly matrixed and being able to work with cross-functional partners is key to success. Working as a global team helps us leverage our scale and offer the best products and solutions to our customers.

How do you approach networking and career growth?

I think it’s important to find ways outside your core role to grow in your career. I look for extracurricular activities to continuously round out my skills and network. At MetLife, I helped establish iRise, an organization that helps employees early in their career to develop professionally and network with colleagues across the company. iRise gave me opportunities to positively impact careers, build my own leadership competencies and gain visibility to many senior leaders throughout the company.

How do you manage up?

Managing up is a difficult yet important skill set. Before going to my manager, I make sure I “push my thinking,” ensuring that I’ve looked at any problem and its possible solutions from every angle. Often times, a manager might give an ambiguous, high-level task or idea but it is our responsibility to gather the data and develop the strategies or options to present well thought out plans. It’s also important to prioritize and ensure you align on timing with your manager. 

How do you ensure you continue to learn and grow professionally?

Starting a new role or taking on additional initiatives outside my day-to-day work forces me to get outside my comfort zone and learn quickly. To learn continuously, I’ve challenged myself to look for new roles every two to four years. I also subscribe to Audible.com and listen to audiobooks on business management and biographies on a monthly basis.

What styles of leadership do you see at MetLife?

Motivational leadership – empowering associates at all levels to take full ownership and exceed their goals.

Do you have a mentor or a champion? If so, how has this relationship helped you progress in your career?

Yes, I’ve had three mentors at MetLife and they’ve helped my career by providing unfiltered feedback.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Hungry for more career advice? Click here for more from our What I Wish I knew series.