We caught up with Iliyana Mladenova, Chief Operating Officer, to find out about her role at MAXIS, her career highlights, and the challenges and opportunities facing MAXIS and our members. Read on to find out more!
1. You’ve been at MAXIS for 18 months now and joined in the middle of a UK lockdown – how has the start of your MAXIS career been?
It’s nice that you’ve mentioned I joined in the middle of lockdown – I found it very challenging, as I’m sure everyone who joined a new company during that time did.
I started at MAXIS as Chief of Staff and Director of Transformation. The role was about understanding the business and how all the pieces fit together, which I found quite difficult without being able to meet people in person. I don’t think I realised quite how difficult it was until we opened our offices in May 2021, and I started seeing people face-to-face. I could suddenly do my job so much better. I learn the most from being around other people, and getting to know colleagues really made my journey, and my ability to add value, a lot better.
I would also say I joined MAXIS at a time when there was a lot of change going on. It was great to be involved in continuing MAXIS’ growth and watching the joint venture go from a start-up phase to operating as a more mature company, while also ensuring that we’re a sustainable business, well set up for the future.
2. Your responsibilities have changed a little in that time – can you explain a bit more about your role now?
My role as Chief of Staff meant overseeing strategy and transformation and trying to have a holistic view of the company, and how we work with our members, clients and shareholders.
In July my job changed slightly and I’m now the Chief Operating Officer, overseeing IT, Member Management and Change Management. These areas serve the whole company, taking all the business functions’ different priorities into consideration and marrying them together helping MAXIS to deliver for our clients.
3. What do you see as the greatest strength of the MAXIS network?
The dynamic people, culture and teams that we have. For me, the diversity of the team and the can-do attitude of everyone is such a big strength – we work really well together. We implement change and adapt quickly and this has been shown in the last two years with our response to COVID, the war in Ukraine and continuously changing regulations.
Despite being a young company, our network has existed for over 20 years and we are lucky enough to have some of the greatest experts from the global employee benefits industry. With the experience of AXA and MetLife we have a strong network, with good global reach, coverage, and positioning within our key markets. Our partners are also well-established and have great experience in understanding the intricacies of how global networks work, ensuring our partnerships are sustainable.
4. How can we improve as a network? What challenges do you think we face?
Our main challenge as a network is providing data to clients and ensuring that it’s of a high quality. When we tackle this challenge alongside our members and ensure we have good data, it leads to better business for everyone involved.
Nowadays our clients are becoming more and more ambitious. We’re working with the largest global multinationals who move fast and want more from their EB network. We need to be on top of this and ensure we’re responding to their needs. This is both a challenge and an opportunity!
I would also say that ever-changing regulations are a huge challenge within EB. If we look at the last two years, we’ve had to deal with a pandemic, BREXIT, and other global crises. The world moves fast, and we have to act quickly to keep up with changes and provide the best service to our clients.
5. What’s the biggest transformation opportunity for MAXIS and the network?
Data. We are in the middle of one of our largest data transformation projects ever at MAXIS, which really looks at how we use and share data. This project will help us internally at MAXIS but will also aid the data journey for our members and improve the experience for clients.
6. What are some of your career highlights so far?
While I come from an actuarial and pricing background, it is probably the roles outside this specialism that have stood out for me. I once worked as a team manager in a health insurance customer services department, which is probably one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had. The role helped me really understand both what we were selling and the experience for our customers.
I also worked as a third line underwriting risk manager in the P&C world. This role was all about the corporate governance of the company and managing risks. This experience has helped me ever since, especially with knowing that I prefer being closer to the business and customer.
Another highlight of my career was when I moved to the UAE as Head of the Middle East region. I was managing sales, underwriting, customer service and overseeing the whole journey for the customer. It was probably the steepest learning curve I’ve ever had but was great to experience a different culture.
7. Tell us something about yourself that we might not know?
I’m Bulgarian, and I used to be a math-athlete at school. I went to a maths high school – we had training camps, competitions and everything.
I didn’t play sports, but in my final year of university I took up rugby. I joined because I desperately wanted to play a team sport having never done one before! I’m not scared of trying new things – I like to give everything a go. Before I came to university, I didn’t know what rugby was, as it’s not that popular in Bulgaria.
8. What are you passionate about? Aside from employee benefits, of course…
The environment is a big thing for me. I’m all about the little positive impacts that we can make. I try to buy second hand clothes and I tell everyone how to recycle where I can! It’s a big pet peeve of mine when people don’t recycle properly. My tag line is ‘turn off the light, save the penguins’ – so much so that someone at a previous job once bought me a toy penguin.
I also love hiking – I’ve actually just returned from a big hike in Bulgaria which was amazing.
Finally, I love people. Speaking to people and learning from people gives me energy. I’m very much an extrovert!
Thanks for the insights, Iliyana, it’s been great catching up!