CEO Ryan Noach says a good strategy is simple to execute but hard to copy

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CEO Ryan Noach says a good strategy is simple to execute but hard to copy

Jan 2, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

Ryan Noach’s tenure as CEO of Discovery Health has been nothing that he expected. He took over officially on the 1st of January 2020 and COVID struck the world a month later. His tenure has been defined by how Discovery as one of the leading healthcare organizations in South Africa has had to respond to COVID. How they protected customers, worked with stakeholders including government to do the right thing for the South African society. It was a tragic time; they lost 17,000 customers and 24 staff members.. During this tragic time, if one was to look for silver linings, it gave Ryan the opportunity to define his leadership and gave the health care system an opportunity to reinvent itself in certain ways.

Impact of COVID on Discovery

COVID changed everything. Discovery did things that they would never traditionally do to try and protect the lives of customers. They established arrangements with hotels for customers to go and isolate. They sent them equipment to treat themselves at home because there was a shortage of hospital beds and because they needed proper monitoring for early detection of deterioration. They changed the benefits of the scheme’s plans to cater for the funding they needed. They built an information hub which became the most hit website for reliable COVID information in the country.

Ryan believes companies that had a higher purpose did better during COVID than companies that did not. Discovery’s purpose is enhancing and protecting the lives of customers and they tested every decision against that. ‘It is not just about the words on the wall, it actually defines our culture here, and I think that’s that carried us through COVID. We didn’t just focus on the products; our purpose led us to do things we never thought we would typically do as a health insurer including booking hotels for our customers.’

‘Hotels are not cheap,’ I remark. ‘I can imagine that decision did not have unanimous consent when it was suggested.’

‘We have a very interesting innovation principle or value here at Discovery where we don’t put up the problems before we look at the opportunity. I am the one who suggested using hotels to our team. They all thought I was crazy, but we explored it and did a deal with two hotel groups. If somebody in your house was diagnosed with COVID, we gave you the opportunity to either put the patient there or to put the rest of the family there to protect them. This is the embodiment of shared value. As an insurer, we don’t want the people around those infected to get sick which just means more sick people and even more costs than the hotel bill.’

Strategy and Ryan the man

‘I think the first part of a good strategy is one that’s built by the people and supported by the team. It is easy to just propose your own version of the strategy as the CEO and say to everybody here it is, go run with it. That doesn’t work. You need a strategy that the team has created, co-owns, believes and works together to achieve. Secondly, you’ve got to have some disruptive elements in a strategy; at Discovery we seek disruption in a considered and risk mitigated way. Third, a strategy needs to be complicated enough that others can’t do it, but simple enough that we can do it.  And it is that balance between simplicity and complexity that is critical. Finally, we are a purpose-driven organisation, everything we do must be true to our purpose.’

‘My colleagues would probably say I am very tough and perhaps difficult to work with.  I have high expectations, but I am also fair. I am willing to change my mind about stuff when presented with rational arguments. I wear my heart on my sleeve; I am truly an emotionally charged person. I am very easy to read.’

‘They would also say I am an energetic, committed hard worker who can be unrealistic sometimes. I sometimes stretch people to the point where they feel that they are overstretched. A visionary leader has to set unrealistic goals at times and then allow the system and the people to calibrate. Just look at my boss Adrian, if you follow him on LinkedIn, you will see that he has set a target now of running a mile in 5 minutes at the age of 59. It is an astounding challenge as it is trying to achieve something close to the world record for a 60-year-old. The lesson there is no matter how tough and how unrealistic what you do is, set the bar high and you could achieve what you previously thought impossible.’

This article is a brief extract from the book THE CEO X FACTOR – Secrets for Success from South Africa’s Top Money Makers – available here https://www.takealot.com/the-ceo-x-factor/PLID92980382

 

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