CEO Neidorff Discusses
Michael Neidorff, chairman & CEO, Centene Corp., a key player in the Medicaid managed-care industry, spoke to a captive audience on Feb. 2 about overcoming financial challenges, his company's successes and the overall transformational power of education. His visit to campus was part of the Success to Significance Speaker Series sponsored by the School of Business and Technology.
A multi-line managed care organization headquartered in St. Louis, with offices in several locations across the country, Centene is one of the most successful and profitable companies in the nation that provides Medicaid and Medicaid-related programs and specialty services to healthcare organizations across the nation.
A few years ago, Centene adopted the theme "Reaching for the Summit."
"It is the search for excellence–never achieved," explained Neidorff, who is also on Webster's Board of Trustees. "Be very purposeful in everything you do–if you are not purposeful, you will end up somewhere else. Centene is about excellence in operation–in how care is delivered and in shareholder value. Excellence is something you always work toward and yet you will never fully achieve."
Recently named to Forbes Magazine's exclusive list of America's Best Big Companies and Forbes' 2006 list of Best Mid-Cap Stocks, Centene has expanded from two to seven states and become a publicly traded corporation that manages the healthcare of approximately 772,000 lives. Neidroff joined Centene in 1996 as CEO and became chairman in 2004.
His leadership is credited for one of the most successful HMO turnarounds in the health-care industry. In fact, Centene was one of the few HMOs that made money in the mid-1990s–when most other HMOs struggled financially.
"Neidorff represents a small dynamic group of entrepreneurs in America today, people driven by the urgency of making a difference, individuals with a sense of constructive impatience," explained Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande, dean of the School of Business and Technology. "He has helped shape the managed-care industry by creating new health plans; growing one from zero members to 175,000 members and 3,000 providers. Michael has pursued every new venture with the passion and sense of conviction focused on making the industry better by providing the highest quality customer service."
"Centene strives for better outcomes, and to save our clients money," Neidorff explained. "We are a growing company but we are saving our states a lot of money. This creates shareholder value, better outcomes, better healthcare, lower costs."
According to Neidorff, Centene has grown "geometrically" because of its innovative approach to managed care, which focuses on specialized systems and technologies, local services, diverse business and product lines, member support programs and quality employees with key Medicaid expertise.
"Strategic goals are outcomes," Neidorff emphasized. "We can't reach success if we don't have support systems. ... And that's what Webster does, by example, with the variety of educational programs they have. We have employees getting undergraduate and graduate degrees at Webster, which we pay for. It's important to keep building that base. You can't just hire new employees–you have to develop them."
As testimony to Neidorff's innovations through the years to serve both his customers and "develop" his employees, he dropped prices to increase market share and realigned office hours for working parents' needs, to name just two examples.
Akande also attributed the launch of Webster's Certificate in Entrepreneurship program in part to the inspirations of individuals such as Neidorff. "At Webster University, we recruit and attract students who come to Webster with the creative energy and entrepreneurial-mind set ready and willing to absorb the knowledge and expertise of our dynamic faculty before they embark on their chosen career paths," said Akande. "The Certificate in Entrepreneurship is the result of collaboration between the School of Communications, the Gerdine College of Fine Arts and the School of Business and Technology. The response so far has been spectacular. It is my hope that these students will become the Michael Neidorffs of tomorrow."
A world traveler on the road an average of 80 percent of the time, Neidorff said, "I have also been privileged to visit Webster's campuses in Geneva and Vienna. And what I loved about it is when you are in those markets and you talk to the students and faculty–they view themselves as indigenous to that market. This is very important."
Neidorff has several signs hanging in Centene's boardroom that are mantras for the company he has helped achieve incredible success. One sign reads, "Take time to deliver them. But when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and do it."
"Avoid paralysis by analysis," he explained further. "It's also important to know how to disagree without being disagreeable. ...Policies don't control people. People control the policies."
On his desk he has a paperweight of a hand reaching for stars, he explained to the audience in his closing remarks. "Because if you are reaching for the stars, you will never come up with a handful of mud."
Q & A With Michael Neidorff
1. What keeps you awake at night?
Ensuring that we are growing the organization in such a way to ensure that we are developing our business, and protecting the shareholders' value in the company.
2. What is your greatest failure?
While we have overcome this, my greatest failure was our inability to differentiate ourselves from our peer companies in our business space.
3. Who is your inspiration?
My wife, family and the incredible staff with whom I work at Centene Corporation.
4. What do you fear?
I fear disappointing shareholders who have invested their money and their confidence in us.
5. Who has impacted your professional life?A series of individuals with and for whom I have worked. A wide ranging group that includes my first boss, to the President of the Consumer Product Group at Miles Laboratories, the members of the Board of Directors at Centene Corporation, as well as everyone who has prevented me from shooting myself in the foot.