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Making people healthy – a winning strategy for Discovery

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Discovery Global Chief Executive Adrian Gore believes his company’s role in the rollout of the vaccine illustrates how well public-private partnerships can work in South Africa.

“I’m most proud of the role that our organisation has played during COVID-19,” Gore said on accepting the Sunday Times Business Leader of the Year award on 11 November. “Our role in the vaccination process, the role of our teams, our vaccination site, and thousands of our people really working to make sure the vaccine rollout – with government – is successful.”

This award, which forms part of the Sunday Times Top 100 Companies awards, honours business leaders who have made a significant contribution to the South African economy and who have achieved greatness through the previous year.

Gore said that for Discovery, it had been a year of “progress and tragedy”.

However, for him the public-private partnership established to roll out the vaccines was a high note, which “so clearly illustrates how the country can work together. Partnership were formed and bridges built between the private sector and government.

“The country started vaccine procurement late and that put us on the back foot, but once we got that done and started rolling out in May, we rolled it out quickly. Who would have thought the issue holding us back would be hesitancy not availability. Our capacity to vaccinate South Africans is at a rate that’s world class.”

Gore said that while it had been a tragic year for the country, it had been a remarkable year for Discovery as its business model had manifested in real life. “Our concept of making people healthier through the Vitality model really was quite profound during this period,” he said, explaining that it embodied exactly what people needed against the threat of COVID-19. “Our data from COVID-19 clearly shows that living a healthy lifestyle is fundamental to resilience to COVID-19.”

Gore said he believed that collectively, Discovery was a “much more resilient” company now, and more focused on what was needed from it. “Our argument has been that three trends are shaping financial services. They are technology; the nature of risk being behavioural [the mortality and morbidity risk]; and the power of corporates needing a purpose,” he said. “Those trends have accelerated dramatically this year.”

He said that there may have been the expectation that people would drop their insurance and healthcare cover during the year because of lockdown and financial difficulty, but that didn’t happen. “People kept their cover, and lapse rates went down. People sought out cover and, if anything, the business solidified over this period.”

Gore acknowledged the biggest loss of the COVID-19 era. “The real tragedy was the many deaths. We expect to pay R6 billion in COVID-19 death claims. That tells the story of the tragedy of the pandemic.

“The one underlying focus for us has been to try to make sure people are protected against dying, hence our role in the vaccine rollout. I’m proud of the role Discovery has played in being there when people need us.”

He said the vaccine mandate for Discovery was a big step, but one that was “entirely consistent with where the company is positioned”.

“We see ourselves as an organisation that makes people healthier – an exemplar for others.”

At the same time, Gore said Discovery had made serious inroads into collecting a considerable and significant amount of data to understand the vaccine, side effects, and just how effective it was as protection.

Gore – who founded Discovery – made the point that no matter where the company was right now, “entrepreneurship is hard, and starting a business isn’t easy. I keep relearning this”.

His advice to others is to “follow the road less travelled, find the opportunities and gaps that others haven’t seen”.

He also said it was wise to build in difficult times. “This might be counterintuitive because especially now, people are down and the economy is down and you may question where the opportunities are.

“Ironically, the opportunities are found in difficult times. Prices are lower, competitors are often distracted, and assets undervalued. That’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs.”

He explained that Discovery started in the early 1990s during the transition to democracy, “in similar times of unease and uncertainty”.

He attributed the company’s success partly to the “power of optimism”, and conviction in what you are doing.

“Things will be tough – nothing is easy no matter where you are. You have got to keep focusing on building, knocking on doors, and finding the way through. You need a product that society wants, but if you have it, I think the markets are big and the opportunities are massive.”

Winning this award meant a great deal to him, he said, especially because it was voted on by colleagues and business leaders. “I really value this award and am humbled by it.” However, he stressed that while he’s on the frontline receiving the award, it’s an award for the collective Discovery team and for the impact it had on COVID-19 and the work it did with vaccines.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. cliff livingstone

    November 18, 2021 at 4:49 pm

    The only way SA will fix the problems we find ourselves in – is via these Public / Private Partnerships Or privatise the SOE’s completely.
    The politicians dont have the ability or inclination or desire to fix what is their current lifestyle creator.

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