Adrian Gore Discovery Holdings South African Millionaire

Net Worth$280 MillionSource of Wealthfinancial services
Age47Marital StatusMarried, 3 children
CountrySouth Africa

Adrian Gore is an actuary who transformed the South African medical insurance business. While working at South African insurer Liberty Life in the early 1990s his suggestions to build a new kind of medical insurer were turned down by Liberty's powerful founder (and former billionaire) Donald Gordon. In 1992, he got backing from the cofounder of Rand Merchant Bank, Laurie Dippenaar (ranked #18 on Forbes Africa's Richest list), to set up Momentum Health, which Rand Merchant Bank acquired. It was renamed Discovery Health and listed on the Johannesburg exchange in 1999. Gore proved to a brilliant marketer and self-promoter. Discovery's main competitive edge was its Vitality unit, which rewards members with cheap flights and other perks; bigger discounts go to those who acquire points by going regularly to the gym, eating vegetables and taking regular medical tests. Gore is famously fit, often running the 6 miles (10km) between home and work. As an orthodox Jew he saves the sabbath for family and contemplation. One of his few vices: 10 to 12 espressos a day.

Many people may have heard of the founder and CEO of Discovery Holdings, Adrian Gore, but most will be hard pressed to tell you why they know the name. When you meet Gore you will understand why.

Understated and down to earth, it is sometimes hard to believe that this is the genius behind it all. I use the term genius here to indicate a rare class of intelligence as opposed to the “geniuses” who work for me.

This is the founder of Discovery Holdings Limited, which now owns Discovery Health, Vitality and Life in South Africa, Destiny Health in the US and 50% of Prudential Health in the UK.

It’s a group with a gross total inflow of about R25-billion a year and which is moving into the area of investment with Discovery Invest. In a market of some R70-billion, it believes it can corner anything up to 20%.

Adrian is also a Manchester United supporter, which is confirmation that no matter how bright you are, there may be some deformity in your genetic pool.

I met with him at the Discovery Offices in Sandton :

Traps (T): Tell me a little bit about the early years.

Adrian Gore (A): I was born in Johannesburg in 1964 to two frustrated academics. My dad, who has a number of degrees, is still studying biology and he’s in his 70s. I then went to school at King David Linksfield.

T: Did you play any sport or follow sport?

A: I played soccer but I spent a lot of time racing motocross. Nowadays I take my son karting, but I enjoy driving cars, not bikes. Most sports I don’t really support anyone, but in English soccer I support Manchester United.

T: Of course this could be down to your many crashes while doing motocross or perhaps a lack of fibre in your diet; you may want to have that checked. Are you married?

A: I’ve been married to Lauren (“the Chairman”) since 1987. We have three kids, Sarah Emma, Rebecca Amy and Jacob Stephen. Both of us are obsessed with the children, although I must say the Chairman is very tolerant with me being away so often.

T: Where did you meet?

A: At Wits in accountancy class.

T: How often are you away?

A: We normally work in eight-week circuits, covering the overseas entities as well as the local ones.

T: How do you see South Africa’s future?

A: Optimistic but realistic. People are overly pessimistic. We have the potential to build this into a great country. It is within our hands. What I particularly like is that as South Africans we can make a difference while in places like America, which is so vast, you’re like a drop in the ocean. What I am very concerned about is the levels of crime. I have been looking into various aspects of security on the ground. Discovery is a willing participant in the fight against crime.

T: What are your qualifications?

A: I’m a Bachelor of Science (Hon) specialised in actuarial science (Wits), also a Member of the American Academy, an Associate of the Society of Actuaries in Chicago, and a Fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries in Edinburgh.

T: Where did you cut your teeth?

A: I started with Liberty Life, a fantastic company where I believe there was a coalescing of my creative juices while learning the ropes of institutional management, which was vital. I was there for around six years, ending up heading product development. I learned the importance of producing sexy, exciting products and [having] pride in your product.

T: While you were there, was the vision for what became Discovery forming?

A: Very much so. In 1991, when I left Liberty, it was to raise the capital to found Discovery, which coincided with the arrival of my first daughter, Sarah.

T: When we made the time for the interview you said you were off to the US.

A: It’s part of our eight-week circuit, which I arranged to coincide with the New York Marathon.

T: Have you been training?

A: For months. I’m up every morning at 4.30am training. I’m definitely a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to training. Everywhere I go I run up and down the fire escapes. Even between appointments I’m up and down the fire escapes.

T :And you support Manchester United … it could be distemper; possibly rickets. I’m not the expert …

A: Three years ago at the Marriott Hotel in Chicago, they had a fire and I was the only one who knew where the fire escape was. I was showing all the other guests where they were.

T: When was your last marathon?

A: About 20 years ago, but as I say, I’m obsessive when it comes to training. It is vital in dealing with the stress which goes with the job. I have run the City to City and the Johannesburg Marathon, but that was years ago.

T: How would you describe the group?

A: I see us as a social disruptor, by which I mean that we disrupt a market in a positive sense. We look for places where the markets can be improved and attempt to make a substantial difference to that market, which I believe we do.

T: What’s your favourite TV show?

A: I’m a fan of Seinfeld.

T: Spare time?

A: Very little but because of my excessive time travelling I spend my time with the family. [I noticed that at this point he had stopped mentioning Man United -- maybe it's something I said.] I like to go for a drive or take the kids karting at Zwartkop.

T: What’s your average day look like?

A: I’m up at around 5am and finish around 7pm. After work I run on the treadmill and read a lot. Things like journals, book reviews and the Times Literary Supplement. Very seldom novels. I’m currently reading JM Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year. [I would imagine this is about one man's epic struggle to conquer fire escapes, or something like that.]

T: How’s your brother Warren?

A: Back from the States, been living here for a few years. We are always having good-natured debates about everything and anything.

T: Besides running up and down fire escapes, how do you deal with the stress?

A: As an Orthodox Jew, I do absolutely no work on a Saturday — it’s time for family and friends.

T: You are also the chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Education?

A: I am.

T: Do you meet a lot of famous people?

A: It’s part of what I do. I’ve met Richard Branson, for example, but the biggest thrill was meeting Madiba.

T: What about charity?

A: Discovery is very active in the healthcare space: building clinics, HIV and anti-natal funding. We’re also injecting between R100-million and R200-million into educating of black medical specialists.

T: How did it feel to be awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award?

A: It felt like I was the captain of a winning team. As I said then, this is very much a team effort.

T: Just by the way, how big is this place?

A: We have around 4 000 staff in the three buildings you can see.

T: Besides family, what’s been the greatest achievement?

A: I’ve been blessed. It’s been a great ride all the way.

That really sums up a very modest and unassuming man. A man who has built an enormous group with hard work allied to a brilliant mind. Socially aware, a family man and a vital cog in this country’s future.

And yet as I reflect upon the interview, particularly nearly being killed as I stood between him and the fire escape, the reference to Manchester United ringing in my ears and the thought that he may be killing half the illegal Mexicans sleeping on the fire-escape stairs in America, shouldn’t “the Chairman” be exercising stricter controls?

The very least we can do is to get our US ambassador to post all hotels before he arrives.

Adrian Gore – The Disrupter

By Juliet Pitman on January 30, 2014

This is no fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, winners-know-how-to-wing-it, make-it-up-as-you-go-along rebel dissenter.

Rather, Adrian Gore is an actuary who built a business empire based on sound economic principles and a clear vision of finding a sustainable solution to a market-wide challenge. The disruption is what happened along the way.

“I’m not even sure I really think of myself as an entrepreneur,” he says — a startling statement from a man who’s held up as one of South Africa’s proudest examples of entrepreneurial success, and who speaks widely on the topic of entrepreneurship (Gore is chairman of the South African chapter of the global entrepreneurship organisation, Endeavor).

What he means, however, is that he’s not a serial start-up entrepreneur.

“What I really like is the institutional scale of large organisations and what they can do for society. Those are the two things that got me going when we started Discovery. I saw a clear challenge in society that needed addressing and I wanted to start a large organisation that could do it,” he says.

The need was to bring about a fundamental change in the medical schemes industry, which Gore, as a young actuary working at Liberty, could see was unsustainable.

“Medical schemes were running into real trouble, and as we tried to figure out how to change things to make them sustainable we hit on the profound underlying reason that things weren’t working,” he explains, before launching into an analogy that is at once so simple and so brilliant it leaves you wondering why no one thought of it before.

“Imagine you bought groceries in the same way that you consumed medical services under the traditional medical scheme model. You’d pay a monthly premium and then walk into a supermarket whenever you felt like it, take whatever you wanted off the shelf and go home. Food inflation would be stratospheric. That’s exactly what was happening in healthcare. People were paying a monthly premium, and then consuming every benefit available to them because it was in their interest to do so. If they didn’t use it, they’d lose it.”

This paved the way for the establishment of the medical savings product for day-to-day healthcare. It incentivised people to be more prudent with their benefits so they could retain what was their money, and in so doing revoluntionised the entire medical insurance industry.

It was the start of great things, but selling an entirely new concept to the market is hard work, as Gore discovered.

“I learnt that the ability to excite people about your product is critical. And I don’t mean in a counterfeit, marketing-hype kind of way. I mean in a real, academic way,” he says.

Gore was able to demonstrate the brilliance and elegance of the medical savings product concept in such a way that clients could make a clear link between what the product offered and how it could solve a problem they were experiencing.

“We were selling health economics, there was real academic rigour behind it. So we could explain to the CFO of a company why his medical scheme was experiencing health inflation and what our remedy was. When the penny dropped for people, they wondered how the old system could ever have worked — which of course it hadn’t been doing for a long time,” he says.

The pioneering nature of the medical savings account cannot be over-emphasised, but its true genius lay in its approach to incentivising behaviour, something that lies at the core of Discovery’s approach to solving problems even now. It underpins the slew of groundbreaking incentive-based innovations that were to come, including Vitality and the recently-launched Discovery Insure, with its Vitalitydrive offering. Not everyone was a fan, though.

Marketing, Sin Revenue and Big Hairy Scary Balls. We Chat to Afrihost

 Vital Facts

“We were slated by competitors when we launched Vitality rewards. They said we were wasting healthcare rands on gym memberships and flights and that this money should be channelled to healthcare,” Gore explains.

It was not the last time Discovery’s detractors would be proved wrong. It was precisely the introduction of the Health & Racquet Club (now Virgin Active) membership incentive that truly launched Vitality into the stratosphere.

And since then, the power of incentivising healthy behaviour has become globally recognised. In a world where, as Gore explains, 50% of morbidity can be attributed to four lifestyle diseases that originate from three poor lifestyle choices (smoking, unhealthy eating and poor physical activity), healthcare has become intensely focused on how to get people to make healthier lifestyle choices.

“And if anything, this kind of incentivisation works even better with driving behaviour than it does with health,” says Gore, citing the success of the Discovery Insure insurance product which incentivises and rewards customers for good driving habits.

Gore’s vision is to scale the Vitality model and insurance model across the world, but while the company already has a foothold in China, the UK, the US and Singapore, he’s quick to point out that it’s in its infancy on the global stage.

Whenever the issue of Discovery’s offshore ventures arises, so too does the question of its initial ‘failure’ in launching Discovery in the States. A venture undertaken just after the company had gone public, Gore is adamant that the concept was well-received but that the size of the big-hitters and the discounts they could command meant Discovery was out-priced.

“We found we were paying 20% more per hospital event than the big guys were paying and we couldn’t compete,” he says. The company took a decision to call it a day and pulled out.

On the topic of failure, Gore has some interesting views. “I don’t buy into the idea that you need to fail first in order to be successful. I think the less you fail the better. But if you do fail, which sometimes happens, I think you should be able to start over again without a stigma. Failure is not desirable but it should be acceptable,” he says.

Americans seem to have got this right, he believes, but South Africa still punishes those who try and fail. Which leads us back to the topic of entrepreneurship, about which Gore has two deep-seated beliefs:

Entrepreneurship is the only solution to the country’s unemployment problem; and
Mentorship is the most powerful force for good among entrepreneurs.
On the second point he speaks from direct experience. Ex-RMB Laurie Dippenaar was chairman of Discovery for 15 years, after having originally agreed to invest R10 million in 27-year-old Gore’s idea for the company.

“When you start a business there are things that not only have you never experienced but you’ve never even considered. Many entrepreneurs think they don’t need a Board — that it’s a waste of time — but having a bunch of smart, experienced people giving you input is a gift from heaven. If I had not had a Laurie Dippenaar when I started, Discovery would be a very different company today,” he says.

He still draws on the collective input of a strong team. Discovery’s Exco meets on average for seven hours a week every Monday.

“We go through everything. Sometimes it’s a bun fight. We don’t stick to the agenda. Some things we’ll spend three hours on, other things we won’t get to. There’s rigorous debate and arguments, but it means that every week 20 really smart people are all thinking and providing input. No one is making buy/sell decisions. Everything is debated until consensus is reached,” he explains.

Reaching consensus is the path Gore prefers, which is surprising when one considers how he describes himself:“I’m actually an impatient and frustrated person. I’ve got a thin skin. I don’t take criticism well. Because of that, I don’t like to command because I don’t like the push-back that I get. So I far prefer consensus.”

One of the marks of a good leader, he believes, is the ability to instil hope, inspiration and a sense of possibility among people — and to do so authentically.

“Some of the most amazing people I work with give me a sense that ‘it is possible.’ In my best times I hope I do that but in my worst times I know I don’t. I slip into ‘Command and Control’ mode and I’m hard. But I always walk away from those sessions knowing they weren’t optimal,” he says.

But, he adds, leadership skills can be learnt. “No one leadership style is necessarily right, and it’s important to be authentic to who you are. But I do think you can identify your weaknesses and work on them. I’ve learnt how to motivate people when they are at each other’s throats by continually deferring to the common purpose at hand,” he explains.

Where he leads the company to next is clear. “We’re trying to build the best insurance organisation globally. Not the biggest, but the best. And I believe we can do it. It’s about changing financial services based on the idea of helping people to make the right choices — whether that’s to do with health, saving or driving,” he outlines.

But while he’ll accept that Discovery has come a long way, he adds, “We’re still a speck globally. There is a great deal still to build.”

This is perhaps why he finds it difficult to answer questions about what he’s most proud of when looking back on what’s been achieved: “I suppose I don’t really feel I’m in the position of having finished the race where one looks back and takes stock of it all. I’m only halfway through the marathon.”

Davos 2011: Adrian Gore - CEO, Discovery

ALEC HOGG: It's Friday at the end of January. It's got to be Davos. Hello, good evening and welcome to the SAfm Market Update with Moneyweb. I'm Alec Hogg.
    I'm privileged to have David Shapiro's alter ego here in Adrian Gore. I suppose David would be impressed to hear that.
ADRIAN GORE: I appreciate the confidence.
ALEC HOGG: Thanks for being the David Shapiro in the last couple of days, Adrian. Adrian Gore is the chief executive of Discovery - and you've today been focusing more on the health-related sessions.
ADRIAN GORE : Ja. There's a very strong move here in Davos around non-communicable diseases, where more and more we are seeing that just the diseases of lifestyle - obesity, smoking, being sedentary - are massive causes of morbidity, mortality, which we know. That's been the core of our Vitality programme. And there was a session yesterday with Ban Ki-moon and some really top people on a bit like the HIV crisis - where the world kind of declared war on it. There was just mobilisation all over around bringing the price of ARVs down, etc. And there's a strong feeling we need to do the same on this, getting people to live healthier lives, incentives, the whole nutrition issue. So it's been a fascinating day. I was at a session this morning where I presented on Vitality, and there were a number of presentations dealing really on the home economics - why people don't live healthy lives. Really good stuff. PepsiCo was there, Coke was there, all the big health insurers were there. So there's a groundswell of movement around trying to make people healthier, particularly in the developed world. The statistics are horrific on certain issues.
ALEC HOGG: I'd like to talk to you more on Vitality in a moment. But we've also see that on Moneyweb, for instance, on the website we do focus at a business-related audience, or high-income audience, and our best-read stories nowadays are health-related stories. We picked this up from the Wall Street Journal, whose best-read stories are health-related stories as well. So there's a huge amount of interest. But after you have a talk on part of your company, on Vitality, do you get mobbed afterwards by people wanting your business card and...?
ADRIAN GORE: It's actually interesting. It was a session of about 60 really top health people. They were from the EU, there were big health insurers, so it was more of a policy kind of discussion. But I'll tell you this - we have a real, real capability that's unique. There's no doubt about it.
ALEC HOGG: Well, you were in this market a longer time than anybody else.
ADRIAN GORE: Thirteen years in this thing, so the clinical actuarial date of the capabilities are quite unique, and the world is going that way. Governments are trying to incentivise healthier lifestyles, companies are doing it internationally. So it is a real, real, big thing. But it is a fundamental issue that the world faces, and it's soluble.
ALEC HOGG: One of the other themes -and it links to what you said a moment ago - of this conference has been multinationals looking for opportunities in other parts of the world, emerging markets in particular. Now we are a member of the BRICS so South Africa all of a sudden, all the South African companies, are coming increasingly into the radar - not that they weren't there before, but there's more attention on it.
ADRIAN GORE: Absolutely.
ALEC HOGG: What happens to a company like Discovery? You've done all the hard work, as it were, over the past few years, and you as the co-founder are still pretty young - do you get approached by multinationals, and is there a price at which you become a Massmart, which has just been bought out by Walmart?
ADRIAN GORE: You know, it's interesting. I went to lunch with the CEO of Walmart, a small lunch, just on their strategy and trying to understand the dynamics. It's interesting how they are probing and trying to understand what they need to do. But I think health insurance is quite a local issue. It's not typically an industry where your international players move around and buy - which you might have in retail or in banking. So to an extent, if you look at Discovery, I don't think that we are in that kind of...
ALEC HOGG: So no-one's knocking on your door, investment bankers, saying "hey, let's put you up for sale?"
ADRIAN GORE: No, quite the opposite. We are talking to others now about using the Vitality capability, given these trends in the world. So no.
ALEC HOGG: So an export of South African intellectual property, really?
ADRIAN GORE: Ja, absolutely. We are trying to sell into China, do the opposite.
ALEC HOGG: The Chinese story is interesting, Adrian, and we did talk about this yesterday, but there's a strong Chinese presence here in Davos, and you are pretty well involved there. What about India, though, because the Indian presence here is also big, it's also a big emerging market? Have you managed to get your toe in the water there?
ADRIAN GORE: India is similar to China in the sense that it's emerging quickly and with any increasing prosperity private health care, health-care insurance becomes increasingly in demand. So all of Asia to an extent is a very compelling health insurance potential. We've had a number of discussions - there are really, really big opportunities. But I think we've got to try and stay focused because I think you can get in over your head. So quite complex. So we keep looking at these opportunities and I do think that coming to Davos when we talk about Vitality, it just increases the potential. We really do have a lot to offer. But I'd like us to stay focused. We've a lot on our plate.
ALEC HOGG: On a broader perspective - and we are really tapping into a participant from the business community in South Africa who gets into places that unfortunately I can't get into - but from that broader perspective how have you felt the South African delegation's mood this year?
ADRIAN GORE: I've found it very, very positive, wherever we've gone. There's a self-esteem, there's a feeling that the country has done well. There's a feeling that reality is better than perception, and we know that. So as a group we need to get that out there. There's almost a religion in South Africa - it's called pessimism. It's something that we have. And I think the delegation is quite unified. So for example this Walmart lunch had a number of South Africans there, I think telling a positive story about the potential, etc, etc. So I've found it very, very positive.
ALEC HOGG: I sat next to Jabu Mabuza at lunch today, and he was most excited by one sms that he'd got from back home, to say that Madiba's on his way home, so out of hospital. And that's also that's been interesting - that the magic of Nelson Mandela certainly hasn't disappeared on the front page of all the international newspapers. Lots of people here are talking about it - have you heard, what's going on - and it's nice to know that he is in the right direction. But I guess, more than that, it does show you that South Africa's still in the conscious.
ADRIAN GORE: Oh, there's no doubt. There's no doubt. When you are part of it, you kind of see the world through your own context, absolutely. It's amazing - he's magic, just how important in a  sense emotionally he is.
ALEC HOGG: And he's been mentioned a number of times at the World Economic Forum, has Nelson Mandela, and we wish him a speedy recovery, and may he live till 192.
    To bring you up to date with the markets today - not good news. The all-share index dropped by 2%. And of the big stocks on the JSE, the banks took a bit of a pounding. We are going to talk to Mike Brown from Nedbank in a  moment. I hope he hasn't been influenced by this at all, and keeps his cheery personality, because Nedbank group was one of the biggest losers - down by 3%.
    Anglo Platinum was 3% lower - hopefully that's not on the news that came out yesterday from Cynthia Carroll that they have invested $500m into Zimbabwe - and hopefully they are going to reap the rewards from that into the future.
   ArcelorMittal the biggest loss on the JSE of the Top 40 shares - that's down just over 3%. But it is pretty much across the board as far as the miners and the resources and the banks are concerned. The only good news is really two of the Top 40 shares - that's all that were up today. Old Mutual about 0.5% higher and Steinhoff just under 0.5% stronger.
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