Mike Siomiak began his working life at Ford of Europe and has been in the career driving seat ever since. Two years as a graduate trainee analyst programmer laid the groundwork for a life dedicated to probing business problems and implementing company-wide solutions.
Siomiak’s current role as managing director of Norwich Union Healthcare, based in the sleepy town of Eastleigh in Hampshire, is a far cry from his days at Ford.
The company’s continued expansion means it operates from two sites, and Siomiak is now ensconced in an airy room filled with plants on the top floor of the original HQ.
And it is from this spatially elevated position, that he now reviews his career development. His time at Ford’s acted as a springboard to a post at Stewart Wrightson, the international insurance brokers, where he spent eight years as head of systems development.
Siomiak believes the grounding this provided was invaluable: “The firm was old, yet progressive in the way it actively engaged young people to take on responsibility. It promoted accountability down the line.”
Norwich Union Healthcare also has a philosophy of encouraging personal accountability. And Siomiak believes strongly in involving staff in any changes to the company.
Despite his role as managing director, Siomiak lambastes autocracy and advocates staff participation. He explains that he is committed to giving people more responsibility.
One of the first new measures he introduced at NU Healthcare was a reorganisation of the staff structure. And naturally, this was based on this philosophy of allowing employees increased personal responsibility.
“We have a lot of very good people working for us, each with a pretty wide job remit. We had to revisit where our healthcare business should go, and how we should be organised to achieve our aims. The simple solution was to shift responsibility around the organisation and give each executive a narrower but deeper range of authority.
“The key is to keep everything simple and focused to improve effectiveness.”
Using people to the fullness of their potential is a strategy Siomiak experienced early in his own development. He is honest in admitting to his own capabilities and individual limits, and confesses to being something of a techno-phobe: “I’m not a technical person, I can just about turn the PC on.”
While this is an interesting comment from a man whose job remit at Stewart Wrightson was responsibility for all major systems, personal computing and computer based training, Siomiak’s earlier employers realised where his real potential lay and sent him on a high flyers scheme, leading to an MBA in business administration.
After this, the general manager position, the direction in which Stewart Wrightson sensed he should go, was within his grasp.
Before joining NU Healthcare, Siomiak was head of planning and operations at Morgan Grenfell, which was the perfect opportunity for him to build upon his core skills.
He distills the key elements of his professional career and ambitions into three points: “There have been common strands running through the different jobs I have done. I have been involved in business problem solving throughout my career. I’ve always had a vision, tried to derive a strategy for things like improving financial performance, and then let the experts implement it. And I believe in simple solutions. I have a mathematics degree and the simplest solution is often the right one.”
Prior to taking over the reins in Eastleigh, Siomiak had gained a level of market experience as group executive information manager for Norwich Union, where he worked for three years before transferring to the healthcare division six months ago.
Although he has only been in charge of NU Healthcare a short time, he has been quick to make his presence felt: “Businesses sometimes need a catalyst. I have been called an iconoclast in the past – someone who challenges things. I challenge just to make sure they’re right and if they are, we stick at them. It’s through challenge that we understand how things can be improved.”
NU Healthcare was formed in 1990 with around 30-40 employees. This has expanded and there are now about 850 full time staff, and the company has a 9% market share, ranking it third in the marketplace.
Siomiak attributes this continued success to the company’s quest for self-improvement. The question on everyone’s lips is “What can we do better?” he explains.
The venture into active claims management is a perfect example of putting ideas into practice and it is a service of which Siomiak is particularly proud.
“Customers have the ability to make a phonecall and ask: `Am I covered?’ We can do vast amounts on the phone, like arranging hospital stays immediately. The last thing people want to worry about when they’re sick is financial liability. So we can provide reassurance over the phone,” he says.
But the aim is not just to provide customer satisfaction, accessing untapped markets is high on the agenda. NU Healthcare recently linked up with Abbey National to provide insurance products through the bank’s distribution network. The insurer supplies claims management, customer care and policy administration.
According to Siomiak, this is a mutually beneficial partnership: “Abbey National has gained quick access to the marketplace without recruiting any teams. And NU Healthcare has access to a different distribution channel and a potentially different customer base.”
Joint alliances seem to be all the rage at NU Healthcare. It has also announced a move with Sinclaire Montrose Healthcare to develop insurance products linked to Medicentres, SMH’s “drop in” GP surgeries.
Siomiak explains a primary care product will be launched later this year: “We see a product which can enable people to visit a GP as a building block for the future. A recent Watchdog survey said that 27% of people are prepared to pay £35 to see a GP.”
The growing awareness of the need for private health provision is something which all insurers want to capitalise on. But Siomiak stresses that health insurance should not be viewed as an alternative to the NHS. His simple solution to a national problem is the implementation of a public/ private partnership which should benefit all parties.
He also extols the virtues of taking greater accountability for one’s own health: “The fitter you become, the less likely you are to be ill and the less need you will have for long term care in retirement. It’s good for the individual, the NHS and the employers.”
Certainly, with Mike Siomiak at the helm, NU Healthcare looks set to give its rivals a run for their money.