Stuart Scullion’s 15 years in the health insurance industry has seen him at the thick of the action. Health Insurance editor David Sawers met him to find out more about his latest challenge, in charge of one of the industry’s largest intermediary firms.
Stuart Scullion is in training. Not content with recently assuming the reigns as managing director of one of the largest ten private medical insurance (PMI) intermediaries in the UK, he’s taking to the floor.
When I meet him to discuss his strategy as MD of Private Health Partnership (PHP), the fast-growing Yorkshire-based specialist intermediary, he seems on edge. But it’s not the challenge of assuming the reins at PHP from Jan Lawson, one of the most highly respected professionals in the health insurance industry, that’s keeping him awake at night. Rather it’s the prospect of donning the sequins for a charity version of a well known dancing competition.
To be fair, taking to the floor with a professional dancing partner for charity is one of the few things that would faze Scullion. His fifteen-plus years in the health insurance industry has seen him carve out a formidable reputation among both providers and intermediaries, while he has been at the heart of some major changes across the industry. He also happens to be one of the most popular personalities in the sector.
Like many, though, he admits that he got into the health insurance industry by chance. His early career saw him climb the ladder from his first role as a clerk at Lloyds Bank through a number of more senior roles at other banks and building societies. After spells at a mortgage broker and then Scottish Provident, a chance meeting with Derry Andrews set him on a ten year adventure growing a PMI provider which was to become a firm broker favourite.
The meeting with Andrews came at a crossroads in Scullion’s professional career. But whatever Andrews said to him, it was enough to persuade Scullion to join Clinicare, the fledgling PMI provider.
As part of a three-man team working out of an office in Knightsbridge in London, Scullion joined a business that was worth some £600,000 of annual premium. It would go on to boast about £39m annual premium income with a workforce of around 75 – a similar value and size as PHP is today, Scullion notes.
Since late last year, Scullion has been managing director of PHP, a top ten PMI intermediary with £43m annual premium and some 75 staff. The appointment is part of a number of changes at PHP which has seen Jan Lawson become group managing director of PHP’s three companies – the care services provider RED ARC, the treatment sourcing service Medical Care Direct and PHP itself. Lawson had been MD of PHP since she cofounded the company in 1989, but is leaving the day-to-day running of PHP in Scullion’s hands, while Christine Husbands is MD of Red Arc.
THE CLINICARE ADVENTURE
It’s a role that Scullion clearly relishes, although he remembers his days at Clinicare fondly. A self-professed salesman, he believes that it was there where he first got a taste for running a business, as well as simply winning new business.
“I’d like to think that I contributed to driving Clinicare forward as a business,” Scullion says. “It wasn’t me in isolation, it was me as part of a team, but that team was quite clear in what it wanted to do and how it was going to do it. So, the crucial thing for me is to be the person responsible for the direction of the business, what it does, how it does it, how it thinks, what it looks like, what its ethos is.”
Clinicare, Scullion continues, was a “fantastic success story” because of a customer-centric commitment to service – something which he is keen to ensure PHP retains under his stewardship.
“At Clinicare, if we said we would do something, we always delivered,” he says. “If we said something would happen, then that’s exactly what happened on that day and in that time. Brokers loved the Clinicare business.”
Scullion says he was so committed to Clinicare that he turned down a potentially much more lucrative career opportunity during his time there.
“I’d been offered [the opportunity] to take over as MD of another business and it would have paid me substantially more money than I was earning, but I turned it down because I just believed so much in what Clinicare was looking to do,” he explains.
Clinicare would eventually be acquired by Groupama Insurances in 2005 – something which Scullion concedes took him slightly by surprise. Alongside colleagues Jean-Bernard Py and Laurent Pochat-Cottilloux, Scullion had helped to guide Clinicare to increasing profits three years in a row.
“The irony is, the increasing profitability of the business was actually the catalyst for it being sold,” he says. “It was the thing that enabled Groupama to quite dramatically expand its presence in the market.”
Scullion acknowledges the good work that Groupama Healthcare has done since making the acquisition back in 2005.
“To their credit, they’ve carried on,” he says. “They’ve still got the same ethos; they’re still really customer-focused and really service-focused. If they say they’ll do something, they deliver, and that’s fantastic because I’d like to think that that came from the period and the ethos of the way we worked as a business.”
The acquisition, however, left Scullion at another crossroads.
“I saw the Clinicare thing as almost the end of an era,” he says. “’I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Scullion says he “hadn’t given any real thought to moving over to being an intermediary”, having been one in the mortgage broking side many years before.
“I sat down and I’d assumed that I’d automatically somehow and somewhere end up with another insurer-type environment,” he says.
That environment would turn out to be PatientChoice, the provider of hospital treatment plans. However, the spell would be short-lived, with Scullion heading up sales there for just over a year. In the end, he was to make the move from provider side to intermediary after all.
When he joined PHP as sales & marketing director in 2007, however, Scullion says he was unaware that Lawson’s hope was, eventually, for him to take over as MD. His focus then was on winning new clients.
“I still get as big a kick out of winning a new client as anything else I do – that’ s almost the root of me really,” he says. “I still enjoy that as much as anything and will continue to do so until I retire. I’ve been like it since I first started, so, it’s not likely to change now.”
While he believes that “marketing is what makes the world go round and sales are the thing that drives it”, Scullion insists that without customer care, businesses will not succeed in the long-term.
“The crucial thing for PHP is ‘do we put our clients at the pinnacle of what we do, do we take pride in the way we work, do we think we go the extra mile, and would we stand up and say that our advice is absolutely fit for purpose, meets the client’s demands and needs, and in a way where they’ve really understood what they’re buying? That’s crucial. We are customer-centric as a business.”
As a business, PHP, Scullion explains, has three key business goals. First, to continue to grow the top line – “the bigger you are, the more buying power it gives you in the market,” he says.
Second, Scullion wants PHP to continue to drive efficiencies through its business. The third strand to PHP’s corporate plan, he says, is to manage costs.
“That, for me, should see us deliver increased profit in 2011 and beyond, which is what we’re trying to achieve,” he says.
Changes at the organisation have seen the loss of four and half job roles – it was the “right thing for the business” – while PHP has seen around an 8% growth in business volumes over the last year. Now, with more than 8,000 customers, PHP is in good shape for the years ahead, Scullion argues. There is, he adds, a cultural change at play across the organisation.
“We’d certainly see ourselves as being one of the top ten PMI brokerages, although we don’t actually think of ourselves as a brokerage,” he explains. “There was a view of the business that we simply broked private medical insurance and some other things and we’ve deliberately looked to more consult on health and wellbeing solutions, of which PMI is one. That’s a significant change for the business.”
Scullion also remains committed to supporting the direction of the wider health insurance industry. As deputy chairman of the PMI Focus Group at the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA), Scullion is keen to work more closely with representation from the larger intermediary and employee benefit consultancy organisations, as well as the Association of Medical Insurance Intermediaries.
Scullion’s first responsibility though is, of course, to PHP and to its majority-owned shareholder, Skipton Building Society. He acknowledges Skipton’s support.
“We’ve got the balance between the client on one side and the needs and demands of the shareholder on the other, and they have been an excellent parent,” he says. “They are very supportive. They’re in the background, but they don’t interfere.”
The set-up at PHP is one in which Scullion says he feels at home. While he plays down the title of “managing director” – “it’s almost irrelevant” – he is comfortable in the driving seat.
“I’m not very good at taking instructions,” he explains. “The thing for me is actually to lead the business and to be able to look at the direction that the business goes in and for me to be taking those decisions.”
Scullion – a committed Watford fan – says there are parallels between football management and corporate leadership. Good work, he believes, should be recognised.
“Everywhere I’ve been, I have tried to instil a work hard/play hard attitude and I say the same thing now: I want us to do it with a smile on our faces. I want us to enjoy it.”
Of course, only time will tell if there will be smiles on the dancefloor as well as in the boardroom…