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MICHAEL NEIDORFF:
REACHING FOR THE SUMMIT



By Christine Imbs

“If you keep your eyes and ears open you can learn from anyone, anywhere and at anytime.”

A truer statement has never been made. And listening to Michael Neidorff, chairman of the Centene Corporation, tell his story, you get the feeling his eyes and ears are always open just waiting for that little bit of wisdom.

“My wife and I were in Barbados. It was just after 911 and things were very intense,” he recalls. “I was talking with a beach attendant and telling him how lucky I felt. He said to me, ‘You know, I’ve never seen the word lucky in the Bible. I see blessed.’ I think we have to recognize that word. We’re blessed with what we have and we should do the most we can with it.”

Doing the most with what he has is not a foreign concept to Neidorff. The son of a well-known and well-respected physician, he was naturally drawn to medicine. In fact he planned to become a physician, but organic chemistry got in the way.

“I had a hard time with it. I remember my professor saying to me, ‘Nobody’s working harder than you in the course, but I don’t think you’re ever going to be an organic chemist.’ And he was right. So I took another route. It was either that or fail,” he says laughing.

He may have failed to become a physician, but he succeeded in finding his niche as a CEO. Doing the most with what he had, Neidorff spent 18 years working in progressive roles for Bayer AG and Miles Laboratories. Then in 1985 he started Physicians Health Plan of Greater St. Louis, a subsidiary of United HealthCare Corporation. It became one of United’s most successful and profitable plans. But he didn’t stop there. He joined Centene, a major player in the Medicaid managed care industry, in 1996 as CEO. Last year he took over as chairman of the board. During this time Centene’s market grew from two to seven states and it became a publicly traded company managing the healthcare of about 772,000 lives.

“I’m very proud that we have an organization committed to helping insure that the disadvantaged receive the highest quality care,” Neidorff says. “Last year we adopted the theme ‘Reaching for the Summit.’ The summit is the search for excellence. In our case it’s excellence in operation, in how care is delivered, and in shareholder value. Excellence is something you always work toward. You never fully achieve it.”

Neidorff says various people have influenced him throughout his career. But ask anyone who knows him well and they will say without a doubt the most influential and most prominent person in Neidorff’s life is his wife, Noemi.

“She’s a trained concert pianist. I tell people that when I met her, the theme to the Lone Ranger became The William Tell Overture,” he says laughing. “But truthfully, I owe her a lot. Marrying her was the absolute best thing I ever did.”

When asked about retirement, Neidorff says he’s never really thought about it. He quotes baseball great Satchel Paige who once said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were.”

“I’m 61 years old, but I don’t feel 61,” he says. “I’m having too much fun. I know the time will come to step down. But I’ve always believed that you’re judged not by how you enter, but how you exit. I’m not looking forward to retirement, but I’m not afraid of it either.”

His advice to others? Do the right thing for the right reason regardless of the personal consequences. “Doing this may not always seem like the most expeditious thing at the time, but you’ll win in the long term.”

TalkingPOINT


BORN: Philadelphia, Pa.
RAISED: Altoona, Pa.
FAMILY: Wife Noemi; two grown children.
EDUCATION: BA in Political Science from Trinity University and a Masters in Industrial Relations from St. Francis College.
BEST THING ABOUT ST. LOUIS: Access to cultural venues and the livability of the area.
HOBBIES: Golf, travel and collecting art.
CURRENT BOOKS: Why Not? How to Use Everyday Ingenuity to Solve Problems Big and Small by Barry Nalebuff and Ian Ayres; The Hijacking of American Medicine: The Perspective of a Practicing Physician by Arthur Gale, MD.
 

 

 


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