· Features

Lessons from the C-suite: Neville Koopowitz, CEO, Vitality UK

The CEO of Vitality talks keeping a start-up mentality and rethinking insurance.

I started out… not knowing what I wanted to do. After I gained a degree in marketing and business management, I was offered a role as a graduate trainee in an insurance company and decided to give it a go.

I knew this was the right career path for me when… I started working for Vitality and recognised there was an opportunity to be part of developing something really innovative in the sector.

Insurance was always seen as a grudge purchase and something people hoped they’d never need to use. Vitality turned that thinking on its head, incentivising people to engage in healthy behaviours to improve their health and providing rewards to sustain those choices and habits.

Previous lessons from the C-suite:

Jan Tragelles, CEO, Revitalise

Ian Wilson, DHL Express UK

Kirstie Donnelly, City Guilds Group

The biggest lesson I’ve learned along the way… surround yourself with great people and then empower them to get on with the job. It also helps if, as an organisation, you have a strong purpose. It’s easier to bring people with you.

My proudest achievement… launching the Vitality brand in the UK. In 2014, Discovery, our South African parent company, bought out Prudential from a UK joint venture that had existed for a decade, trading under the names PruHealth and PruProtect. The launch of the pink Vitality brand in 2015 with the loveable dog Stanley was a pivotal moment in my career.

My biggest inspiration… As a South African, it has to be Nelson Mandela. I had the huge privilege of meeting him in the late 1990s. I think it was his ability to see a future that was so far from his reality that showed me how anything is possible, no matter what the starting point.

Keeping me awake at night right now… We’ve been fortunate to come through the pandemic in good shape as increasing numbers of people decided to take out health and life insurance. But with the cost of living rising, we have to face into the challenge and make sure we keep our products affordable.

The biggest challenge for organisations over the next five years is… ensuring the hybrid working model continues to meet the needs of both employees and business. Maintaining organisational culture requires even more focus in a hybrid world, and I think part of that is about making offices a place where people want to be because they enjoy being a part of what makes us who we are.

I need my HR director to… keep employee engagement at the top of the agenda. We need to ensure we continue to maintain and evolve lines of communication for effective two-way conversations. I’ve enjoyed getting back out to see our people in our offices more regularly this year, especially those colleagues who have customer-facing roles.

More HR directors would become CEOs if… they see themselves as business leaders first. The role of the chief people officer (CPO) has evolved enormously over the past few years and is now firmly in the limelight. Many have brilliant people skills, but anyone in a CEO role needs a good understanding of all the fundamentals of business, from finance to technology to customer service. You don’t need to be an expert in everything but need to be asking the right questions of the right people.

What I’m reading right now… Pitch Invasion; Adidas, Puma and the Making of Modern Sport. It’s the story of how a family feud between two brothers led to the emergence of rival shoe brands – Adidas and Puma – and how sport became an industry.

My top leadership tip… Find ways to keep a start-up mentality alive, no matter how much you grow. For me, this comes down to inspiring and empowering the people around you to think that anything’s possible, and then enabling them to succeed.

The full article of the above first appeared in the September/October 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.