David Greig: A Passionate Healthcare Leader with a Vision to Create a Better World

The 10 Most Innovative CEOs to Watch in 2023

David Greig, CEO of GMHBA Limited, believes that a leader’s job is to leave some part of the world better than they found it. His philosophy on leadership comes from over 20 years in the finance, management consulting and health insurance sectors.

David also started his career as a psychologist – mainly because he had no idea what to do with his Honours degree in science. Between that and GMHBA, he worked at Booz & Company (now Strategy&), Bankwest, Bank of Queensland and other health insurers, in startup businesses and large listed companies.

“Whilst I’ve certainly taken the scenic route to get to the role that I’m in today, I feel that breadth of experience has been enormously valuable in both predictable and surprising ways,” David remarks.

Making a positive difference in the community with GMHBA

GMHBA is a private health insurer and healthcare company based in Geelong, Australia. Founded in 1934 by local cement workers to support each other in times of need, the hospital benefits scheme quickly grew to include the broader community, with the purpose to support and empower its communities to live healthier lives.

GMHBA has grown significantly in the subsequent 87 years but has always retained a strong thread of care and community through its culture. Today GMHBA is evolving from a private health insurance business to a care company with a burgeoning business across a rapidly growing range of health care services including general practice, optical, dental and physiotherapy.

When David joined GMHBA, he saw an organization with a great legacy of contributing to the community, a people-centric culture, a deep sense of purpose and a strong board. He also saw it as an environment where anyone who brought aligned values, passion and capability could make a difference.

David believes that “ultimately a leader’s job is to create a business that is better than the one they inherited” and that’s his inspiration for joining GMHBA. “GMHBA exists to improve the health of the community, so making a difference at GMHBA means making a positive difference to the community around us.”

“The privilege and responsibility we have as leaders is to make an impact at scale,” David notes. “For me, the dimensions of success are for our customers, our people, our community and the sustainability of the organization itself.

David observes that every business leader wants to see strong financial and operational performance. But organizations that experience sustained success have always looked beyond financial metrics and understood that sustained, high performance requires a strategic outlook for excellence for customers, people, innovation and the environment in which they operate.

“A leader’s job is to create a business that is better than the one they inherited.”

Leveraging GMHBA’s heritage, culture, and purpose for greater impact

David points out that while Australia has a high-quality healthcare system, like other OECD nations the rising cost of healthcare and an increasingly aging and unwell population are forcing new thinking across the entire health value chain.

Health insurers, specifically, are seeking to better understand and engage with determinants of health outside of traditional health insurance. There are many examples of leading organizations globally investing in data and technologies to better understand, predict and support customers’ current and prospective health needs.

“New insights and innovations are enabling organizations to improve health outcomes in the community by increasing access to health experiences that help people get well and stay well. At the forefront of this movement are innovations in data analytics, virtual health, prevention, artificial intelligence, automation and genomics.”

“Having held strategic leadership experience across a range of financial services and professional services domains coming into GMHBA, I felt like I had a reasonable sense of the levers that would make a difference here”, says David. “GMHBA already had a great heritage, culture, purpose and some very talented people. The opportunity was always to harness and focus those resources on the opportunities that would have the biggest impact.”

“Create an environment where grand challenges are a source of opportunity, inspiration, and energy rather than a source of fear.”

To lead others, you need to be able to lead yourself

David believes that, “In this age where our society is challenged by environmental decline, political division, growing discrepancies in equality and chronic ill-health, a broader view of a leader’s contribution is more important than ever before.”

He recalls that the most difficult challenges he has faced in his career have also been the most rewarding ones. “I can think of several occasions in which I’ve been confronted by what seemed at the time to be an impossible challenge,” says David, recounting the four most important lessons that he’s taken from those experiences.

“First, there is always an answer – it’s just that you may not have worked it out yet. The old maxim of ‘if it was easy, everyone would be doing it’, or ‘if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing’ holds true.”

To lead others, you first need to be able to lead yourself – to summon the courage and the audacity to forge a new path where none exists. “A great mentor of mine once told me to back myself no matter the challenge – those words saved me at the time and have stuck with me ever since.”

Second, where it matters, it is important to aim to be extraordinary. “Humility is a wonderful virtue of Australian culture, but I feel sometimes that comes with a level of discomfort with aiming to be the very best at what we do. A degree of boldness is needed for breakthrough thinking and performance.”

Third, to create change, leaders also need to encourage their teams to be truly audacious and to create an environment where grand challenges are a source of opportunity, inspiration and energy rather than a source of fear.

Finally, you can’t do it alone. Surround yourself with great people whose values and talents complement your own.”

“There is always an answer – it’s just that you may not have worked it out yet.”

Building clarity, relationships, and momentum as a leader

One of David’s favorite sayings is that the first job of leadership is clarity. Reflecting on GMHBA’s progress over the past 18 months, what he’s most pleased about is the strategic clarity created for the organization and the impact this has had on the alignment, productivity, fulfillment and results that the team has achieved.

David insists that the importance, effort, and impact of aligning strategy, structure, people and operating rhythms is an often-understated art and science. But GMHBA is seeing the momentum and energy behind their strategy, which is cascading into the operating rhythms and rituals in the organization, and the accountability people feel to their customers, the company and each other.

“The whole team has worked really hard over the past two years and the strategy is starting to bear fruit. Our first half sales are up 27% year-on-year, customer attrition has improved by 17%, customer satisfaction metrics are ahead of target and our employee engagement has improved by 11%,” David shares.

He notes that generating change and growth is always a challenge, but starting in a new organization, in a new city, amid a global pandemic, with some of the harshest lockdowns in the world, was a next-level test of resilience and communication.

“Looking back, it is satisfying to have been able to have built clarity relationships and momentum, whilst ensuring we truly cared for our customers and our people. I have been fortunate to have a great team around me to make it all work. I’m a real believer that anyone with a growth mindset, who works hard and has good values can be successful in anything they do,” says David.

He also maintains that what leaders have learned more about over the past decade is that resilience and learning agility are also essential, given the pace at which the world and people’s careers will continue to change.

“The first job of leadership is clarity.”

Redefining Work-life Balance

Declaring that he hates the term ‘work-life balance’, David points out that it implies that our work sits on one side of the scales and our life sits on the other, which by extension means every moment we spend at work is a moment we’re deprived of life.

“That’s such a fundamentally flawed and unhelpful perspective,” he observes. “Whether we like it or not, and whether it is a good thing or bad, most of us spend more time at work than we do with our families, friends or hobbies and so to have a happy and fulfilling life, it’s really important that we find joy and fulfilment at work.”

However, he does think about the alternative to ‘work-life balance’, which is ‘balance of life’, which to him means making mature and conscious choices about how he fills his 24 hours, and how much work, family, health and social value he can create.

“I often don’t tick all the boxes I’d like to (sleep is usually the first to go), but I certainly make a very conscious choice to bring passion to most things I do,” David maintains. With this mindset, he has never struggled for motivation or passion for his work. Rather, his perspective on balance sees him bring his whole self and his passion to work every day, regardless of what he’s doing and where he’s doing it.

David makes a point of prioritizing and sharing his kids’ school runs and bedtime routines in his week and at GMHBA, he supports his staff in finding balance through flexible and hybrid working arrangements.

For David, a regular day at work means starting the day early so he can put his girls to bed at night. “That means I try to hit the gym at 5 a.m. (I know it doesn’t look like it, but I do!). Then I plan my day before either heading into the office or working from home,” he states.

As a CEO, David is mindful that he doesn’t sell any policies, and he doesn’t serve many customers, nor does he provide any IT support or see patients. So, unless he’s making a difference to the people that do, he needs to rethink how he’s spending his time. Most of his week is working with the team to provide either clarity or support.

Outside of that, David tries to schedule a regular slice of time where he can think long-term about the needs of his community, his board, his customers, and his organization, and the planning they need to do on that day to be ready for the world in 3, 5, or 10 years.

“There’s always less time than opportunity, so once a month I look back on my calendar and try to find where I have spent my time ineffectually so that I can adapt and be more productive going forward,” he notes. “I can usually find at least one example where I could have been more effective, but with regular focus over many years, I’d like to believe I’ve narrowed these down to exceptions. But I’m still always learning.”

Making GMHBA a world-class health organization & place to work

David recalls that the state of Victoria had some of the world’s most severe lockdowns during 2020 and 2021. This not only impacted GMHBA’s members, patients, and community but also their employees. Their staff were supported with up to three weeks paid pandemic leave and vaccination leave and were provided with everything they needed to work from home.

“At various times we sent meals to our staff and provided online classes, social opportunities, health seminars, and mental health check-ins. As we transition through this ‘new normal’, we are continuing to find ways to support our remarkable people to maintain a balance of life through flexible and hybrid working,” David remarks.

Within the next 10 years, David expects GMHBA to be a world-class health organization, a world-class place to work, and to be further recognized for its contribution to the community.

“We’re already making significant investments in our people, technology, and operations and are seeing growth in both health insurance and healthcare. Over the coming years, we will bring these two parts of our business closer together, and I’m excited about the truly innovative and integrated experiences we can create for our customers,” he states.

David leaves us with this message to aspiring business leaders: “Find your passion and create an environment where others can unashamedly express themselves and their passions. Be clear, be bold. Have the courage to be audacious, the humility to learn, and leave the world better than you found it.”

“Have the courage to be audacious, the humility to learn and leave the world better than you found it.”