Meet the Wollongong CEO of 35 years who has led from the front by creating a culture where everyone works together and shines for the greater good of all

Popular with all: New employee Kate Hajduk with Michael Bassingthwaighte and long time employee John Henry. Picture: Greg Ellis

Popular with all: New employee Kate Hajduk with Michael Bassingthwaighte and long time employee John Henry. Picture: Greg Ellis

When 29 year old Michael Bassingthwaighte started work at Lysaght Hospital and Medical Club in 1982 the health fund solely for Lysaght employees at Springhill and their families had about 5.500 members and eight staff.

Under his guidance it has changed with the times and grown to become a national health fund called Peoplecare that employs 140 people in Wollongong.

The much loved boss leads a business where people enjoy working so much it has earned a reputation as an employer of choice.

Looking back: Chief executive Michael Bassingthwaighte with chairman of many years Cec Ainsworth who provided guidance & support.

Looking back: Chief executive Michael Bassingthwaighte with chairman of many years Cec Ainsworth who provided guidance & support.

Peoplecare was named Illawarra Business of the Year in 2008 and 2010 when Mr Bassingthwaighte was also named Illawarra Business Person of the Year. In 2013 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for “significant service to the private health insurance industry and the community. In 2014 Peoplecare was named Smart Investor Magazine's number one open health fund in Australia and in 2011 it was recognised at the REBRAND 100 Global Awards. That is just some of the recognition for the health fund that is consistently among the fastest growing and highest ranked in Australia while remaining headquartered in the Illawarra.

Mr Bassingthwaighte is one of the best known business leaders in the region but that was not always the case. For the first two decades he preferred to keep a low profile despite playing an important role on industry associations at a national level. That began to change with industry deregulation when Lysaght Peoplecare began to market itself and its products and services nationally. He grew up in Crookwell before working for Coopers & Lybrand in Sydney and then Wollongong. In 1974 he started working for South Coast Medical Benefits Fund and then Medibank for seven years from 1975. He moved to Lysaght in 1982 to advance his career and remain in Wollongong.

Community: Michael Bassingthwaighte & Peoplecare's Kelly Baker, Chris Stolk, Tory Acri & Anita Mulrooney prepare for the Australia Day hospital bed race in 2010.

Community: Michael Bassingthwaighte & Peoplecare's Kelly Baker, Chris Stolk, Tory Acri & Anita Mulrooney prepare for the Australia Day hospital bed race in 2010.

Asked why the health fund has been so successful so long he said industry involvement as well as organisational culture were very important and former chairman Cec Ainsworth played an important part in that. “Which is why I see everyone who starts here for about an hour or so when they arrive”. Mr Ainsworth said two things when he started 35 years ago. “He is arguably the most charitable person I have ever known and said I would really like you to get involved more broadly within the industry and look after the people who work here. He said stay community minded and people oriented. I have never forgotten that and it is something I tell everyone who starts today”.

Business systems analyst Kate Hajduk said Mr Bassingthwaighte saw her as soon as she arrived. “I had only heard good things about Peoplecare. It has already live up to and exceeded my expectations. The fact that the CEO makes time to sit down with everyone says a lot”.

While employees see him as a great leader Mr Bassingthwaighte said “I prefer to work in the background and not seek the limelight”.

The young CEO

The young CEO

Community relations manager John Henry has worked directly with Mr Bassingthwaighte for 28 years and started at Springhill 40 years ago. He has stayed so long because of the people, the member focus and the opportunities for diversity in an organisation aware of everyone’s capability.

Mr Bassingthwaighte said Mr Ainsworth was a great role model and understood the importance of a good team culture. “He had empathy for people and that was the biggest influence on me. We get a chance to help a lot of people in their time of need which we find satisfying and rewarding. We are the custodians of people’s money and our role is to hand it out when people are in need.”

Michael and his daughters

Michael and his daughters

Mr Bassingthwaighte lived in Mount Warrigal from 1974 to 98 and his daughters Nicole, Lisa, Natalie and Melinda were born at Port Kembla Hospital and went to school locally. As a leader he has shown a skill for managing people in a way where they want to work together for the good of all members. He has also done that at a national level holding senior positions on the boards of industry associations. His involvement in the formation of several joint venture companies has not only helped keep many not-for-profit health funds in business but prosper by finding strength through collaboration. “Over the last 25 years we have formed three industry bodies.I have been on those boards ever since”.

Whether it be IT services or procurement on the clinical side he said market positioning was important so smaller health funds such as Peoplecare can match the biggest in Australia. “We started by buying an IT company (HAMB Systems) in 1991 that has grown from three to 80 employees. 24 of the 35 health insurers now use that product. A year after that Bryce Fraser and I were visiting Figtree Hospital..and we decided to form a company called the Australian Health Service Alliance.. 26 funds use that as a buying group. They contract with about 550 hospitals and 35,000 doctors”.

In 2015 Mr Bassingthwaighte was involved in the formation of Members Own Health Funds to help market 15 funds. He also saw an opportunity for Peoplecare to diversify and provide outsource management services. It now manages Reserve Bank Health Society and National Health Benefits Australia and has formed a partnership with Allianz providing an outsource management service for international student insurance. Peoplecare has also launched a dental and optical clinic. Mr Bassingthwaighte is presently involved in succession planning discussions with the board. “I am not quite ready to put the feet up just yet but it is getting pretty close. It feels fantastic to have been at Peoplecare so long. It has really been a chance to shape something. We are not interested in growing for the sake of growing. We don’t want to be the biggest. It is about doing the right for people who want to be a part of what you have to offer.”

Mr Bassingthwaighte said it was also good to see people at Peoplecare have the opportunity to grow, develop and advance their careers. But he knows it will be hard when the day to leave comes because it is such a good work environment with such a great culture.

“We like to have a lot of fun around here. There is always some event on. With things like the Olympics and Easter we get right in the mood. The team drives the engagement. We have a pretty low turnover. I know I have never had a bad day going to work. I just get here and there is this great group of people.”

Mr Bassingthwaighte said when he does step down as CEO he will stay in Wollongong where he is keen to get involved in a few boards and improve his golf so he can give Colin Bloomfield and Mark Wilson even more competition.

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