Fight for health is Challies’ new goal
Ryman Healthcare’s boss to step down after shock revelation
Simon Challies, managing director of the $ 4.2 billion Ryman Healthcare, likens his fight against debilitating Parkinson’s disease to that fought by Muhammad Ali.
Challies, in his mid- 40s, recalled how Ali was diagnosed with the disease but vowed to fight, and the healthcare business boss from Christchurch said he was taking precisely the same approach.
“Well, I’m going to beat it! That’s my prognosis,” Challies said laughing. “I remember reading Muhammad Ali. He said his biggest battle was with Parkinson’s and he was never going to let it beat him. I remember seeing a specialist in Oregon about five years ago and he said it might feel tougher at the time but . . . you have to eat well, keep fit, and challenge yourself.”
Challies made his shock announcement at yesterday’s full- year results briefing in Auckland, where the company announced an underlying profit of $ 178.2 million for the year ended March 31, saying he was standing down at the end of next month for the sake of his health.
Talking in an unsteady and relatively quiet voice, the man who has headed the business since 2006 told of awful symptoms including exhaustion, an unsteady hand, trouble using a keyboard and a much weaker voice. But he kept his dry Cantabrian humour, joking about how touchscreens had been helpful.
“It’s given me a powerful insight into our residents,” Challies told the room of analysts and media, adding that only the board and close family members had known, and how his 2011 diagnosis came just before a company annual meeting at which he had to speak.
“I had the outlook of an 80- yearold a bit earlier. I had times when I had trouble brushing my own teeth, let alone using a keyboard.”
That made him reali se what some of the Ryman residents’ lives were like.
“It made me a lot more rounded CEO,” he said, telling how the business had changed with his insights “and that’s not going to end with me stepping down. “I keep myself really fit and work hard and am mentally stimulated so I’m not giving up anything at the moment. I’m just not going to be having that huge commitment of managing Ryman so I’m sad but I’m sort of excited at the same time.”
In the front row sat his wife Tracey, who said afterwards it was important he take care of his health and that
would be the emphasis in future.
“My health has deteriorated. I’ve noticed it in the last six months,” Challies said.
“The job isn’t getting smaller. I’d love to stay longer but I can’t honestly say I’d do it justice. It’s always a challenge public speaking. I remember when I got diagnosed was just the day before the agm and I stood up at the agm and it must have been the most awk- ward presentation I’d ever given because I felt so vulnerable. You’re sort of selfconscious. And it does fatigue you,” he said.
“But the management team will laugh because they see me working longer hours than any of them and crazy hours, working day and night. I feel like I’ve worked really hard to compensate for this.”
Challies kept his condition a secret from the market for six years because Ryman did not want “misinformation” and having Parkinson’s did not affect his day- to- day performance, he said.
Well, I’m going to beat it! That’s my prognosis. Simon Challies, Managing director Ryman Healthcare