How a League legend took over the boardroom
Any rugby league aficionado knows the name Mark Coyne: a state and national player, playing 19 State of Origin matches for QLD and nine internationals with the Kangaroos with great success. He spent 12 years at the Dragons, six as captain of St George and wore the famous Red V on more than 220 occasions. Coyne has emulated his on field success in the business world, in no small part due to his ability to lead. He speaks about leading successful teams and why getting back to work is critical to self-esteem. Story by Jonathan Jackson.
Not so long ago, 20 years perhaps, sport in this country was more of a mates’ pastime than it was a professional vocation. Don’t get me wrong, the competitive spirit was alive, fans bayed for premierships – or at least the blood of the opposition – and players took their roles seriously. However, sport wasn’t a career; you couldn’t make a decent living out of it.
At the end of a match teammates cracked open a beer or two, parted ways and turned up to their full time jobs on a Monday morning ... before heading to training in the evening. It was a different world back then. Job skills were vitally important.
For Mark Coyne, business was a calling as much as sport.
“I graduated with a Bachelor of Business, however in 1988 as a 20-year-old I was signed to St. George Dragons. That was my first contract and it was only for $10,000, so I also started to work at Premier Credit Union in a marketing capacity.”
Coyne juggled these roles for about nine years until rugby league became a full time sport. For the three years following he was a professional footballer, but he didn’t quite want to let go of the business skills he was building so he dabbled in a marketing capacity for the club doctor’s rehabilitation business. It was this job that introduced him to the world of workers’ compensation.
Upon completion of his football career Coyne was asked to join NRMA’s Road Service Board. Finding the Board
to be acrimonious at the time, and with a desire to move into operations, he didn’t stand for re-election and decided to take on an operational role with GIO in their workers’ compensation business.
“I spent seven years there, starting with the Sydney based claims team and in my last three years became the GM of the National Workers Compensation claim business. It was there that I learnt about engagement. Mark Milliner (CEO of Suncorp’s Personal Insurance Operations) was my boss for many years there. He helped me understand the importance of investing in people. Today, I like to sit with staff and hear some of their frustrations and find ways to work out their problems in a collaborative manner.”
Of course, Coyne had already been honing his engagement skills on the football field. Football taught him about hard work and work ethic. He says that culture followed him into his business life.
“There was a lot to take from my playing days, including overcoming adversity. I have gone through the trials and tribulations of successful and not so successful teams. I learnt to handle it well and treat it as a life experience. Football allowed me to deal with stakeholders – from CEO to fans, media and sponsors. And it taught me about leadership. I played with Dragons for 12 years and was captain for six years. So coming into an industry straight from football, I believe I have been able to demonstrate strong leadership and that has allowed me to move up the corporate ladder relatively quickly.”
Whilst playing football, Coyne didn’t expect that he’d one day be in a CEO position. He knew he didn’t want the transient life of a coach, but he thought he might be able to lead a club, St George preferably, at a management level. Yet, his career projection saw him transcend that.
“I went past that. I have enjoyed the corporate world and it has just become bigger for me. I got to the point where I didn’t want to go back into the football world in that position.”
While at GIO, which during his time there integrated with Suncorp, he was approached by Employers Mutual Limited (EML). By this point, Coyne had worked himself into the position of GM – Workers Comp Claims at Suncorp and had made waves with his ability to lead and his people-first attitude.
EML had a contract with Coal Services to provide a CEO and Coyne found himself as MD and CEO of Coal Services for two years before taking up his current position as CEO of EML.
EML holds a unique place in the Australian compensation landscape.
“We differ in that we are the only workers’ compensation mutual in Australia. This means we invest back into our members and occupational health and safety programs. We also only work with compensation insurance. There are no other competing insurance lines in this business, so we are focused on workers’ compensation and have been the number one performer in this sector.”
With the ability to concentrate on one core competency, staff at EML is well on board with the people-first message that has placed the organisation at the top of the field.
There are 1400 people working with EML. And while Coyne can’t be as hands-on with each one as he was with Coal Services, he ensures the message is heard.
“I invested a lot of time in a robust strategic plan and I go out and communicate that to our people, making sure that my managers have an understanding of where the business is heading and that they can reflect that to the rest of the business.”
Coyne takes the same approach with clients and suppliers. He says they are key to the organisation’s success because they reflect what the company is doing. Legal firms such as Hickson Lawyers, Edwards Michael Lawyers, Lee Legal Group, Recovery Partners and IPAR are crucial to EML’s operations.
“We create panels with all our clients and suppliers because we want to drive sustainable outcomes. We want to get people back on their feet as quickly as possible and we need to work closely to make this happen.”
The worker’s compensation industry has changed dramatically since Coyne first entered the industry. Those changes are due to the close working relationships that providers have with each other that are driving better policy.
“The industry has changed,” Coyne says. “It was being taken advantage of by people who weren’t genuinely injured or stretched out the injury. Some people could be passive in terms of going back to work, but it’s proven that early active injury management is very important. When I look back at my sporting career I rarely missed a game because when I was injured I did all the right work to get back on track. You need to get people back into the workforce early for everybody’s benefit.
“At EML, our suppliers are focused on getting people back to work. We are active in removing barriers. Claimants have legal, medical and rehabilitation issues and therefore all stakeholders have to work with us to get the best outcome.”
Best outcomes mean better business performance. EML has grown from 50 staff to 1400 on the back of a strong NSW compensation scheme and the company is currently undertaking a