Mark Coyne

How a League legend took over the board­room

Business First - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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