PROFILE: Insuring lives with Health Squared chair Steve Thobela
At first it was all about succeeding in business, but now his attitude has changed: he wants to be remembered for doing his best to serve humanity
Steve Thobela, board chair of new medical aid scheme Health Squared, wears many hats. He made his mark in the printing industry, sits on the boards of 12 companies — and leads a church.
Thobela took up his position at Health Squared last month.
The company was formed after the merger of Spectramed and Resolution Health and he is determined to make it a force in the competitive medical aid scheme industry.
He certainly has his work cut out in a market served by 22 open medical schemes, in a sector dominated by giants including Discovery, Bonitas and Momentum Health.
Health Squared has 45,000 members and R210m in reserves. It is up against stagnant growth in insured lives in SA, which has been at 8.8-million lives since 2014. It also faces impending regulatory changes proposed in the Medical Schemes Amendment Bill and the expected introduction of national health insurance by the government. These and other challenges are what led to Spectramed shopping around for a partner, settling on Resolution Health.
“Because of the many challenges that the industry is dealing with — it’s not even challenges of a particular scheme, but the industry overall — schemes generally are looking at how to sustain themselves and get ahead [in future] and we were no exception,” says Thobela. “Now that we have a scheme that’s a bit bigger we have more muscle to negotiate with service providers for the benefit of members.”
As a bigger scheme, which comes with 11 benefit options for members, Health Squared hopes to create more growth for its business.
Thobela is no stranger to the health-care sector, having started as chair of the Spectramed board in 2015.
“That was my real first entry into the medical scheme environment,” he says.
“I knew very little and had to drink from a fire hose in terms of learning but I think it is a very interesting industry, unique and challenging but it benefits a lot of people and we need that service.”
His chairmanship at Health Squared is one of many positions Thobela juggles.
He started his career in the printing industry in 1989.
“I’ve printed almost every newspaper in this country,” says Thobela from his office at the SA Institute of Printing, of which he is CEO. He cut his printing teeth at Pretoria News, leading to a stint at Sowetan, where he was printing manager for almost six years.
Thobela sits on 12 other boards, among them the Independent Packaging Employers Association of SA and the council of the SA Chamber of Commerce & Industry. He counts as one of his biggest successes his time as founding general manager of the Mandela Rhodes Foundation, a leadership development programme.
When he is not at the office, Thobela leads the Grace Berean Church, which he started 22 years ago on the West Rand. And his plans for his church are as ambitious as his plans for Health Squared.
Grace Berean, which he describes as a Christian fundamentalist church with charismatic influences, has grown to five branches in Gauteng and Mpumlanga, with one more planned for Midrand.
Thobela says: “I realise there’s a trend in almost everything I do — it’s about people. On my grave they are going to say: ‘Here lies a man who has served humanity to the best of his ability.’
“That is what actually helps me choose what I get involved in. When I started in newspapers, it was purely business.
“But when I got into ministry and Mandela Rhodes it was to care for people’s lives.”
The medical aid industry, he adds, is no different when it comes to making people’s lives better.
He says watching his parents pass away from cancer, a month apart, brought home to him the plight of many South Africans in getting access to costly life-saving health care, and that is one of the reasons he took on the role of the chair at Health Squared.