Many people may have heard of the founder and CEO of Discovery Holdings, Adrian Gore, but most will be hard pressed to tell you why they know the name. When you meet Gore you will understand why.
Understated and down to earth, it is sometimes hard to believe that this is the genius behind it all. I use the term genius here to indicate a rare class of intelligence as opposed to the “geniuses” who work for me.
This is the founder of Discovery Holdings Limited, which now owns Discovery Health, Vitality and Life in South Africa, Destiny Health in the US and 50% of Prudential Health in the UK.
It’s a group with a gross total inflow of about R25-billion a year and which is moving into the area of investment with Discovery Invest. In a market of some R70-billion, it believes it can corner anything up to 20%.
Adrian is also a Manchester United supporter, which is confirmation that no matter how bright you are, there may be some deformity in your genetic pool.
I met with him at the Discovery Offices in Sandton :
Traps (T): Tell me a little bit about the early years.
Adrian Gore (A): I was born in Johannesburg in 1964 to two frustrated academics. My dad, who has a number of degrees, is still studying biology and he’s in his 70s. I then went to school at King David Linksfield.
T: Did you play any sport or follow sport?
A: I played soccer but I spent a lot of time racing motocross. Nowadays I take my son karting, but I enjoy driving cars, not bikes. Most sports I don’t really support anyone, but in English soccer I support Manchester United.
T: Of course this could be down to your many crashes while doing motocross or perhaps a lack of fibre in your diet; you may want to have that checked. Are you married?
A: I’ve been married to Lauren (“the Chairman”) since 1987. We have three kids, Sarah Emma, Rebecca Amy and Jacob Stephen. Both of us are obsessed with the children, although I must say the Chairman is very tolerant with me being away so often.
T: Where did you meet?
A: At Wits in accountancy class.
T: How often are you away?
A: We normally work in eight-week circuits, covering the overseas entities as well as the local ones.
T: How do you see South Africa’s future?
A: Optimistic but realistic. People are overly pessimistic. We have the potential to build this into a great country. It is within our hands. What I particularly like is that as South Africans we can make a difference while in places like America, which is so vast, you’re like a drop in the ocean. What I am very concerned about is the levels of crime. I have been looking into various aspects of security on the ground. Discovery is a willing participant in the fight against crime.
T: What are your qualifications?
A: I’m a Bachelor of Science (Hon) specialised in actuarial science (Wits), also a Member of the American Academy, an Associate of the Society of Actuaries in Chicago, and a Fellow of the Faculty of Actuaries in Edinburgh.
T: Where did you cut your teeth?
A: I started with Liberty Life, a fantastic company where I believe there was a coalescing of my creative juices while learning the ropes of institutional management, which was vital. I was there for around six years, ending up heading product development. I learned the importance of producing sexy, exciting products and [having] pride in your product.
T: While you were there, was the vision for what became Discovery forming?
A: Very much so. In 1991, when I left Liberty, it was to raise the capital to found Discovery, which coincided with the arrival of my first daughter, Sarah.
T: When we made the time for the interview you said you were off to the US.
A: It’s part of our eight-week circuit, which I arranged to coincide with the New York Marathon.
T: Have you been training?
A: For months. I’m up every morning at 4.30am training. I’m definitely a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to training. Everywhere I go I run up and down the fire escapes. Even between appointments I’m up and down the fire escapes.
T :And you support Manchester United … it could be distemper; possibly rickets. I’m not the expert …
A: Three years ago at the Marriott Hotel in Chicago, they had a fire and I was the only one who knew where the fire escape was. I was showing all the other guests where they were.
T: When was your last marathon?
A: About 20 years ago, but as I say, I’m obsessive when it comes to training. It is vital in dealing with the stress which goes with the job. I have run the City to City and the Johannesburg Marathon, but that was years ago.
T: How would you describe the group?
A: I see us as a social disruptor, by which I mean that we disrupt a market in a positive sense. We look for places where the markets can be improved and attempt to make a substantial difference to that market, which I believe we do.
T: What’s your favourite TV show?
A: I’m a fan of Seinfeld.
T: Spare time?
A: Very little but because of my excessive time travelling I spend my time with the family. [I noticed that at this point he had stopped mentioning Man United — maybe it’s something I said.] I like to go for a drive or take the kids karting at Zwartkop.
T: What’s your average day look like?
A: I’m up at around 5am and finish around 7pm. After work I run on the treadmill and read a lot. Things like journals, book reviews and the Times Literary Supplement. Very seldom novels. I’m currently reading JM Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year. [I would imagine this is about one man’s epic struggle to conquer fire escapes, or something like that.]
T: How’s your brother Warren?
A: Back from the States, been living here for a few years. We are always having good-natured debates about everything and anything.
T: Besides running up and down fire escapes, how do you deal with the stress?
A: As an Orthodox Jew, I do absolutely no work on a Saturday — it’s time for family and friends.
T: You are also the chairman of the South African Jewish Board of Education?
A: I am.
T: Do you meet a lot of famous people?
A: It’s part of what I do. I’ve met Richard Branson, for example, but the biggest thrill was meeting Madiba.
T: What about charity?
A: Discovery is very active in the healthcare space: building clinics, HIV and anti-natal funding. We’re also injecting between R100-million and R200-million into educating of black medical specialists.
T: How did it feel to be awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award?
A: It felt like I was the captain of a winning team. As I said then, this is very much a team effort.
T: Just by the way, how big is this place?
A: We have around 4 000 staff in the three buildings you can see.
T: Besides family, what’s been the greatest achievement?
A: I’ve been blessed. It’s been a great ride all the way.
That really sums up a very modest and unassuming man. A man who has built an enormous group with hard work allied to a brilliant mind. Socially aware, a family man and a vital cog in this country’s future.
And yet as I reflect upon the interview, particularly nearly being killed as I stood between him and the fire escape, the reference to Manchester United ringing in my ears and the thought that he may be killing half the illegal Mexicans sleeping on the fire-escape stairs in America, shouldn’t “the Chairman” be exercising stricter controls?
The very least we can do is to get our US ambassador to post all hotels before he arrives.