Douglas Cowieson, Chief Operating Officer at IMC Health
By Carolina Veira
If you enjoy traveling and experiencing new cultures, chances are you have heard about celebrity chef and food personality Anthony Bourdain, his books, and his shows. You may also know that Bourdain was anything but a dull character who once said “If I'm an advocate for anything, it's to move. As far as you can, as much as you can ... The extent to which you can walk in someone else's shoes or at least eat their food, it's a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
After talking to Douglas Cowieson, Chief Operating Officer at IMC Health, about his life and leadership style, one can honestly say he is the Anthony Bourdain of our organization. Douglas is effortlessly engaging. His experience, appreciation for the unknown and passion for change, make him one of those leaders who speaks from the heart. Douglas believes in assuming the responsibility of the outcome by agreeing on a general direction or goal and letting his team take risks in making their own decisions about how to get there. His focus is on “Finding his 20 dancers” (the people who will move the organization and bring others with them) at IMC Health, and he feels we are getting closer “It is important to have the group of people that you feel will move the company forward. To do that, they need to be more than just capable themselves, they need to be inspiring behavior and challenges in others around them.”
Douglas believes change and progress start with every single associate at IMC Health, “I am sitting here in an office making decisions, but in reality it is the receptionist at the center, it is the medical assistant, it is the activities coordinator, all of those people that interact with the patients day in and day out who will make a bigger impact than I can, the only thing I can do is to free them up to be as impactful with as many people as possible.”
Douglas was born in Edinburgh, Scotland “more years ago than I would like to remember" as he described it. He originally started his career in sports as a professional coach. He coached basketball, swimming, and rugby amongst other sports. After his wife taught him to ski, he immediately fell in love with the sport and decided to start his own ski business. With this new goal in mind and due to the lack of capital, he took a job at a hospital in Saudi Arabia coaching sports in order to use his hard-earned, tax-free money to invest it in his new venture. He started the ski business right around the time climate started to change enough to affect snowfall in his native Scotland.
While working at the hospital in Saudi Arabia, Douglas realized he really enjoyed his role and his place in the business and was eventually asked by Upper Management to get more involved in different projects. Right after getting his MBA, Douglas began working for European health insurer AXA, where he oversaw contract negotiation and operations. He then moved to Hong Kong to work for Cigna where he managed the Asia Pacific region which included countries such as New Zealand, Japan and India. His knowledge of contract negotiation, center and health plan operations is vast thanks to his exposure to managing international markets. One would think this was his biggest accomplishment, but in his eyes, Douglas’s biggest success in Healthcare was running the European service center for Cigna, where he and his team won the Best Service Company Award in Britain beating companies like Disney and Avis.
Douglas is happily married to his wife Val of 36 years, with whom they have 2 boys Alastair and Ross. After his non-stop international traveling phase, the whole family moved to the States 22 years ago, when the boys were 4 and 11 years old. By then, his oldest son had lived in 5 different countries and 11 different houses and “was not a big fan of what I was doing”. Douglas added “it is all about perspective”, when they were moving from country to country, they hated the change. However, now that they are older, they think of those years as some of the best of their lives.
With this experience, it is his personal perspective on things and his adventurous spirit which have taught him to bring people who have a different approach than his into his team. His understanding of diversity does not relate to race, sexual preference or color, but diversity of thought. Douglas has learned it is imperative to have people who think differently as part of his teams and put them in the same room, he added “they disagree about stuff, but the ideas that come out become best practices with every conversation” and this is how an organization like IMC Health achieves and will continue to achieve great change and great things.
Rapid Fire Questions
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Skiing, eating, drinking.
In that order?
No! Probably drinking, eating and skiing.
What sets you apart from your peers?
I tend not to get fazed by stuff. It takes a lot to get me angry, it takes a lot to knock me off my stride. I am kind of fatalistic about things. You know, you’re dealt a hand, play it! Don’t wish you had a different hand. You deal with problems when they come along, you try not to get deflated from what you are trying to do. It is not always easy. The other quality that differentiates me is I’ve worked in almost every type of healthcare system in the world, I’ve worked in insurers, clinics, strategic organizations, I’ve worked in government, in the private sector, and I think that part of experience is important.
And which type of system do you prefer?
Healthcare is the best. To be in healthcare and to be involved in people’s wellbeing is good. It is the place to be.
What is one of your favorite places in Miami?
God, I am going to forget the name of it. There is a Cuban area we’ve been to a couple of times, where there are shops, bars and restaurants, that was pretty cool. I can find my way back there, but I can’t remember what it was called. And then I like South Beach, south end where there are not many tourists, there’s a bar that sits right on the water, that looks over to Fisher Island, that is a nice place to sit.
What do you feel most proud of both professionally and personally?
Professionally, winning that award in Scotland was special. I built the team, I set the program, I built it from the ground up. Personally, I suppose I would get shot if I didn’t say convincing my wife to marry me and having two boys.
I am fatalistic. When we moved to Hong Kong, that move was really difficult for my family. But my view was, we moved there at the right time, because if we hadn’t gotten in that plane, an alternative path, possibly worse, would have happened. So, my view is about making the most out of the decisions you make, and not looking back on the ones you didn’t. Regrets? I wish I would have spent more time with my kids when they were younger, but I was that guy in my twenties and thirties who worked all the wee hours under the sun, and I’ve only learned since to spend more time doing other stuff.
What is the advice you would give to your 13 year-old-self?
Be more aware about how you can hurt other people just with things you say. I don’t think I was terribly wise with that when I was younger. I was just trouble when I was a kid.
What changed you?
Mostly my wife. She’s special.
What is imperative to share about Healthcare with our communities?
All healthcare is local, so what works in New York may not work here. Giving information is king, giving people information about their own health, about what they can do, and for them to be actively involved in their own health. You can’t be a passenger in your own health, you have to get on that horse. You have to actively participate by caring about your sleep, fitness, what you are eating, drinking, all of those things.
For more on Douglas Cowieson’s ideas, visit this link on Youtube where he discusses Leadership Culture at all levels.
Director of Finance & Brand Ambassador at IMC Health