Risk to reward

In 1998, when Peter Nauert led an investor group to purchase Central Reserve Life, the company was in trouble and needed a lot of help. At the end of the year, its name was changed to the Ceres Group, and positive changes were on the way.

By 2001, a public offering had netted $46.5 million, revenue had increased 24 percent to $713.1 million, stockholder equity had increased 52 percent to $156.6 million and 14,200 new sales agents had been recruited.

“We had a lot of obstacles to overcome, starting with when we bought the company in 1998,” Nauert says. “This company has been successful despite the adversity faced as a small company in the insurance business.

“You have to have a good strong staff assembled at your company. They have to be highly motivated to do well. I’m a hard-driving person and not a popular manager, but I try to effectively use our time, talent, resources and energy.”

The staff responded well to his leadership, leading to the turnaround. Those who were uncomfortable with his style left.

Those who stayed are rewarded with up to a $10,000 bonus for suggestions that help the company save money. Informal recognition fosters an entrepreneurial spirit to move the company forward at every level.

In the tumultuous health care industry, planning is key to survival and growth.

“I’m a planning freak,” says Nauert. “I have to make sure I have plans for everything. I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. If you develop a plan with a goal and outline how you are going to get from point A to B or Z, then chances are, you will achieve some part of that plan. If you don’t have a plan, it’s like driving between here and southern Indiana without a roadmap.

“You have to have a plan and keep executing on that plan. The manager has to make sure they are on the plan, and if the plan changes, they have to be reflective of that plan to meet new obstacles.”

Solid planning has allowed the company to navigate through rapid medical inflation and an acquisition that ultimately cost the company $35 million because of hidden fraud issues.

“I have a good, strong staff that responded well to my management style,” says Nauert, who plans to move on to other challenges soon and is actively seeking to replace himself as CEO. “They have taken to my hard-driving planned style and taken the company forward through adversarial issues that would cause most companies to crater.” How to reach: Ceres Group, (440) 878-3660

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