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Add your voice to the conversation

Dr Michael Zipp, CEO of CPOA (Cape Peninsula Organisation for the Aged)

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Dr Michael Zipp, CEO of CPOA (Cape Peninsula Organisation for the Aged), 58 years of age, joined CPOA in January this year, taking over the reins from Billy Rauch who retired after 20 years in office. Coming from the corporate world, Michael had spent 30 years in corporates, first with KPMG and then with Henkel working in Asia, China and then MD for South Africa in Johannesburg. His desire to live and work in South Africa was germinated on a trip in 1981 with the South African Foundation when he came out with a group of German students. He has a strong financial and commercial background, so his foray into aged care is new and an exciting challenge for him.

Michael has joined CPOA, an NGO that was founded 62 years ago by volunteers with a strong welfare orientation. His predecessor Billy Rauch worked alongside him for a three month introductory period, and now Billy serves on the CPOA board. Michael noted that over the last ten years the organisation has moved into life right projects, an economic model as the welfare model was running at such large deficits by default. Government subsidies are not sufficient and the surplus from economic traditional homes was insufficient to make up the losses, so life right accommodation has been developed as an income generator and also to meet the need of a growing market. CPOA is not a commercial developer but needs to run a financially successful business.
The success of CPOA, Michael attributes to a conservative approach. Their developments were financed out of cash flow. From a property development point of view, this doesn’t make sense; a developer would go to the bank for a loan. But CPOA’s philosophy was that it was not taking loans, not going on an aggressive growth journey.

Its greatest strength today is the 800 employees spread over 20 facilities, serving 1900 residents. CPOA’s staff is very experienced and long serving which is a positive but sometimes a stumbling block to change. Michael believes you retain good staff through your company culture. CPOA has a culture of caring. He maintains they treat their staff with care and so want their staff to treat their residents with care. He also believes you retain good staff when they know their jobs are secure. Key performers must be rewarded. Another strength he believes is the CPOA brand. He wants to grow that brand but also have a fresh look, by endorsing them as “The Retirement Specialist”. This adds to the value for the staff, current and prospective new residents, knowing that CPOA is a market leader and having a sense of belonging.

Their third strength is their strong volunteer base. Their volunteers are dedicated and serve in their senior centres, shops, at home level and on committees. The challenge is to attract younger volunteers; the majority of their volunteer corps are older themselves. Another challenge is to look at how to attract foreign clients into their homes and villages so Michael is thinking about marketing CPOA’s services abroad.

There is need to bring on board more professionals, the organisation must be run like a business, but it will never be a profit-driven “corporate”. He talked about the new role for their social workers – they are doing more marketing of the organisation and also getting involved in selling the life rights. There is a bit of resistance to taking on a “new hat” but it is also exciting to move out of your comfort zone.

Thinking about the aged care sector as a whole, as a “new kid on the block” Michael sees it as a very conservative industry. He feels we need to listen to our new customers – “the baby boomers”, a whole new generation with different expectations on retirement. We need to speak their language, and understand their needs and wants. The staff must talk their talk.

Michael sees his management style as “walk about”. Every second management meeting they have at one of their homes, so they can walk about, talk to residents and staff and really get a ”feel” of what’s happening in the homes. In the past, head office told the homes what to do – he wants to encourage dialogue. He doesn’t believe he is starting a revolution, but there is evolutionary change happening – in small ways, such as open office doors, easier communication; he wants a strong human touch in his team, feels he is first among equals. He wants to listen well, be visible and tangible, encourage new ideas. As he says, this only works when you have nothing to prove. What gets him excited is a team that wants to work with him to improve and transform services. He wants less meetings and greater efficiency and great team spirit.

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He also wants his team to be very aware that there is competition out there! The organisation needs efficiency. He is challenging his managers. But change must come carefully – this is a large organisation and it must function well, you can’t risk being too radical.

CPOA’s biggest challenge is in the future to attract the right people, and be an attractive employer. Good people have choices. You must pay market related salaries; a good company culture doesn’t put bread on the table for the staff. He believes the organisation has to grow but not too fast; you shouldn’t stretch the organisation too far in terms of financial and human resources.
As regards the welfare part of the industry, Michael believes that because of huge losses in welfare homes government needs to be lobbied for improved subsidies. There is huge need and often families cannot help.

Generally people are outliving their retirement savings; they didn’t plan to live so long nor their savings to be of such little value. He also believes the onslaught of dementia is not fully understood, and has not been placed high enough on the radar of the industry. The challenge is developing specialist dementia units and dealing with families and relatives who don’t understand the condition. The retirement industry should not just be viewed as an “old age home business” – today retirement is about lifestyle and choices and it is definitely more mainstream. There is also more awareness about ageing and retirement in the media too.

Michael believes he’s at an age where others are planning their retirement. His last challenge is that he wants to make a difference. He couldn’t have done it ten years earlier. He’s developed other values; he now deals with people in a different way. In the past he was brainwashed to deliver monthly results and that often meant firing people, retrenching people, everything was incentivised. He is on a journey, transforming himself.

Beyond CPOA Michael and his wife are Rotarians. She understands his role and the need to talk through things when he gets home. He reflects with his wife as they walk the promenade in Sea Point. She is English, he German, but they have made South Africa their home and love it. To relax they play 9 holes of golf together at the weekends. He has a 30 year old convertible Merc which they go for drives in, and otherwise love using the MyCiti bus system. They love being outdoors. Michael reads a great deal, especially local history. He finds urban history fascinating.
Welcome to the aged care sector Michael! The SACF salutes you for your change of heart from corporate to the greater good!