How HBF CEO Lachlan Henderson brought one skill full circle


But Henderson says his medical and consequent people skills inform how he leads the 83-year-old insurer.

“To go from general practice seeing patients to hospitals; treating them to funding them as an insurer; you kind of still have the same philosophy,” he says.

That philosophy? Whether they’re patients, members or colleagues, people come first.

HBF chief executive Lachlan Henderson at The Westin Hotel’s Haven Lounge.

HBF chief executive Lachlan Henderson at The Westin Hotel’s Haven Lounge.Credit: Kerry Faulkner.

The GP got a Master of Health Service Management before entering private hospitals as a GP liaison, setting up education programs and rising through the ranks in managerial roles, including as chief executive of St John of God Subiaco.

He ventured east to Melbourne in 2017 to lead private not-for-profit hospital group Epworth Healthcare.

But the timing would prove less than ideal.

“I couldn’t get back home during the pandemic — and I did home quarantine three times in 2020 and 2021 for two weeks,” he says.

Henderson’s wife Cathy, a child psychiatrist he met while they were studying medicine at university, stayed in Perth to support their son during his final year of high school while Henderson went to Melbourne, joining one of their daughters.

Three years in, the state’s hard border had left the family of five separated by more than choice.

For Henderson, it made the prospect of returning home to run HBF all the more appealing.

But he was also intrigued by how the business appeared to be navigating a pivotal time in its history, which included a raft of acquisitions and expansions – into dental and physiotherapy and onto the eastern seaboard.

He says his workdays now are vastly different from his long, office-bound days in general practice which were divided into 10-minute slots, occupied by in-person and virtual meetings.

But the role hasn’t been without its challenges, and Henderson is acutely aware of those facing many of the insurer’s 1.1 million members.

The company was forced to hike premiums by an average of 3.95 per cent in March amid rising healthcare costs as rampant inflation drove rate and cost of living increases.

“We’re really cognisant of cost of living pressures,” he says.

“We’re trying to make sure that we provide good value for members, and we’re increasingly interacting with them digitally. We’ve got to invest in the right digital technology.”

That includes technology to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks, an investment which sent the company into the red last financial year.

Henderson says the Medibank scandal of 2022 served as a wake-up call for the whole industry.

He is visibly taken aback when his meal arrives, having not anticipated his steak sandwich might be encased by such a generous serving of fried chips.

“Oh, that looks way unhealthy for a … shall we switch meals?” he says in mock panic.

The vegetarian bolognaise at The Westin Hotel’s Haven Lounge.

The vegetarian bolognaise at The Westin Hotel’s Haven Lounge.Credit: Kerry Faulkner.

“I should have got your [vegetarian] pasta, shouldn’t I? That’s a major faux pas.

“You’re not taking a photo of these chips, are you? Say, ‘he left all the chips.’”

And as he gestures to me to take the fried food from his plate, he reveals it’s not his first slip-up of the day.

“I started a forum at HBF today with ‘What a weekend!’ and I automatically lost half the room,” he laughs, referring to the West Coast Eagles’ 37-point win over the Fremantle Dockers at Saturday’s derby.

“You’ve got to be generous when Freo win, too.”

After spending two decades practice- and hospital-bound, Henderson enjoys the flexibility his new role affords, but he concedes he still much prefers the office.

“Maybe that’s a generational thing, or that I have the dogs at home,” he says.

“I like to see people, I like to bump into people. If you’re at home, you don’t get all those incidental interactions.”

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And he insists the role running HBF is a team sport, and that his achievements are a direct reflection of the people he surrounds himself with.

But HBF isn’t his only team, although he downplays that, too.

A former cricket player and an avid West Coast Eagles supporter, Henderson even toyed with the idea of working in sports medicine, casually revealing he saw patients under the mentorship of Rod Moore, a trailblazer in the field of sports medicine best-known as the club’s inaugural doctor.

He served as chair of Cricket Australia until 2023, when he stepped down to concentrate solely on his new role with HBF.

Henderson and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, the Hon. Steve Dimopoulos at the media briefing ahead of the  Boxing Day Test match at the MCG since the passing of Australian and Victorian cricket legend, Shane Warne in December 2022.

Henderson and the Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, the Hon. Steve Dimopoulos at the media briefing ahead of the Boxing Day Test match at the MCG since the passing of Australian and Victorian cricket legend, Shane Warne in December 2022.Credit: Photo: Eddie Jim.

“The background is … average player, but played a bit,” he tells me, as I scroll through notes, which I’m certain corroborate that he in fact played A-Grade District cricket.

“Cricket and HBF — it’s complementary in a funny way because it’s all about employing good people, getting the right people in the right roles and there are some similar similarities around funding and working with government.

“It’s a bit like being in these roles having been a practicing doctor in the sense it gives you a different profile for when you’re dealing with issues around board tables.”

Henderson says apart from people skills, staying organised and maintaining the ability to switch off is another element integral to balancing his busy work and family life.

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For many years, that has revolved around sport, but Henderson reveals it now extends to a middle-aged men’s book club he established in Perth after joining one in Melbourne during the pandemic.

He is also training for a 12-kilometre run in HBF’s flagship charity event Run for a Reason on May 19, alongside the 30,000 other West Australians expected to compete.

Looking to the future, Henderson foresees HBF expanding further east, pointing out the company has in excess of 50 per cent membership in WA, but less than 10 per cent of the market share nationally.

And the company is also developing a new strategy centred around what healthcare will look like in 2030, with a focus on technology.

When reflecting on his journey, Henderson says he would advise his younger self to grab opportunities with both hands.

“I’ve embarked on a pretty conservative career choice with lots of opportunities, but I could have just as easily locked in a role and been there forever,” he tells me.

“We’re all pretty ordinary — it’s a matter of just probably working hard, taking your opportunities, not worrying too much and not taking yourself too seriously.”

I didn’t have to tell any white lies, either. He really did leave the chips.



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