Different jobs, but early lessons still relevant.

More than 20 years after launching Magnum icecreams, it's still a case study Rob Hennin regularly comes back to.

Pre-launch expectations for the premium product had it gaining a tiny slice of the on-the-go icecream market, but millions of dollars' worth of Magnums sold within weeks of hitting shop freezers.

They cost 50 per cent more than the next highest priced icecream, but customers loved them and didn't begrudge paying extra for a treat, Hennin says.

"A year later we were flying in chocolate in jumbo jets from Belgium.


"In the first year it was our biggest-ever seller.

"It was a mass market product at a premium price."

Hennin, who now heads the New Zealand arm of Australian-listed health insurer nib, says he was using the Magnum story just the other day to explain the connection between the value proposition and pricing.

"If the value is there the customer will pay," he says.

The lessons learned from the Magnum days, when the product and advertising mix struck a real chord, were applied to the launch of nib, Hennin says.

The Australian parent bought Tower's health insurance business in late 2012, but it continued to run under its existing banner for nearly a year.

Nib was relatively unknown in New Zealand - though sponsoring the NSW rugby league side in the State of Origin series gave it a small profile here - and it brought in league and rugby player Benji Marshall to front its brand-building campaign.

Hennin says Marshall came with a high profile, but even those who didn't know who he was still saw him as fresh, young and energetic.

"And that's what we are."

Alongside the traditional adviser channel to market, nib created a range of cheap, low-coverage, direct-to-consumer products aimed at the under-40s.

Hennin says health insurance has typically had low uptake in New Zealand, which he puts down to a lack of innovation and investment in technology, digital platforms and advertising.

"We kind of own advertising in the private health insurance market at the moment and we shouldn't.

"There are other people in the marketplace with significant P&Ls and balance sheets that could afford to invest.

"Why they don't, that's their business decision, but we see the opportunity to invest.

"It's not a short-term decision, it's a long-term decision."

Nib now has nearly 16 per cent of the health insurance market, thanks to organic growth and the acquisition of ANZ's OnePath Life medical insurance business last year, but still trails market giant Southern Cross.

"The incumbents in any market, they have tenure and they have legacy and that's both good and bad," says Hennin. "It's good in that they've been around for a long time and they may be trusted and they may have a profile, but the challenge - and you see this not just in our category but you see this in other financial services categories - you may be big and you may have tenure but that doesn't necessarily mean you're currently relevant, it doesn't mean you're seen as flexible.

"Being big can mean you're nowhere near as flexible and nimble."

Even with the momentum created by the launch, there are always areas that need re-working or building on, Hennin says. "If I go back to Magnum that was one of my lifelong lessons there.

"Just because you've launched it and you're successful, doesn't necessarily mean you know why."

You need to adapt and evolve because the customer is changing all the time, he says.

Between icecreams and health insurance, Hennin's career has taken him around the Asia-Pacific region with credit card company Visa, then American Express, including stints in Singapore and India.

He says career opportunities were family, rather than individual decisions, although his two children, now adults, cried for three days when they were told as youngsters they would be packing up and moving from Australia to Singapore. "However, I look at my kids now and they've had some wonderful international experiences."

Hennin's return to New Zealand was in part personal - he and his family have always called it home - but because of the opportunity presented by nib. He says it offered the complete package of leadership challenges, combined with developing technology innovation and growing a brand and market share through customer sign-ups and acquisitions. That included transferring Tower's systems and 100-odd health insurance staff across to the new entity.

Fortunately, he says, staff very quickly bought into the opportunity to grow and develop the business.

He likes the Napoleon quote: the role of a leader is to define reality and give hope.

"It is very easy to define the reality and it can be either positive or negative, but as a leader you need to be motivational and motivation isn't just enthusiasm. It's got to be relevant, it's got to be achievable, all of those things but at the end of the day your team is looking to you for the future.

"It's not your role to deliver the future but they are looking to you for the confidence and some direction and vision for the future."

Nib NZ

• Standalone business owned by ASX-listed nib, Australia's fourth-largest health insurer.

• Second in market behind Southern Cross, with market share of 15.7 per cent of lives covered and 13.6 per cent of premium revenue.

• $161.6m in premium revenue in year ended June 2015, up from $154m the previous year.

• After-tax profit of $4.2m in 2015, down on $5.4m in 2014.

• $11.5m in marketing costs over 2014 and 2015 financial years.

• Board chaired by former Health Minister Tony Ryall