Ten years later, Gloria Rajkumar still shakes her head at the memory. As a marketing manager for an Ontario-based business that provided independent medical examinations to insurance companies assessing injury and disability claims, Rajkumar was appalled by her employer's shoddy work practices and poor customer service. She says the company routinely issued cheques that bounced and left bills unpaid. And the doctors it commissioned to write medical reports often held them for ransom, taking three months or longer to complete their assessments. This frequently left claimants hanging for months without access to benefits or an appropriate course of medical treatment.
"I have zero tolerance for second-rate service," says Rajkumar, who immigrated to Canada from her native Guyana at the age of 19. "I thought, 'If this idiot can do this, what's wrong with me?'"
After 19 years serving the insurance business, Rajkumar reasoned that the industry could use a new independent medical examiner (IME) offering a combination of the insurance smarts needed to navigate strict legislative guidelines and a commitment to providing savvy service. So, in 2001, she took a leap of faith and plowed her life savings of $26,000 into launching SIMAC Canada Inc. to provide independent medical assessments, primarily for claims filed to auto insurers by people injured or disabled in collisions. (The acronym stands for Superior Independent Medical Assessment Centres.)
Rajkumar's read of the market proved to be spot-on. In 10 years, SIMAC has earned a reputation for providing quick, accurate and unbiased medical assessments, and has become the preferred IME of insurance giants such as Wawanesa Insurance, State Farm Insurance and The Co-operators. From a one-woman operation with just a single client, Richmond Hill, Ont.-based SIMAC has grown to the point at which it now has three offices with a total of 23 employees, an on-call network of 250 health-care professionals—including doctors, chiropractors and occupational therapists—and annual revenue of $12 million.
From the get-go, Rajkumar's strategy was to best the lacklustre service that she says permeated the IME industry. To that end, she wooed her first 35 doctors on the promise that if they filed their medical reports within 10 business days, she would pay them within 30. "In one month, I'd paid off all my debts," says Rajkumar. "Word started to spread and business started to come in."
Of course, turnaround times mean nothing if the reports aren't done properly. Although doctors are expert at formulating medical opinions, says Rajkumar, IMEs need to be geared specifically to the insurance benefits that claimants are applying for. An incomplete or inconclusive medical report could be tossed back and forth between the insurance company and the doctor, she says, wasting valuable time and money.
To prevent this, Rajkumar worked with SIMAC's doctors to educate them about the IME process and help them understand precisely what the insurance firms are looking for. Rajkumar also believes that her inside knowledge of the insurance industry gives her unique insight into both the constantly evolving legislation governing the sector and how it will affect her firm's clients. Ultimately, she says, this knowledge provides SIMAC with a leg up on the competition, most of whose founders have medical backgrounds.
SIMAC's experienced health-care professionals pass on their knowledge to new recruits, says Rajkumar: "[New doctors] will sit in on a few assessments with one of our senior doctors. Then, they will exchange contact information so they have someone they can call if they need to."
Training also helps to ensure that SIMAC's employees put customers first. The company cross-trains its front-end staff in every aspect of the service process, from initial customer contact to scheduling IMEs. That also allows SIMAC to eliminate another of Rajkumar's service pet peeves. "I don't like voice mail," she says. "I hate getting or leaving voice mail—it's so cold and impersonal." That's why, at SIMAC, every call is answered live.
Rajkumar admits that she expects a lot from her staff in her relentless effort to ensure that customers' needs are met. That doesn't always make her popular. "There are some days when no one wants to see my face around here," she admits.
But, at the same time, Rajkumar recognizes and rewards her employees' dedication through formal programs. These include SIMAC's individual and company performance-based bonus programs, special events and outings—plus spontaneous gestures, such as giving one employee an extra $200 in spending money for a vacation. "We work really hard," says Rajkumar. "I want us to have fun doing it."
Bruce Paitch, an orthopedic and reconstructive surgeon based in Toronto who provides medical assessments for a number of IMEs, including SIMAC, believes that Rajkumar's "people first" attitude is what puts her firm out front in its sector. "She's exceedingly good with her employees," he says. "She demands a lot, but she also gives a lot in return. And that creates loyalty and a staff that works extremely hard." The result, says Paitch, is exceptional customer service.
There's no question that the hard work by Rajkumar's team is delivering results. In the past three years, SIMAC has doubled both its sales and staff count. And, in the same period, the company has increased the number of referrals it handles by 60%.
SIMAC is now looking at ways to take the business up several notches. In January, the company hired an experienced chief operating officer who is charged with identifying potential growth opportunities and positioning the company for expansion. Looking ahead, Rajkumar says, SIMAC is eyeing both organic growth, including the possibility of opening offices south of the border, and making acquisitions.
Her audacious goal? Revenue of $100 million in five years.
While that might seem like pie-in-the-sky thinking, Rajkumar is undaunted. "I'm absolutely passionate about what I do," she says. "I'm driven; I will do it."