CLAYTON — Longtime head of Centene Corp. Michael Neidorff, a pillar of the St. Louis business community, died Thursday at the age of 79.
Neidorff led the Clayton-based company for 26 years, growing it from a small healthcare company to a Fortune 25 behemoth — and the largest company headquartered in the region. He and Centene have pumped millions of dollars to charities here. And he sent shockwaves through the area when he urged local leaders to do more on crime.
Former Clayton Mayor Harold Sanger, who worked closely with Neidorff as the company established and then expanded its headquarters in the city’s business district, described him as “instrumental” in Clayton’s growth and a “great human being.”
“It’s a terrible loss, a terrible loss for our region,” Sanger said.
Sanger recalled that Neidorf called him at 11pm one night after the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown sparked protests in the area to say he had received board approval to open a Centene call center in Ferguson build, which also included a day-care center for workers.
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A long legacy
Neidorff was born in 1943 and grew up in Altoona, Pennsylvania. He received a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas and a master’s degree from St. Francis College in New York.
The company that eventually became Centene was founded in 1984 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a not-for-profit Medicaid plan under the name Family Hospital Physician Associates. Neidorff was named President and CEO in 1996 and expanded the company into Indiana.
The following year it was incorporated into Centene Corp. renamed and opened its corporate headquarters in St. Louis.
By 2001, the company’s revenue had grown to $327 million, and in December of that year, the company went public at $14 a share.
In the decades that followed, Centene grew at an expansive pace, generating combined sales of $126 billion last year. The company bought US subsidiaries in 2020, including competitor WellCare Health Plans Inc. in a $17.3 billion deal. The acquisition expanded Centene’s presence to 50 states – from three in 2001.
Under Neidorf’s tenure, Centene was also a philanthropic force in the St. Louis area.
In 2016, Neidorff opened a state-of-the-art $25 million Centene office in Ferguson with a preschool for employees’ children. Centene also donated more than $1 million to open a health clinic in Ferguson.
In 2017, Neidorff was named Citizen of the Year, an honor sponsored by the Post-Dispatch and selected by a committee of previous winners.
Neidorff served on the board of directors of the Greater St. Louis Boy Scouts of America and the Board of Concordance Academy. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Trinity University. He has served on the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Trustee of the Opera Theater of St. Louis, and Treasurer of the Board of Directors of the Kennedy Center in Washington.
In July 2020, Neidorff became a lightning rod in the St. Louis area after Centene announced plans to spend $1 billion to build an East Coast headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, with 6,000 employees. In interviews following the announcement, Neidorf suggested that Centene could have expanded here, but recruitment was hampered by the area’s problems, including crime.
But in February, the company extended an olive branch, buying 15-year naming rights to Major League Soccer’s stadium here.
“A Real Loss”
Neidoff had planned to retire from Centene this year. He was on medical leave for six weeks. The company said in a statement that he passed away on Thursday “after a long illness”.
Michael McMillan, CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis, said he’s known Neidorff for about two decades.
“There will never be another Michael Neidorff,” he said. “He’s been overwhelmingly instrumental in some of the most important things we’ve done as an agency.”
Neidorff helped complete the local capital campaign for the group’s Ferguson Center, which was built on the site of the QuikTrip that burned during the 2014 civil riots. He was chairman of the national Urban League from 2014 to 2019. And he co-chaired the effort to bring the 2017 national conference to St. Louis, pledging a $1 million gift for the effort.
McMillan said Neidorff recently donated $1 million to enable the Urban League to purchase the land next to their new regional headquarters on North Kingshighway Boulevard “so that we can build an entire campus for North St. Louis and the black community might have.”
But he started retiring from his job at Centene a few months ago.
In July 2021, Centene established a three-person Office of the President, which included Neidorf, current CEO Sarah London and Brent Layton, now President and Chief Operating Officer of Centene. That same month, the company later said, Neidorff informally told the board that he could step down for personal reasons before his contract expired.
In December, Neidoff announced that he would retire by the end of 2022.
In February, the company announced that Neidorff was on medical leave. On March 22, London was appointed CEO.
In a statement Thursday, London called Neidorf a “visionary leader” in American healthcare.
“On behalf of Centene’s 75,000 employees, I would like to offer our deepest condolences to Michael’s family and loved ones,” London said. “Michael’s passion lives on in the men and women of Centene, and his commitment to the mission to improve the health of America’s most vulnerable citizens lives on.”
Neidorff was husband of Noémi Neidorff, father of Peter Neidorff and the late Monica Neidorff, and brother of Susan Neidorff Reinglass and Robert Neidorff.
The family declined to comment.