When Michael Neidorff accepted a position as president and chief executive officer of Physicians Health Plan of Greater St. Louis in 1985, he and his wife, Noémi, faced a move to an unfamiliar city. Noémi, a classically trained pianist, was acquainted with the St. Louis Symphony. A neighbor in Elkhart, Indiana, where Michael was an executive with chemical and pharmaceutical company Bayer AG, mentioned the city had a terrific zoo.
Today, the Neidorffs, who grew up on the East Coast, are among St. Louis’ greatest ambassadors. “We tell everyone that St. Louis has everything that New York or any big city has, but it’s more affordable and accessible,” Noémi Neidorff says. “Our city’s many wonderful institutions are such great treasures.”
Over the years, the Neidorffs have served as advocates and benefactors for dozens of these cultural and educational institutions, including Washington University. Their commitment reflects a passion for service and a belief in the importance of investing in people and communities.
“We can choose to stand on the sidelines and watch things happen, or we can work to help make things better,” says Michael Neidorff, who has served as chairman and CEO of St. Louis–based Centene Corporation since 1996. “We think it is our obligation to make things better.”
That philosophy aligns with the mission of Centene, a Fortune 500 company that specializes in providing health-care plans through Medicaid, Medicare and the federal health insurance marketplace. “Our strategy has been consistent for the past 20 years,” Michael says. “We have focused on improving the health of communities by providing the highest-quality care at the most reasonable cost.”
Under his leadership, Centene has grown substantially, from 40,000 covered members when he took the helm to more than 12 million members in 28 states today. In March 2016, the company completed a $6 billion acquisition of Health Net, which made it the country’s largest Medicaid managed-care provider.
When it comes to their work in the community, the Neidorffs are a formidable team. During their early years in St. Louis, Noémi took the lead, putting Michael to work at events like the Gypsy Caravan, an annual flea market that benefits the St. Louis Symphony. “She would tell me what to do and where to go,” he says. “He was a very good sport,” Noémi says. “I made sure we both were involved.”
The Neidorffs went on to serve on the St. Louis Symphony board of trustees. Michael is a life trustee, and Noémi is a vice chair of the board. She is particularly proud of two symphony educational programs she launched, Picture the Music, which encourages young children to interpret classical music through painting and drawing, and Express the Music, which invites teens to write stories, essays and poems about a classical piece.
Noémi’s interest in exposing children to music and the arts stems from her youth. Born in Budapest, Hungary, she grew up listening to opera and classical music, and her family lived around the corner from the Hungarian State Opera House. Michael shares a story from her childhood: “At age 4, she came home from a dance lesson, went to the piano and without any training or instruction, played the entire song from the lesson by ear,” he says.
“I hated the dance lessons,” Noémi adds. “At age 6, I began studying music at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music.”
After escaping from Budapest during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Noémi’s family settled in New Jersey. She went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Manhattan School of Music and currently serves on the school’s executive committee.
Among her other leadership positions, she is chair of the board of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and serves on the board of the Radio Arts Foundation-Saint Louis, where she has played a significant role in establishing a new classical radio station that promotes the arts and artists throughout the region.
Michael’s résumé as a civic leader is as extensive as Noémi’s. He has made important contributions to the development of St. Louis through his work with the boards of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, United Way of Greater St. Louis, Saint Louis Science Center and many other organizations. He also chairs the boards of the National Urban League and Trinity University in San Antonio, his alma mater.
At Washington University, Michael served as a member of the Brown School National Council for more than 10 years. In 2016, Centene became a partner in the Envolve Center for Health Behavior Change, an industry-academic collaboration with the Brown School and Duke University. The center works to translate public health and behavioral economics research into programs that improve health-care delivery and health outcomes, particularly for vulnerable populations.
The Neidorffs’ relationship with the university is bolstered by their deep admiration for the institution. “When you look at the faculty and the work they are doing, you realize that Washington University has tremendous impact in St. Louis and around the globe,” Noémi says. “The university helps put St. Louis on the map.”
In 2014, the couple established the Neidorff Family and Robert C. Packman Professorship at the School of Medicine, named in honor of Packman, AB ’53, MD ’56, senior vice president for medical affairs at Centene and a professor of clinical medicine at the university for more than 35 years. More recently, Michael and Noémi joined with the Centene Charitable Foundation to endow the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Deanship at the Brown School, held by Mary McKay.
“Noémi and Michael’s generosity and leadership have strengthened Washington University and its connection to the St. Louis community,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton says. “Their energy and enthusiasm are infectious. We are fortunate to have them as partners in our efforts to improve the quality of life for people in our region and beyond.”
In recognition of their dedication and generosity, the university presented the Neidorffs with the Robert S. Brookings Award during Founders Day on October 28. They are honored to be acknowledged, yet they continue to focus on the work that remains to be done.
“We really don’t spend time thinking about our legacy,” Michael says. “We think about today and what we can do to give back to the community now.”
Mary Lee is director of development communications.