She shattered the glass ceiling when she rose to become a CEO in the male dominated health insurance industry. As president and chief executive of WellPoint, Angela Braly, 49, oversees the nation’s largest health benefits company in terms of medical membership, with nearly 35 million Americans nationwide covered through its affiliated health plans. Braly began her career in St. Louis as a lawyer in private practice and made the leap to Missouri’s Blue Cross as the company’s general counsel. When WellPoint acquired Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2001, Braly transitioned into the company, quickly ascending the ladder. Braly was instrumental in WellPoint’s acquisition of WellChoice in 2005, and in 2007 she was named CEO. Braly credits her husband, Douglas, whom she met on a blind date, with helping her family have work life balance. A certified public accountant, he opted to stay at home to raise their three teenage kids. How does Braly relax and get away from the stresses of her high-profile work? “I love spending time with my family,” she says.
NAFE Top 50 Companies Women Leaders: In Pictures
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I am an optimist so I tend to evaluate challenges as opportunities for change. That said, as a CEO, you must squarely face reality and consider what challenges you or your business must address. In our case, one of our biggest challenges will be to lead our organization through a period of significant change. Not only has health-care reform changed many fundamental aspects of our business model, it also does not necessarily solve all of the issues that our customers face, namely access to affordable, quality care. As the nation’s largest health benefits company, serving more Americans than any other, we believe we are uniquely positioned to provide solutions to this difficult challenge.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Our mission is to improve the lives of the people we serve and the health of our communities. Knowing that we provide such an important service to our members and that we have such an incredible opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives is extremely energizing to me. Our associates, including over 3,000 nurses, doctors and other clinical professionals, are clearly motivated by a strong sense of purpose, and they demonstrate that every day.
What would you advise women who want to move into P&L positions?
A respected leader once shared some very good advice that had a major impact on my career path. I was the CEO of one of our subsidiary health plans at the time and had just been asked to become the general counsel for WellPoint. It may sound like an easy choice, but it meant that I would have to leave the profit- and-loss job that I had—and loved. This leader told the story of her career and said, “Whatever you do, don’t give up your P&L.” She pointed out that women often succeed in “staff” roles in companies but don’t always have the same opportunities in key operational P&L jobs. So, while I agreed to become general counsel of WellPoint, I asked for and was shortly thereafter given, in addition to the general counsel position, the P&L for our federal government business. The leader who gave that advice [at a NAFE Roundtable] was right. Her name is Ellen Kullman, and she is now the chair and CEO of DuPont.
What three adjectives describe your personal brand?
First, do the right thing. Second, do it for the customer. “Customer first” is our number-one core value at WellPoint. We know that our customers are the reason we are here, and when we take care of them, we also take care of our shareholders. Third, do it right the first time. If we don’t do it right the first time, we have the responsibility to continuously improve our processes so that the next time we do.
What’s your advice to women starting out in corporate America?
To move your career and your life forward and achieve your goals, it’s very critical that you be yourself. Be willing to invest in yourself and your career, focus on your passion and your guiding principles, continuously improve yourself and learn from others, and strive for the balance between your career and your personal life that works for you.