CEO Series: Jeri Jones

Az Business: How is being CEO of UnitedHealthcare different from being CEO of another company?
Jeri Jones, CEO, UnitedHealthcare: In the healthcare industry today, where we have been portrayed somewhat as the evil-doers of healthcare and increased costs, we spend a lot of time trying to educate those in the marketplace about what drives healthcare. That may be different from what a manufacturing company has to do every day. I also find myself more involved with legislators than I think I would expect in a different industry.

Video by Cory Bergquist

AB: How do you like working with legislators?
JJ: I have worked in two markets — Colorado and Arizona. Legislators in Colorado seem a little more reasoned in terms of making decisions. Last year, the Arizona Legislature seemed to be very caught up in not wanting to have anything to do with the Obamacare Act, as they saw it. It’s very unfortunate because they missed the boat on some opportunities and made some decisions in 2012 that hurt the industry in terms of keeping some federal dollars out of Arizona that would have helped the hospitals and kept some costs from being shifted to the business market.

AB: What qualities does an effective CEO need to possess?
JJ: Leadership. If you have strong integrity and the ability to inspire people to do what they love to do, that is the key to being a good CEO. You also need to build a good team around you, have the right people in the right roles, and help them be the best that they can be in that role.

AB: What qualities do you have that helped take you to the top of your industry?
JJ: One of the things I have been able to do over the years is be a an effective coach and mentor. I am pretty strong in finding good people and helping guide them so they can realize their full potential and advance in their career.

AB: Did you have a coach or mentor?
JJ: My father was a big influence on me. He taught me the importance of having integrity, speaking my mind and being honest. His example has helped me remain forthright throughout my career.

AB: What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen in your industry since you started?
JJ: The old days of the HMO where everyone paid a $15 co-pay, compared with today, where it’s very consumer driven. Part of the reason healthcare got as expensive as it has over the years is that no one paid attention to what the cost was. Now, they have to.

AB: Health insurance exchange (HIX) is one the horizon. How is that going to impact UnitedHealthcare?
JJ: We see it as an additional avenue to sell our business. Hopefully, it will be in a way that aligns all of the carriers with very simple comparisons so everyone will be selling the same benefit plans and all the individuals looking will be able to identify quality versus value on the exchange and it will be a simpler tool for them to purchase. The advantage of the exchange in Arizona is that people will be able to move in and out of plans depending on their financial situation, but they will be able to stay with UnitedHealthcare.

AB: What advice would you give to other women who aspire to be in your position?
JJ: Stand strong, be confident, love what you’re doing and you’ll definitely succeed.

AB: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you like to do?
JJ: I would be traveling the world and having a good time, but I’ve got a few years to go before I’m ready to do that.

> Holds a B.S. degree in accounting from Northern Arizona University and is a C.P.A.
> After graduating from college, she traveled the country doing joint-venture audits of oil companies.
> Before returning to Arizona in 2011, she spent 21 years in Colorado.
> Member of the board of directors of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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About Michael Gossie

Michael Gossie is an award-winning journalist who has earned more than 50 awards for writing, editing and design. He studied economics at Elmira College in Elmira, N.Y., and put his entrepreneurial spirit to work in 2007, using a 200-year-old family recipe to launch an Italian sauce company. He is a competitive marathon runner, Ironman triathlete and is most proud of being the founding president of the Steuben Arc Foundation in Upstate New York, which serves individuals with developmental disabilities, including his sister.