Aetna's CEO talks childhood, yoga, career: 5 takeaways

Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini recently discussed myriad  issues, including his childhood and career path, in an interview with The New York Times.

Five takeaways from the discussion:

1. He spent his childhood in a working-class family. Mr. Bertolini told the NYT: "My dad was a patternmaker in the auto industry. My mom was a part-time nurse. There were six of us in seven years. We grew up in a 1,000-square-foot house with one bathroom. So we got our bath or shower assigned to us, one day a week. My brothers and I all joined sports so we could take showers at school."

2. His first job was working at his father's shop. Mr. Bertolini said he "cleaned the toilets, and washed the floors, and dusted the office, and painted the walls, and cut the lawn, starting at age 13 for a buck and a quarter an hour."

3. He hard a hard time in school before studying accounting. In 1974, Mr. Bertolini went into self-study for pre-med at Wayne State University in Detroit. But he told the NYT he "discovered that working full time, going to school full time, and partying full time created a conflict. It took me eight years to get through. I flunked out twice. I had a 1.79 grade point average." Mr. Bertolini eventually went to business school and succeeded. He earned his MBA from Ithaca, N.Y.-based Cornell University.

4. He worked for smaller Detroit-based healthcare companies before joining New York Life. He told the NYT of working at New York Life: "It was a big lesson. You had to learn how to operate remotely; you couldn't be there all the time, whereas in Detroit, I could touch everything every day. You had to hire the right people. At that point in my career, I was pretty stringent about accountability. People used to hum the Darth Vader tune when I walked around the office. It was like, 'Here he comes.'"

5. He eventually become CEO of Aetna, where he started to offer yoga and meditation to employees. Not everyone, including the CFO at the time, was for it. However, Mr. Bertolini told the NYT, "eventually the light went on inside the organization. We're different now. Everybody started coming to me with ideas about how we could be better."

Read Mr. Bertolini's full interview with the NYT here.


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