Chamber's 2014 top female executive heads health insurer

Posted: April 22, 2014

Sue Schick, 52, president of UnitedHealthcare Pennsylvania and Delaware, claims she was mortified last month when, in the process of honoring her with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's Paradigm Award, the master of ceremonies read entries from her seventh-grade yearbook.

She shouldn't have been.

The yearbook showed early evidence of the leadership abilities that prompted the chamber to name her 2014's top female business executive.

"In the Girl Scout cookie sales, we didn't think we could surpass the previous year," Schick recalled. "I just had in my mind that [our mission] was so important. We set this goal of doubling cookie sales and we went and did it."

Question: So how did you go from being patrol leader to being in insurance?

Answer: I always joke, 'What little girl dreams of being in insurance?' I got my job from the college placement office. I didn't think I had an interest in insurance, but once I learned about it, it seemed like it was the best combination of the analytical side of my nature, plus relationships. It's insurance, but it's really health care.

Q: Independence Blue Cross and Aetna decided to participate in the insurance exchange mandated under the Affordable Care Act. Why did your company sit out that dance?

A: What we decided to do in 2014 was to put our focus on growing our traditional business. We saw, in 2014, great success with off-exchange products that gave small businesses choice and options.

Q: Given all the computer glitches, maybe you were glad you sat out that dance.

A: The advantage of [our product] is that we can control the service experience of our customers.

Q: What worries you the most about the Affordable Care Act?

A: I think the uncertainty. I will tell you this - in running our business, I've never gotten so good in scenario planning as I've gotten in the last five years. No matter what happens, we are positioned so we can leverage our full capabilities.

Q: Over the past years, you've changed your leadership style. How?

A: The most dramatic thing I've changed is becoming more mindful. I am a Type A person, and my mind is very busy, like Weeeeeeee.

Q: Hope that's spelled right!

A: I used to think mindfulness was not multitasking, like not sitting here doing my e-mail while we're talking. I've come to realize that it's really quieting your mind and being in the moment so you can really hear someone and communicate.

Q: How did you learn it?

A: I really had to practice it, focusing on my breathing. If I can take a minute between meetings, I can really clear my mind, focus on my breathing. Sometimes, I will literally dim the lights in my office and count backward from 10. I ground myself.

Q: How has it helped?

A: Really being present in the moment has had the most significant impact, not just at work, but with my family.

Q: Your first job was as a dishwasher at a Sizzler steak shouse.

A: I actually like washing dishes. There's so much in my world that I can't complete - but dishes, you know that you are done. You wash dishes and you know you've completed the task.


SUE SCHICK

Title: Chief executive, UnitedHealthcare Pennsylvania and Delaware, since 2009.

Hometown: Wayne.

Family: Husband, Will; children, George, 25; Andy, 23; and Will, 17.

Diploma: Randolph-Macon College, economics

and business.

Resume: Worked

for three other insurers before joining UnitedHealthcare

in 2003.

Boards: Pa. Commission for Women, Governor's Advisory Council on Privatization and Innovation, Insurance Federation of Pa., Philadelphia affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.


THE COMPANY

UnitedHealthcare Pennsylvania and Delaware

Parent company: UnitedHealth Group.

Where: Minnesota.

Local: Philadelphia.

National revenue: $122.5 billion.

Number insured: 40 million nationally, 924,000 in Pennsylvania and Delaware.  

Pa. market share:

7 percent to 8 percent.

Employees: 156,000 nationally, 5,320 in Pennsylvania, Delaware.


MORE ONLINE

UnitedHealthcare's Sue Schick on CEO support at home. www.inquirer.com/jobbing


Questions and answers have been edited for space.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769 @JaneVonBergen

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