2009 Women to Watch: Dawn OwensPosted On: Dec. 6, 2009 12:00 AM CST
Chief Executive Officer
Golden Valley, Minn.
Dawn Owens is chief executive officer of OptumHealth Inc., a unit of UnitedHealth Group Inc. and one of the nation's largest health and wellness companies providing employers, health plans, public sector clients and individuals with health management solutions including disease management, behavioral health support and financial services. Ms. Owens is one of UnitedHealth Group's highest-ranking women executives, overseeing a business that generates more than $5 billion in annual revenue, employs 11,000, and serves nearly 60 million people. Under Ms. Owens' leadership, OptumHealth has emerged as a leader in the delivery of health and wellness solutions, particularly in the burgeoning area of consumer-driven health care. Before becoming CEO of OptumHealth in September 2007, Ms. Owens served as chief marketing officer of the Ingenix business segment and president of UnitedHealthcare National Accounts, formerly known as Uniprise Strategic Solutions.
Your professional role model: There were a few women early in my career who really had a huge impact on my professional development. These were people who were extremely generous with their time, obviously clearly saw the need to develop young people and other women, and were selfless in how they shared their insights, learning and skill with me. Lucinda Annino, my first boss at Aetna, really cared about winning, but also taught me to focus on customers, be solutions-oriented in how we approach solving their problems. Bev Nyce, one of my early bosses at UnitedHealthcare, actually took a lot of risks with me, advanced me very rapidly in the organization, and did it in a way where she was very supportive but also allowed me to learn and grow. Both are currently retired. The other person was a colleague of mine, Carol Ingher, who is still in industry, working at Aetna.
Best professional advice you've received: Focus on the customer and find solutions that can work for them. All too often, especially in this industry that is highly regulated, it's exceptional to figure out how to get things done. In addition, culture matters. Organizations have a distinct culture, and it can be developed.
Advice for women entering the field: I think this is a phenomenal industry to go into as a woman. I have not felt glass ceilings. I have met people—both men and women—who put a lot of trust in my abilities and nurtured them along the way. Don't be afraid to try new things and to take risks. You can be so focused on the career ladder that you miss great opportunities to grow, learn and tackle really tough problems that others haven't been able to tackle.
What you wanted to be professionally while growing up: I wanted to be a physician. I grew up in a family of clinicians; my mother was a nurse, my uncle was a physician, and my sister became a nurse. I liked math and science and I thought medicine would fit with my passion. My mother discouraged me from pursuing that profession. She thought that I would have a hard time as a physician having family balance.
What you like best about your work: I love solving problems, and I love doing it with people. I think we have the best of all worlds. We support people during the most vulnerable times of their lives. I enjoy figuring out how we do that better, in ways that are more progressive, using new capabilities. The whole interface with people and knowing that this business is about people is what I love about it. We're not selling widgets. Insurance in general is so important in the fabric of our lives. You take it for granted until you need it.
The best book you've read recently: “D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II” by Stephen E. Ambrose. It reminds me of the sacrifices that were made on our behalf. Talking about risk taking, that was far from a sure thing. “The Glass Castle: A Memoir” by Jeannette Walls. It shows how challenging circumstances can be overcome.
Phone or e-mail and why: E-mail to me is a necessary evil. I am much more of a phone person.