United Health Group: A Carefully Planned Change

Insurance CEOs, including former United Health Group CEO Stephen Hemsley (right), met with President Trump earlier this year.

On September 1, David Wichmann became the CEO of United Health Group, the largest U.S. health insurer. He replaced Stephen Hemsley, who will move into a newly created position, executive chairman of the board.

Hemsley leaves the top job after a good run. He became CEO in 2006 when the previous CEO was forced to leave due to a scandal involving the back-dating of options.

Hemsley guided the company through that scandal, as well as the recession and the changes involved in adapting to the Affordable Care Act—and ultimately into a new era of growing profits. When he left the job, United Health was on track to exceed $200 billion in revenues for the year.

“Wichmann’s move into the CEO spot was the culmination of almost four years of discussion, careful planning, leadership development and execution.”

Wichmann is no doubt familiar with the plans and actions that have driven that success. He joined UnitedHealth in 1998, and prior to being named president in 2014, he was the company’s CFO. In his time at UnitedHealth, he has directed operations and technology efforts and led external development, M&A and integration activities.

Wichmann’s move into the CEO spot was widely expected, and reportedly the result of careful planning. It was “the culmination of almost four years of discussion, careful planning, leadership development and execution,” noted Richard Burke, the company’s founder, and current lead independent director at UnitedHealth. “Dave Wichmann was one of Steve Hemsley’s first hires at our company and has been preparing for the CEO role for many years.”

“The board of United Health should be commended for planning and executing such a thoughtful CEO succession,” says Dr. Paul Winum, co-head of RHR International’s Board and CEO Practice. “With Mr. Hemsley staying on as executive chairman of the board, Mr. Wichmann will benefit from his ongoing advice and counsel and hopefully will also be unrestrained from putting his own leadership stamp on the company as it moves into its next chapter.”

Peter is a longtime business writer and editor whose work has appeared in a variety of publications and outlets. A former editor at a B2B custom-publishing company, he has written on topics including technology, leadership, energy, finance, management, intellectual property and legal issues in business, among others.