August 23, 2012

Angela Braly, a 1985 graduate of SMU’s Dedman School of Law, was ranked No. 24 among “The World’s Most Powerful Women” by Forbes magazine August 22, 2012. Read more.

Angela Braly

The following profile of Braly first appeared in SMU Magazine in 2007:

On the first day of her orientation at Dedman School of Law, Angela Braly ’85 recalls being told that although half of her classmates were women, it would be 40 more years before they would achieve equal numbers as practitioners in the legal field.

“That prediction inspired me, and I committed myself to making a difference in the profession,” she says. “Today, about 25 percent of lawyers are women, and I’m glad to see women making substantial progress in law and across all professional fields.”

Braly herself has raised the bar on that progress. Drawing on her legal and business skills, in June she became president and CEO of the nation’s largest health insurer, WellPoint, where she is responsible for setting strategy and managing all aspects of the business. Based in Indianapolis, WellPoint, which serves 35 million customers, operates Blue Cross and Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in 14 states, has 42,000 employees and attained nearly $60 billion in revenue last year. The company is ranked 35th on the Fortune 500 list and, with Braly’s promotion, became the largest in the United States with a woman chief executive – and the only one in the top 50.

“It’s natural that a woman would lead one of the nation’s largest health care companies because most health care decisions in this country are made by women,” says Braly, a 46-year-old mother of three. WellPoint takes diversity seriously, she adds: More than 77 percent of its employees are women, as are nearly 60 percent of managers.

Braly, who grew up in Dallas and earned her undergraduate degree at Texas Tech University, had served as executive vice president at WellPoint since 2005, overseeing the country’s largest Medicare claims processing business, public policy development and legal affairs, among other areas. Previously she was with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri, where she also rose to president and CEO, and with the St. Louis law firm of Lewis, Rice, & Fingersh, where she was named partner.

Her time at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri, in particular, influenced her as a leader, Braly says. A competitive market and significant litigation challenged that company’s structure, and she worked with regulators and the courts to resolve issues regarding a reorganization that had transferred business from not-for-profit Blue Cross to a for-profit subsidiary. “The creation of the Missouri Foundation for Health funded with $1 billion will address the health care needs of uninsured Missourians in perpetuity.”

Braly says she is focusing on her company’s efforts to improve the affordability and quality of health care and on working with government leaders on reforms. Earlier this year, WellPoint proposed covering the 44 million uninsured Americans through a blend of public and private initiatives, such as the states’ expansion of health care programs for children and less costly private options for young workers and small businesses.

“I believe universal access to health care for all Americans is an important national goal,” she says, “and I am a passionate defender of a competitive, private system.”