I first watched Angela Braly perform at the WellPoint Inc. annual shareholders meeting in Indianapolis in May, 2008. I went to the meeting as a stockholder exercising my rights, and I stood and read a litany of bad news the media had reported on the company in the preceding year, which I contrasted to the rosy report the CEO had just made. I finished by asking Ms. Braly to comment. Without batting the proverbial mascara'd eye, she thanked me for my question and began a three minute reply where she nodded and smiled like a robotic Barbie doll, panning back and forth across the room, and when she was done, nothing had been said. There was nothing "scrappy" about it. It was pure smooth.
Now The Sunday NY Times ("A Scrappy Insurer Wrestles With Reform") calls her "scrappy" as she takes on Barak Obama, state insurance regulators, and an increasingly angry public.
"We are being targeted and villainized," she whined last week. Not so smooth any longer.
WellPoint announced huge premium increases last February at a point when many feared Congress might not pass anything. "They threw gasoline on the dying embers of health reform," said Robert Laszewski, an industry analyst, in The Times. He went on to say "WellPoint is the most incredibly tone-deaf insurance company in an industry full of deaf executives."
Angela squirmed under bipartisan questioning from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, as they pushed her on her pay and the company's record profits at the same time millions are being priced out of the insurance market, no longer maintaining that imperturbable Barbie appearance.
Last week Professor Douglas Branson of the University of Pittsburg took aim at Angela on the HuffPost, "How Various Corporate CEOs Aim for Celebrity Status,"
"At Wellpoint Angela Braly now seems to be the sitting female CEO most focused on achievement of celebrity status, at least among the current crop of 15 women CEOs.
"Braly's latest grab at headlines was in response to President Obama's radio broadcast on Saturday, May 8. He stated that his administration recently asked a health insurer (unnamed) to cease systematically dropping coverage of women policy holders who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Rather than remain quiet, Braly stepped into the fray, concluding that the President had singled out Wellpoint and that Obama's generic observation "grossly misrepresented the facts." The address neither referred to nor raised any innuendo about Wellpoint. Braly then gilded the lily": "To be absolutely clear -- Despite your claim [what claim?] Wellpoint does not single out women for breast cancer for rescission. Period."
Branson goes on to describe how she has sought the limelight, with her photo and bio in full page Wall Street Journal ads for events at which she was appearing. He concludes [with perhaps, a whiff of sexism]:
"Keep your ego in check is one of the first lessons any corporate CEO but especially women should learn. Be a plowhorse rather than a showhorse. Angela Braly seems intent on becoming the center of attention, unmindful of a fitting role for herself as a CEO."
She thought she could turn for some solace to The Wall Street Journal. Joseph Rago came to her defense February 7th in a feature on her "A Wasted Opportunity -WellPoint's CEO on ObamaCare's mistakes and how to pick up the political pieces."
"Angela Braly is in good spirits considering that her company seems to have narrowly avoided being converted into a public utility, if not destroyed outright. One gets the sense that she's always in good spirits. After years of sustained political assault, the power of positive thinking probably helps."
Of course, this piece was from those heady days right on the heels of Scott Brown's Senate victory, and Rago went on to gloat, "Merely days before this interview in WellPoint's lower Manhattan offices at the edge of Ground Zero, Massachusetts voters effectively sent ObamaCare to its own death panel."
Rago missed that call, and lately the WSJ hasn't cut her as much slack either. In WellPoint to Beef Up Rate Reviews on May 5, the Journal reports on a memo she sent to the company's 40,000 employees about the debacle around WellPoint having made major math errors in its California 2010 rate hike calculations. Her CFO Wayne DeVeydt admitted, "It's very disappointing and very embarrassing."
It is embarrassing to have to face publicity like this. But that's why she is reminding me more and more of Sarah Palin these days, another "scrappy" woman who just isn't discouraged by relentless bad press, at least at the hands of "the liberal media."
I can't help but ask, "Angela, how's that $13 million salary workin' for you now?"
Dr. Stone and associates will be meeting with Ms. Braly at the WellPoint/Anthem annual meeting again this year, on Tuesday, May 18. See: "WellPoint/Anthem Shareholders Revolt!"
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