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May 6, 2019 C-Suite Awards 2019

Wachtelhausen's scorecard checks off leadership and entrepreneurship

Photo | J. Fiereck Photography

Category: Chief Marketing Officer of the year

Roberta (Bert) Wachtelhausen

Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, ConnectiCare; President, WellSpark Health

Size of organization: 650 employees

Education: University of Connecticut, bachelor's degree; University of Hartford, graduate studies

Previous job(s): Cigna, Meritain, LifeCare, Averde Health

A huge scoreboard hangs in the sales-and-marketing office at ConnectiCare in Farmington, tracking the unit's goals, performance metrics and wins in the tough health insurance market.

The scoreboard is the brainchild of Roberta (Bert) Wachtelhausen, ConnectiCare's chief sales and marketing officer, who took the idea from her years playing women's basketball at UConn.

Wachtelhausen has taken the lessons she learned as a Division I athlete to her leadership role at one of the state's largest health insurance providers.

“It's like any sports team — you have to make sure everybody knows their job, you have to recruit the right people with the right skills to get the job done; you have to coach people into high performance,” Wachtelhausen said. The scoreboard is meant to motivate in a positive way, she added. “It's really more to inspire people to work together, to inspire people to achieve.”

Wachtelhausen has scored more than her share of wins throughout her career in insurance, which started with a post at Aetna soon after college. A Wallingford native, she graduated from UConn in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in recreation therapy, drawn to working with those with special needs. But a chance meeting with the father of a former teammate led to a career change.

“I'm really blessed to have taken the path that I did,” Wachtelhausen said. After a brief time at Aetna, she took an entry-level job at Cigna, working her way up “from the mailroom to not-quite-the-boardroom,” rising to the post of senior vice president of national account sales by 2004.

“I was one of the only female sales managers at the time, so I had to learn fast,” she said. “I had to get a thick skin, but I learned a ton.”

Next came a period of exploration, when Wachtelhausen worked for a third-party administrator, then co-founded a new insurance company, Averde Health. The new company was designed to bring startup energy to the industry.

“Innovation in insurance wasn't really happening,” Wachtelhausen said. “We tried to build an insurance company from scratch.”

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act dealt a blow to the value proposition for the new company, however, and Wachtelhausen in 2016 decided to take the post of chief sales and marketing officer at ConnectiCare. A subsidiary of New York's EmblemHealth, ConnectiCare and its parent serve more than 3.1 million people in the tri-state area.

“This would be the capstone of my career,” Wachtelhausen said. “This would really bring together sales, marketing and underwriting … [to] work in Connecticut for a company that really, really cares about the residents of the state.”

ConnectiCare President Eric Galvin first heard of Wachtelhausen — known to all as “Bert” — when he was a young executive at Cigna.

“Everybody referred to her with such an appreciation for her great experience, her great performance. I was very aware of who she was and what she had accomplished,” Galvin said.

When Galvin took the reins at ConnectiCare in 2017, he saw the critical role that Wachtelhausen played in engineering a $180-million turnaround at the company over two years.

Wachtelhausen's depth of experience, zest for life and sports background contribute to her skills as a leader, Galvin said.

“She's very much a student of the business, of the industry and genuinely is interested in what makes it work,” he said. But he added that he also valued her leadership as a role model for young women.

Now Wachtelhausen is about to embark on a new challenge, taking the role of president at a new company inside of ConnectiCare, called WellSpark. With a suite of new programs, WellSpark aims to help employers encourage their workers to take advantage of health benefits like screenings, flu shots and other preventive care. Wachtelhausen will supervise 140 people, with that number likely to grow as the company expands to cover customers including New York City municipal employees.

“It's really exciting to be able to take all of my experience and try to stand up a new company,” she said. “I'm scratching my entrepreneurial itch.”

On the job

Guiding business principle: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Team before self … listen first, then talk.

Best way to keep your competitive edge: No different than competitive athletics: Recruit the right people and skills. Prepare every day. Perform at the highest level. Study wins and losses. Make adjustments. Repeat.

Best business decision: It didn't seem so at the time, but agreeing to join colleagues in forming a startup has proven to be invaluable. It made me see opportunity where others often don't.

Goal yet to be achieved: Running my own company, which will now be fulfilled as I assume the role of president of WellSpark Health.

Personal side:

City of residence: South Windsor

Favorite way to relax: Cooking dinner while listening to music

Hobbies: Cooking, bicycling, watching/ listening to live music

Last vacation: Tampa Bay for the Women's Final Four

Favorite movie: “The Italian Job,” and the Oceans series. I love a good heist movie.

The car you drive: Subaru. It fits my lifestyle and my dog.

Favorite cause: Anything that strengthens leadership opportunities for young women. I'm currently a sustaining member of Women in Philanthropy, a UConn organization of female alumni who raise money for scholarships for young women students.

Second choice career: Probably a teacher.

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