UnitedHealth Group CEO David Wichmann Retires--Update
By Anna Wilde Mathews
UnitedHealth Group Inc. Chief Executive David Wichmann retired
after 40 months in the role and was replaced by Andrew Witty, the
company's president, an abrupt move that raises questions about the
reasons for the change.
Mr. Witty, 56 years old, the former CEO of drugmaker
GlaxoSmithKline PLC, became the chief executive of UnitedHealth's
Optum health-services unit in 2018, and added the president title
in November 2019. Before joining UnitedHealth as an executive, he
had served on its board. He recently returned from a leave of
absence to work on Covid-19 efforts at the World Health
Mr. Wichmann, 59, who became CEO in September 2017, will work in
a transition role through March of this year. He joined
UnitedHealth in 1998, and had been president before assuming the
UnitedHealth is the parent of the biggest U.S. health insurer as
well as its burgeoning Optum arm, which includes a growing network
of doctor groups and other health-care providers.
The sudden switch is particularly surprising in a company that
has demonstrated a deliberative leadership transition process at
the top. Mr. Wichmann, a former CFO as well as leader of
UnitedHealth's insurance unit, had long been positioned as the
successor to Stephen J. Hemsley, now UnitedHealth's board chairman,
who was the company's CEO for more than a decade.
Mr. Wichmann had been seen as close to Mr. Hemsley. Indeed,
before joining UnitedHealth in 1998, Mr. Wichmann was a partner at
Arthur Andersen, and Mr. Hemsley came to UnitedHealth a year
earlier from the same firm.
The move, coming within weeks of the release of earnings that
were seen as solid, will surprise investors, said Matthew Borsch,
an analyst with BMO Capital Markets. "Everything looks on track"
with the company's performance, he said. Investors "will look to
better understand what the catalyst was for the change, until they
understand that the reaction will be negative on the
UnitedHealth said it wasn't changing its earnings guidance for
2021, or its long-term financial growth targets. The company said
Dirk McMahon will become president, chief operating officer and
will join Mr. Witty and Chief Financial Officer John Rex in the
Chief Executive Office.
UnitedHealth gave no reason for the change, and a spokesman
declined to comment beyond its press release. The spokesman said
Mr. Witty, Mr. Wichmann and others weren't available for
In a note sent Thursday morning to UnitedHealth employees, Mr.
Wichmann said it was "bittersweet" to announce his departure. In
the note, he said the move "is the right decision for me and my
In his note to employees, Mr. Witty said his top priorities were
"to help ensure we continue to modernize the health system;
continue developing and attracting the best talent in our industry;
innovate and accelerate our capabilities; and set forth a bold
strategy for transforming the way care is accessed, delivered and
paid for across the continuum."
Mr. Hemsley praised both Mr. Witty and Mr. Wichmann in the
release, saying Mr. Witty is "uniquely well-positioned to help the
company take the next steps on its steady path to grow and deliver
for its shareholders and the customers and people we are privileged
He said Mr. Wichmann was "an outstanding leader, and the Board
and I are deeply appreciative of his contributions to the company's
continued success." He said Mr. Wichmann "will serve as a model of
servant leadership for years to come."
Write to Anna Wilde Mathews at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 04, 2021 09:31 ET (14:31 GMT)
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