Braly gains prestige--fast

December 31, 2007

At the beginning of 2007, few people outside WellPoint Inc. had even heard of Angela Braly. Nine months later, Fortune magazine named her the fourth most powerful woman in business.

Such were the drastic changes this year at WellPoint, the nation's second-largest health insurer and the 38th-largest company in America.

In February, WellPoint's board chose Braly, the company's chief attorney, to succeed Larry C. Glasscock as CEO. Glasscock decided to retire for a family reason, officially stepping aside on June 1 but remaining the company's chairman.

Braly's appointment made her CEO of the largest company run by a woman.

"We're trying to avoid saying I'm the largest [female] CEO," Braly joked at a Feb. 26 press conference.

Braly, a Texas native with a law degree from Southern Methodist University, has cut a large profile since becoming WellPoint's CEO. She was featured on the cover of Modern Healthcare magazine and in a feature story in Forbes. The business magazine named her the 16th-most-powerful woman in the world.

"As the number of America's uninsured climbs toward 50 million and the momentum for health reform intensifies, Ms. Braly will play a big role in shaping the debate," wrote The Wall Street Journal, in naming Braly to the top of its annual Women to Watch list.

Former company executives said Braly was chosen over John S. Watts Jr., who oversaw WellPoint's main business units, and Mark Boxer, chief of human resources and information technology.

Braly's coronation as CEO came two days after she, Glasscock and the board asked WellPoint Chief Financial Officer David Colby to resign for undisclosed violations of the company's code of conduct.

Five days before Colby's resignation, a former lover who claimed Colby had reneged on his promise to give her his $4.4 million mansion in suburban Los Angeles had sued him in California. The woman's lawyer claimed at least a dozen women were simultaneously carrying on romantic relationships with Colby, including at least one in Indianapolis.

WellPoint's leadership got reshuffled again in October, as Watts decided to leave and two other top executives set their departures for mid- to late-2008.

Analysts said the management changes weighed on the stock from summer to fall. But WellPoint's shares have since surged. They're up roughly 10 percent for the year.

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