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From Texas Tech to Top of the World

Alumna Angela Braly named 16th most powerful woman by Forbes Magazine.

Written by Sally Logue Post

Angela Braly

In November 2007, Braly was awarded the Distinguished Alumni award by the Texas Tech Alumni Association.

If you believe Forbes magazine, Angela Braly is the 16th most powerful woman in the world, behind Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany at number one and ahead of Oprah, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Queen Elizabeth.

Braly is the president and CEO of WellPoint, Inc. the nation’s largest health benefits company, so you can make a case for the ranking. But she’s much more than a savvy businesswoman. She’s a dedicated mom and wife and a proud Red Raider.

As head of WellPoint, Braly oversees a company of more than 40,000 associates that provides benefits for nearly 35 million Americans. WellPoint is the parent company of 14 Blue Cross Blue Shield companies across the country.

Ask her what her job is and she’ll tell you she sees herself as an advocate for health policy change in the U.S. “WellPoint really believes that we need to transform health care and become the most trusted choice for consumers.”

A lofty goal, and a long way from the days of sunning herself outside of Stangel Hall on a green stretch of lawn otherwise known as Stangel Beach. “I have the sun damage on my face to show for it,” she laughs, rubbing her cheek.

She also has a finance degree to show for her years at Texas Tech, a place Braly says she always wanted to be.

“I knew it was going to be a great place, a great college town,” she said while back on campus to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Alumni Association. “My sister was in school here so I knew Texas Tech would offer a friendly atmosphere and I would be part of a family.”

Braly found her place instantly upon moving into Stangel Hall. “My first days on campus were wonderful,” she said. “I can remember sitting in the hall talking and having a great time with a set of friends I met immediately. It was truly a home away from home.”

Braly also found a home in the College of Business Administration. It’s one of three places she picks as her favorite places on campus, right behind the Student Union Building and the Library.

“It was a great library and I spent a lot of time there. I guess it shows that I was really a nerd, but I had a great time while at Texas Tech,” she said.

But apparently she wasn’t a very neat nerd. Braly tells of the time she and her roommate entered the messiest room contest. They were sure they would win, but came in second.

“I guess I’ve passed that tradition on to my family, maybe my children can win the messy bedroom contest.”

Serious Business

The Dallas native laughs easily and doesn’t mind telling stories on herself. But she turns serious when talking about her company and her place in the business world.

“What we do at WellPoint is incredibly important,” she said. “We provide health care security to nearly 35 million people. One in nine Americans carries one of our ID cards and we take that to heart.”

But health insurance is a business that often finds itself in the bull’s eye of public policy debates and consumer anger, something that Braly understands and accepts.

“We often are the disciplinarian in health care,” she said. “The value equation of health care cost and quality being delivered to Americans isn’t where it needs to be. There is a huge public debate going on over health care. We think that health care needs to be transformed and that we have the experience and the information to be part of the solution.”

Braly finds herself the only female CEO of a Fortune 50 company, a position she wants to see change.

“I can’t wait until there are 25 more women in the Fortune 50,” she said. “I have had every opportunity as a woman. I think the idea of a glass ceiling has been debunked. I believe there is a series of invisible hurdles that are often unseen by men, but they are real and they force women to make choices throughout their careers.”

Choices about children. Braly has three children, ages 17, 14 and 11. “There were plenty of decisions along the way for me,” she said. “I took six months off when my first child was born. Then I knew for the sake of myself and the sanity of my family, I had to go back to work. That was the right choice for me, but women have to find a balance of what works for them and their families. My husband and family have been incredibly supportive and have made it possible for me to have a terrific and exciting career.”

Career Advice

Braly has another piece of advice for young women and men. “Do internships. And do as I did at Texas Tech and use the career center resources at your school. Talk to your professors about the things that you are interested in doing and how that might lead you to the right career. Your career is not going to be a single straight line you have to be open to new possibilities.”

Braly’s career took its own turns. She intended to use her finance degree and go into banking, but decided that law school was something she should do right after her undergraduate work fearing she’d never go back if she went into a career first.

“It was practicing law that led me into the Blue Cross Blue Shield system,” she said. “I became general counsel of Blue Cross Blue Shield in Missouri, then president in Missouri and worked my way up to president and CEO of the parent company.”

And now to a ranking as the 16th most powerful woman in the world. How is her life since the magazine came out? Braly laughs and says it has been fun and immediately turns the credit for her success back to the company she runs.

“There is recognition of the importance of WellPoint,” she said. “I think part of the recognition is about the significant issue of health care. It’s been an honor and a privilege to be part of this company and I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

But has the ranking gone to her head? “Oh no! My family is the most powerful thing in my life and they have no problem keeping me humble.”

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WellPoint is the largest publicly traded commercial health benefits company in the United States and an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

WellPoint’s mission is to improve the lives of the people it serves and the health of its communities.

Read more on Angela Braly in Forbes: