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HOW I MADE IT: LESLIE A. MARGOLIN

Health exec is giving her company a shot in the arm

November 30, 2008|Lisa Girion | Girion is a Times staff writer.

The gig: President of Woodland Hills-based Anthem Blue Cross of California, the state's largest for-profit health insurer, which serves more than 8 million members.

Background: Margolin, 53, grew up in Meriden, Conn., the daughter of a liquor salesman and a stay-at-home mother.

Education: Bachelor of arts in government from Connecticut College, doctorate in law from Hofstra University, and master of laws in labor relations from New York University

Career: Margolin began as a lawyer with a management labor firm in Hartford, Conn. She then was recruited to work as a lawyer for Cigna Corp., and went on to serve as president of Cigna HealthCare of California. After 13 years at Cigna, she moved to Kaiser Permanente, rising to national chief operations officer in her eight years there. She was named president of Anthem Blue Cross of California in January.

Challenges of new job: Rebuilding the company's image and employee morale in the aftermath of public criticism of the company's policy cancellation practices. She also is working to repair relations with physicians and hospitals, many of whom view Anthem Blue Cross as a bully when it negotiates fees and decides what medical care it will pay for.

Another challenge: Margolin is trying to improve the company's standing with consumers and regulators. Anthem Blue Cross and its parent, WellPoint Corp., got a black eye last year for standing alone among big insurers in opposing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's healthcare reform proposal, which was ultimately defeated.

What she likes most about her new job: Promoting wellness and improving the Anthem Blue Cross reputation through company-sponsored buses that tour the state offering free cholesterol screenings and other tests.

Career highlight: As chief human resources officer for Kaiser, Margolin helped hammer out unprecedented five-year agreements with 29 local and nine international unions representing more than 86,000 Kaiser employees. The labor-management partnership and bargaining model developed in the 2000 and 2005 negotiations were the focus of case studies by Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley and other labor experts, and earned commendation from the U.S. Department of Labor.

You'd never guess: That Margolin is 5 feet 1. Although she is often the shortest person in the room, colleagues and employees look up to her because of her warm personality. Her easy command has been examined in a book on leadership as well as by former California Gov. Pete Wilson, who once invited her to speak on "Wildly Successful Women Leaders" at an annual women's conference.

Her big idea: Margolin believes she has succeeded by finding common ground among competing constituencies and using it to build consensus. She used that strategy to achieve the groundbreaking labor agreements at Kaiser. "My view of the world is we should sit down together and try to figure out what it is we want to achieve," she says. On healthcare reform, for instance, she says, "the answers lie in trying to bring people with diverse backgrounds and diverse interests together and focus on what they have in common."

In practice: She is using that idea to breathe new life into Blue Cross liaison committees with physicians and hospitals. She has attended some of the meetings herself, bringing along top staff members, and has promised healthcare providers that Blue Cross would not spring new policies or practices on them without informing them and taking their input into consideration.

Believe it or not: Margolin hasn't yet "made it" -- at least not in her own mind. She never set out to work as a lawyer or as a health insurance executive. She went to law school to learn how lawmaking works with the goal of one day running for the U.S. Senate. She still harbors a desire to serve in public office.

She would never: Miss a physical examination. Because her parents died of cancer -- and because of her career in healthcare -- she is a strong believer in preventive care, starting with annual check-ups.

Good works: She was recently elected to the Los Angeles Urban League board of directors and was named event chair for the March of Dimes' March for Babies in April. She also serves on the Ambassador Council of AIDS Project Los Angeles.

For fun: She runs marathons -- eight so far, including Boston, New York and Los Angeles. She is a cyclist and recently rode across the country. She also cross-country skis, plays tennis and racquetball, and she likes to garden, cook and travel.

She is known to: Leave her car at the mechanic's and ride her bike from her office in Woodland Hills to her home in Altadena.

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lisa.girion@latimes.com

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