The board of directors of Highmark Inc. today announced the appointment of William Winkenwerder Jr., a medical doctor who also holds a master's of business administration, as the company's new president and chief executive officer.
He said he plans to start work in late July.
Dr. Winkenwerder's predecessor, Kenneth Melani, was fired April 1, a week after being charged in a fight with the husband of his girlfriend, who also worked at Highmark. He was placed on unpaid leave March 29, after news of the arrest broke, and was jettisoned three days later.
Since Dr. Melani's departure, Highmark has been led, on a temporary basis, by J. Robert Baum, Highmark's board chairman.
Dr. Winkenwerder, 58, is chairman and CEO of the consulting firm Winkenwerder Company, based in Alexandria, Va., which specializes in advising health care companies.
Dr. Winkenwerder said in a phone briefing for reporters this afternoon that his first priority will be "to work with the management team to better understand the details of our business and to understand the local and regional marketplace and really just to dig in to understand how we're conducting our business and how we're doing in terms of performance."He said he aware of the large role Highmark and UPMC play in the Pittsburgh healthcare market but "I'm still at a very early stage and I will be learning a lot, hopefully in a very short period of time."
He said he will be meeting with the West Penn Allegheny Health System management team today. Highmark is awaiting regulatory approval of a deal to acquire WPAHS.
"The company is well capitalized with a large reserve fund but we will be prudent stewards of those funds and of the business," he said.
Highmark is already headed in a direction of which Dr. Winkenwerder said he approves.
"We are on a pathway with some strategies and I am in support of those strategies, and we will learn more as those strategies unfold," he said.
During the call, Mr. Baum said Dr. Winkenwerder's broad experience in dealing with both political and economic crises as well as "challenges simply in the delivery of health care were very attractive to us. He's the right person. He fits our need and our situation."
Previously Dr. Winkenwerder served as assistant secretary of defense for health affairs from 2001-07 where he led the military health system's 132,000 personnel.
A Highmark press release also states that he was the principal medical advisor to secretaries of defense Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates.
He also was vice chairman and executive vice president for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts from 1998-2001.
Dr. Winkenwerder is a graduate of Davidson College and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. He also holds a graduate degree in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.
First Published June 4, 2012 1:00 PM