Mark Bertolini of Aetna on Yoga, Meditation and Darth Vader

Here is an excerpt from David Gelles’ profile of Mark Bertolini for The New York Times. To read the complete article and check out others, please click here.

Credit: Cole Wilson for The New York Times

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Not long after joining Aetna, the health insurance giant, Mark Bertolini almost died. A skiing accident in 2004 left his body broken and his prospects dimmed. He was in his late 40s and considered early retirement.

When conventional Western medicine didn’t help him recover, Mr. Bertolini turned to Craniosacral therapy, yoga and meditation. Soon he was back at work, and was made chief executive of the company in 2010.

As C.E.O., Mr. Bertolini has distinguished himself with a series of unconventional decisions. He began offering yoga and meditation to employees; raised the minimum wage (from $12 an hour to $16) and improved benefits; decided to move Aetna out of its longtime home of Hartford, Conn.; and agreed to sell the company to CVS in a $69 billion deal that is expected to close soon.

A Detroit native, Mr. Bertolini grew up in a working-class family and struggled in school until he discovered accounting. He worked at a succession of health insurance companies before joining Aetna in 2003.

This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted at Aetna’s offices in New York City.

What was your childhood like?

My dad was a pattern maker in the auto industry. My mom was a part-time nurse. There were six of us in seven years. We grew up in a 1,000 square foot house with one bathroom. So we got our bath or shower assigned to us, one day a week. My brothers and I all joined sports, so we could take showers at school.

What was your first job?

I went to Catholic grade school. The nuns had me convinced that I was going to be a priest, but I bailed on that. It was not for me. So I worked at my dad’s shop. I cleaned the toilets, and washed the floors, and dusted the office, and painted the walls, and cut the lawn, starting at age 13 for a buck and a quarter an hour.

How was it working for your father?

There was this guy named Jerry who was in his 20s, who did the same job I did. We were sitting out back having a cigarette, I was like 14 years old, and he let me know that he was making $4.25 an hour. So I go to my dad and I go, “Dad, I’m making a buck and a quarter, Jerry’s making four and a quarter. I want a raise.” My dad said, “If I don’t give you a raise, what are you going to do?” I said, “I’ll quit.” He says, “Do you have another job?” I said, “No.” He says, “Great, you’re fired. Go home.” And he sent me home.

Afterward he said to me, “Do you know Jerry’s story?” I said, “No.” He says, “Well, Jerry’s never going to do anything more than he’s doing now. He’s got a wife and a daughter. I’m helping him support his family. You’re 14 years old, you’ve got a home, you’ve got food, you’re going to get an education, and you’re going to do better than Jerry’s going to ever do. Do you get it?” I said, “Yeah.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

David Gelles writes the Corner Office column and other features for The New York Times’s Sunday Business section, and works with the Well team to expand The Times‘s coverage of meditation.

To learn more about him and his work, please click here.


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