By Nancy Cocozza, Advisor and Board Member
June 2023 – By just about any measure, I’ve been fortunate to have had a long, thoroughly enjoyable (sometimes arduous) career, building and turning around Medicare health plan businesses for large payers over the past two decades. The bigger the business, the more complex the challenges and often the more involved the regulatory environment and stakeholder relationships. It never failed to keep me on my toes, honing strategies, taking risks, nurturing talent and of course, managing the corporate governance, or dare I say, political bureaucracy that is a reality in any large enterprise. For many years, the roles I held gave me purpose and fed my desire to make health care work better and be more affordable for older Americans. Like so many of us, my career became my life’s work.
At a certain point, with many family and personal priorities to juggle, at the age of 58, I came to a realization, that the balance we all strive for was not anywhere near optimal for me. I had a financial nest egg and also a “bucket list” long with adventure. I decided to embrace a new course (not without risk), to step off the corporate ladder, double down on the aspects of health care that fuel my purpose, and capitalize on my deep knowledge of the industry…while leaving time for personal priorities and bucket list adventure.
This article is for anyone contemplating making a dramatic change from an all-in career with the security of a paycheck/ bonus/equity program to something radically different.
What did I do, and what do I recommend?
- I made sure to leave on excellent terms, and I vowed to stay in touch with colleagues and to mentor young execs that I had been coaching. Be sure to follow through and check in with folks, not only when you are asking something of them but because you genuinely value them. Be quick to respond when folks reach out to you. (Note: after five years, my old employer asked me back for a temp assignment that I was honored to be able to do…this time, on my terms.)
- Stay current on industry developments and reg changes via industry publications and events, and offer to speak on topics you have a strong viewpoint on. Several of my advisory appointments grew out of a conference or two where I was a panelist.
- Be open to introductions and strive to be helpful, whatever the circumstance. You might be amazed how people will find you and connect you to all sorts of interesting opportunities if you let them know you are open and interested. If an opportunity isn’t perfect for you, try to foster a connection for someone else. They will remember you for it.
- Join pertinent networking groups. For example, if you are interested in Board work, join NACD, Forum of Executive Women, or Business Leagues. In my case, I am interested in early-stage companies, so I also joined an angel investing group, full of wide industry experience and know-how.
- Consider being an ad hoc consultant for Expert Services, like GLG or Alpha Insights. You will meet venture investors and P/E professionals who may consider you for advisory or governance work within their portfolio companies.
- Consider a senior advisor role with one of the major management consulting firms. They have excellent research capabilities, and their projects are often cutting edge. It will help you stay abreast of industry trends and challenges without investing lots of your own energy.
What have I learned so far?
- People are by and large happy to hear from you, and most will respond, even the busiest ones.
- More opportunities came my way than I would have expected.
- I have much more control over my workload and calendar than when I was a full-time executive
- After a stumble or two, I learned the difference between governing and operating. Thankfully, my first couple of Boards were patient with me.
- Money is no longer a prime motivator for my choices in life (as it was early in career), fueling my purpose with meaningful and game changing opportunities is what motivates me now. Yet the money is considerably better than I would have expected, especially when you consider the equity you gain in advisory and board roles. Follow your heart and the money will follow.
How is it working out for me?
- Mostly I am finding it is enough to feed my sense of purpose, supplement my retirement, and give me the balance and flexibility I desire. I have time to work down my bucket list now.
- Every day isn’t a dash to the finish line. I have a list of non-urgent errands and activities for these days.
- My health is better and I am sleeping better. I think less stress is a major factor.
- My friendships are more rewarding as I take more time to nurture them.
Top considerations for stepping up to a more balanced and purposeful life!
- If your spouse is also retired, go into it with eyes open. Try not to cramp their style. Too much togetherness can be a strain.
- Take your time with the bucket list; savor the planning and the memories you create. Live more in the moment!
- Peer networking groups are a godsend when you choose well. They are helpful, generous with their knowledge and connections, and inspiring with their stories.
- Be choosy about where you spend your time, and that includes advisory and Board appointments. You can only do so many and time is your most prized commodity!
About the Author
Nancy has a financial background and spent 30+ years on the payer side of the health care industry starting in the early days of Managed Care. In the last two decades of her career, she dedicated herself to the Medicare segment, building and growing Medicare health plans for Coventry Health Care and CVS Aetna. She started a Part D business for Coventry and expanded the geographic footprint for MAPD nationally. During her tenure at CVS Aetna, she grew from $14B to over $23B. She also achieved high marks in Medicare stars where Aetna scored #1 in % of members in 4 and 4+ star plans in 4 of the 5 years that she led the segment. She retired in 2018 and now serves as advisor for a number of young innovative companies serving the Medicare market and women’s health, as well as Board roles for Privia Health Group, and a number of venture backed firms. She is a member of NACD, Broad Street Angels, and the Forum of Executive Women.