‘Interim’ ceo of wellcare shakes things up c gastronomie limonest

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He put together a new executive team; boosted spending on computer systems; criss-crossed the country meeting employees; and shifted the managed health care company’s focus to its health plan members instead of hitting quarterly earnings projections.

Even the artwork on the walls at the Tampa headquarters and 40 satellite offices across the country showcase the cultural shift. Gone are generic, "Ikea-like" art pieces. In their place are poster-sized images representing WellCare’s 3.5 million members, participants in government-sponsored programs like Medicare and Medicaid. The neediest of the needy, as Gallitano puts it. One shows someone suffering from cancer; others depict homelessness and mental illness.

WellCare, one of Tampa Bay’s largest public companies with $9.5 billion in revenue last year, is at a critical juncture in its evolution. It’s searching for a new chief financial officer as well as a chief executive officer as it tries to expand offerings to members and figure out the mixed impact of Obamacare.

Meanwhile, though it has been seven years since a well-publicized FBI raid and fraud investigation, the company can’t entirely move away from the bitter episode. Legal battles persist. Just last week, ex-CEO Todd Farha and two others in the former WellCare regime were sentenced to federal prison for a scheme to keep Medicaid money for the company when it should have gone to the state.

• If he could find enough candidates, he would immediately fill 1,000 open positions companywide, including 500 in Tampa alone. The paucity of local health care and IT talent is making WellCare consider expanding its Nashville and Louisville, Ky., hubs instead.

• The company’s old model of tailoring its Medicare and Medi­caid program based on the needs of each state or market wasn’t working. Now about 80 percent of WellCare’s programs are standardized across all states where it operates, increasing efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

His four-decade career took him from running GE Mortgage Capital to turning around a troubled high-tech manufacturer. At PaineWebber, he oversaw a portfolio of about 20 companies, including a uniform manufacturer, a regional department store, an oil and gas company, radio stations and a private bank in London.

When he joined, he was the only board member not being sued in connection with the fraud inquiry and its effect on company stock. He became the sole member of a special litigation committee charged with investigating both the board and prior management. The experience gave him a deeper understanding of how the company worked, prepping him for the job he has today.

After being elevated to board chairman last year, he led an activist group that decided the company needed fresh leadership as it grows. The board ousted four-year CEO Alec Cunningham in November amid concerns that he didn’t have the training to run a large, geographically dispersed operation.

"You have to have control over what goes on in any company, but it’s a much different type of control than if it’s a mom-and-pop shop where you can reach out and touch everybody," Gallitano said. "Somebody who has no experience running a larger organization, I think, would have some difficulty stepping into this role."

Eschewing the "interim" tag, Gallitano describes himself as "all in." He and his wife, Marsha, bought a house in Tampa in January and moved down — with their Labrador, Goose, in tow — from what had been their planned retirement home in Annapolis, Md.

"I’m not going anyplace fast. But the harsh reality is I am 66 years old, so how much longer does the world … expect me to work? It’s not going to be a 10-year gig," he said. "If we find the right person tomorrow, I’ll move on. If it takes a year or two, that’s fine."

"I don’t feel like there’s anything temporary about the work we’re doing or that somehow we’re waiting for something to happen before we charge forward," added Ken Burdick, WellCare’s president of national health plans. "Dave is not functioning as a lame duck or someone who is filling a gap. … We’re doing far more than just keeping the trains running. We’re really trying to advance the organization."

Mike Polen, senior vice president of operations, is the in-house veteran among top executives, having worked at WellCare for nine years. As such, he’s in a unique position to compare CEOs past and present. The change, he said, has been dramatic.

"It’s certainly been a cultural evolution. There’s no doubt about that," Polen said. "We’re not just focused on getting a job done in a particular function. It’s about how we interact as a team and how do we do a better job of serving the low-income populations that we’ve been tasked to serve."

Others apparently were a bit unclear that Gallitano is actively searching for his own replacement. While the executives were holding a Q&A session in Louisville, one employee stood up and told "interim CEO" Gallitano that she really hoped he gets the job.