David Cordani ’88 credits Texas A&M University – particularly Mays Business School – with preparing him to lead Cigna’s 37,000 employees and operations in 30 countries. His double major in accounting and finance and his background as an Aggie helped to form who he is today, he told a crowd of students, faculty and community members on Sept. 18.

He said entering Ray Auditorium conjured memories of anxiety during his college days because the big tests were administered in similar rooms. Now he speaks with ease to groups of all sizes, all around the world – including with President Barack Obama and other leading CEOs about health care issues.

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Cordani said a love of learning, not a master plan, has propelled his career. “I was fortunate in that I left here with a great foundation of skills and experiences and most importantly a lot of what I would call the ‘X Factor of Texas A&M’ – the values, the beliefs and what is the underpinning in terms of the loyalty, the sense of service, the sense of respect.” Early in his career, he became interested in two industries: financial service and health care. “I was bitten by health care because health care was an opportunity to touch and change people’s lives in a very intimate way. I’ve been on a journey for what’s going to be approaching 30 years and I am still learning each and every day.”

He said one of the most important things being imprinted on the students is what and how to learn. “I would challenge you to open your arms and embrace an environment of learning for the rest of your life. Every day you’ll have an opportunity to learn from those around you. My perspective is the day you stop learning is the day you start dying.”

Cordani said individuals who think they have all the answers tend not to be the best leaders. He cited one of his favorite quotes: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,” by President Harry Truman. He said many people are oriented around having a right answer, but the right answer doesn’t exist, in most cases. “Most of the things you confront in life and in business don’t have a right answer, they have a series of alternatives,” he said. “And oftentimes the best alternative is the alternative that works for the culture, the environment and the team you are working with. The key for leadership is actually figuring out how to get the best answer that a team will come together and support, wrap their arms around and help you drive going forward.”

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Cordani shared some pointers on how to pursue continuous learning:

  • Seek and adapt to change quickly. “Most people say they like change. Most people like change that is comfortable to them.”
  • Be persistent and relentless. “You will confront – as you do in your academic careers – barriers, speed bumps, potholes, surprises in your entire professional careers. It’s how you confront those speed bumps, it’s how you confront those challenges that makes a difference.”
  • Be courageous. “You will be confronted throughout your professional career with many challenges. You could be around a lot of people, but you’ll feel like you are all alone. You’ll feel like maybe you’re the only one who sees the issue. Maybe you’re the only one who has that point of view. You have to take courageous steps. You don’t have to be rude, just have conviction where conviction is necessary.”
  • Be accountable. “There are two types of people: People who make things happen and people who take credit for things that happen. Try to be in the former because it’s far less crowded. If you’re a person committed to learning, there’s as much to learn from success as there is from failures. If you ask people what their failures are and they have trouble finding them, I would submit they’re either not honest or reflective enough because everybody fails. Some are small, some are medium, some are big. The key is if you are committed to learning, you probably won’t have the same kind of failure time and time again.”
  • Be an active listener. “The most effective leaders are great listeners. They have the ability to understand the nuances and then connect with what’s important to an audience. It is what uncaps the opportunity for communication. I actually think one of the fragile dimensions of what technology does today – because we’re all wired – is it enables so much, but it also creates a higher risk in the way we communicate. The brevity of how we communicate, the lack of eyeball-to-eyeball communication, leads to misunderstanding.”
  • Treat people as you want to be treated. Cordani credits his grandparents with teaching him this lesson – “The Golden Rule.”

Cordani asserted that leadership is not a position, but a gift given by those around you. “As CEO, my job is to enable and support the team,” he said. “It’s not about me.”

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Cordani showed a short video that he said illustrates the need to focus on health care and prevention, rather than sick care. “What we strive for is the ability – at the discretion of the individual – to deliver insights about that person’s health in a much more real-time basis,” he said. “We are working to get better information back to the individual and the health care providers, all with the goal of changing lives – one at a time.”

ABOUT MAYS BUSINESS SCHOOL

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 6,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, business, finance, management, management information systems, marketing, and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate programs, MBA programs and faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.

ABOUT CIGNA

Cigna Corporation (NYSE: CI) is a global health service company dedicated to helping people improve their health, well-being and sense of security. All products and services are provided exclusively by or through operating subsidiaries of Cigna Corporation, including Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company, Life Insurance Company of North America and Cigna Life Insurance Company of New York. Such products and services include an integrated suite of health services, such as medical, dental, behavioral health, pharmacy, vision, supplemental benefits and other related products, including group life, accident and disability insurance. Cigna maintains sales capability in 30 countries and jurisdictions, and has more than 89 million customer relationships throughout the world. To learn more about Cigna®, including links to follow us on Facebook or Twitter, visit www.cigna.com.