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Richard Burke: UnitedHealth Group

Richard Burke grew up in Marietta, Ga., graduated from a local high school and enrolled in the engineering program at Georgia Tech. Three years into the program, he realized that he liked business better (a lot better than chemistry, math, physics, biology, and mechanical drawing), and switched to business school.

While in undergraduate school, Burke worked full-time at the local office of two insurance companies processing health insurance claims and learning about managing people. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he enrolled in the MBA program at Georgia State University, working full-time during the day in the office of the Governor of Georgia while he went to school at night.

He then decided to pursue his doctorate in business administration, but before acceptance of his dissertation, he took a job with a leading-edge Minneapolis healthcare think-tank called InterStudy (IS) that was interested in his healthcare/insurance and state government credentials.

IS had a federal government contract to develop a new kind of healthcare organization called a health-maintenance organization (HMO), what today is the foundation of the “managed-care” industry in the United States. While at IS Burke developed three managed-care organizations that were models for the later growth of the industry.

After three years at IS, Burke wanted to expand this “HMO management” business further, but couldn’t reach a meeting of the minds with his superiors over the scope and management of the proposed new business venture. So Burke left IS and formed his own firm to organize and manage HMOs for physician groups around the country.

From this start, he built the company, took it public, and acquired other, similar organizations around the country, before later giving up the CEO role. At this writing, Burke is chairman of the board of UnitedHealth Group, a company in the Fortune 100, and the largest private health insurer in America, with annual revenues exceeding $84 billion and covering approximately 70 million American citizens through one or more of the company’s products.

This is how he did it.

This introduction is excerpted from Bootstrap to Billions: Proven Rules from Entrepreneurs who Built Great Companies from Scratch by Dr. Dileep Rao. Copying or reproduction in any format or medium without the prior express, written consent of the author is strictly prohibited.

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