Ron Williams: Learning to Lead

Ron Williams knows leadership. He was, after all, Chairman and CEO of Aetna. When he joined Aetna in 2001, its loss from continuing operations was $292 million, with earnings per share loss of $0.46. By the time Williams left in 2011, the company’s full-year operating earnings were $2 billion, with operating earnings per share of $5.17. Beyond the numbers, though, During Williams’ tenure, Aetna was named FORTUNE's most admired company in the Health Care: Insurance and Managed Care category for three consecutive years.

Now Williams has written a book about leadership: “Learning to Lead: The Journey to Leading Yourself, Leading Others, and Leading an Organization.” However, he has also written a book about addressing many of the major gaps in society today, including the growth of inequality and the death of ethics.

In fact, Williams’ argues that it’s exactly because of these times that we must renew our focus on leadership. He writes: “Our society has a greater need than ever for talented, effective leaders. Given the enormous social and economic challenges we face, organizations of every kind – for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies – are desperate for people of every background with the ability to formulate a compelling vision of the future and to inspire others to help make that vision a reality.”

Williams outlines the approaches one needs — lessons from his own experiences and those of people like Lucent’s Pat Russo, American Express’ Ken Chenault, Xerox’ Ursula Burns, McKinsey’s Ian Davis, and others — to grow as a leader. He acknowledges: Not everyone will become a CEO. That’s fine. Everyone still should live a life of purpose and action, and Williams outlines what he believes is the path to get there.

It’s a very personal book. Williams writes about growing up on the Chicago’s South Side, the powerful influence of his parents — his father was a parking lot manager who later became a bus driver; his mom a manicurist in a neighborhood beauty parlor — and the realities of creating a path in today’s business world. He writes for kids just starting out who want to understand how to become a leader and CEOs sitting in the chair right now who want to become better leaders.

More about Williams: Since Aetna, Williams has continued to help drive leadership in business, including in private equity. He as served as Operating Advisor to Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, where he is chairman of CD&R's portfolio companies  currently serves as Chairman of portfolio companies agilon health and naviHealth. He successfully guided two other CD&R portfolio company exits.

His influence and experience don’t end there: Williams is the chairman and CEO of RW2 Enterprises. He is a director on multiple corporate, public sector and non-profit boards. Among many other organizations, he also is a member of the MIT Corporation, Vice Chairman of The Conference Board, and a member of the President’s Circle of National Academies.

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