As a teenager living in Brainerd, Minnesota – a small town about two hours north of Minneapolis – Tim Vessel didn’t imagine life would land him at a prestigious school on the East Coast playing football, let alone at a Fortune 500 company as an executive.
“I was a first-generation college student, and my family really had no experience navigating the application process. I didn’t know if I could even afford to go to college,” Vessel said. In addition, Brainerd lacked any degree of diversity. “You can imagine that experience,” he said. “It was really my involvement in sports and academic activities that allowed me to flourish.”
As he was researching Minnesota colleges – with the hope of continuing to play football – a student recruiter from Wesleyan University called him out of nowhere during his senior year. Wesleyan, a private liberal arts college in Middletown, Connecticut, checked all the boxes for Vessel – academically, socially, and eventually, athletically.
“Wesleyan was everything I was looking for, as I grew up with this perception that schools in the Northeast were the most prestigious in the land. I got accepted, and football came after that,” Vessel said. “The first time I had ever flown on an airplane was to go from Minnesota to Connecticut, when my mother dropped me off at the airport to go off to college.”
Today, Vessel leads the South Texas sales and account management teams that are charged with expanding the company’s customer base and revenue through existing client relationships with employers, as well as through the pursuit of new clients. He has spent his entire career at Cigna, working in a variety of roles across the country since joining the company in 1993.
“Every step along the way, there's been someone willing to give me an opportunity,” he said.
Exploring economics, education – and the path to Cigna
Attending Wesleyan, though, was Vessel’s first major opportunity. After arriving there as a freshman, he tried out for the football team and made the squad as a wide receiver. Off the field, he majored in economics and minored in education. His dream job initially was to become a teacher – but he figured economics could open a variety of doors.
The summer before his senior year, he applied for an internship at Cigna as part of a program designed to introduce college students to the insurance industry. That same summer, he was awarded an academic fellowship that required him to create and teach evening classes for 10 former inmates living at a transitional center in Middletown. Each week, he taught basic economic concepts and helped his students develop writing and reading skills. Those two summer roles – intern and teacher – allowed him to explore both his career interests: education and the corporate path.
After graduating, he chose the corporate world – but he didn’t stop learning. Cigna invited him to apply for its underwriting training program, and he had enjoyed such a good experience as an intern that he jumped at the chance. “I quickly realized I made the right decision, and it would create many other opportunities,” he said. Vessel has been with the company ever since. (Pictured above: Vessel at Cigna in 1995).
A team player – and a team leader
Vessel’s Cigna Healthcare team covers a large area that includes Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and other locations throughout South Texas and Louisiana. “We have an exceptional team of people who manage our business,” he said.
In fact, teams have played a large part in Vessel’s life since he was a boy playing football, basketball, and tennis. He’s also passionate about riding horses; he competed in equestrian events throughout his childhood in Brainerd, where his mother owned horses.
In addition to cultivating and leading client relationships, Vessel is passionate about helping underserved communities achieve better health outcomes. A key part of his role as market growth leader is partnering with other players in the health care delivery system to work on and evaluate programs that can be implemented in the communities Cigna Healthcare serves.
“For the employers we serve, we can perform an analysis and identify pockets in their employee population where disparities exist, then partner with them to address those issues,” he said.
His team works with existing clients and new business opportunities to develop, implement, and refine employer-specific solutions to optimize the performance of their health care programs. And while Vessel takes great care in addressing the needs of the clients, customers, and communities he serves, what he loves most about working at Cigna Healthcare is supporting the people he works with – and paying it forward.
“I take the greatest pride in having the opportunity to contribute to the success of the individuals within our team and the broader organization,” he said. “That’s the part of my job I enjoy the most.”
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