When John Webb, president of Tri-South at Cigna Healthcare, says “it’s not rocket science,” you can believe it. The former aerospace engineer-turned-sales executive began his career working on the Space Shuttle program for Rockwell International, helping to manufacture the shuttle’s three main engines.
A few years after receiving his mechanical engineering degree from Michigan State University, Webb realized that while he liked all things technical, engineering wasn’t his calling. To broaden his horizons, he opted to get an MBA from Pepperdine University in California, eventually making the professional transition into health care.
“I was drawn by the noble purpose of the health care field and the impact you can make in improving the quality of people’s lives,” he said.
He joined Cigna Healthcare in September 2020, after seeing success leading teams within large health care organizations and as an entrepreneur working in venture capital, specifically where he launched early stage companies. Throughout his career, the biggest lesson he has learned is that success is shaped by your wealth of experiences, your relationships to the people around you, and the health and well-being of your community.
“We don't go anywhere in life without the help of others,” Webb said. “That's why I've made it my mission to make sure I always find a way to give back and lend a hand where I can, because I know that's been done for me.”
Today, Webb oversees U.S. commercial business lines for Cigna Healthcare across Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, including key aspects of growth and care delivery.
Becoming part of the fabric of his local community
Although his career has taken him all over the country and to Canada, Webb has always made it a priority to embed himself in his community. “I’ve learned that when you move to a new city, it’s crucial to become part of the fabric of that city,” he said. That dedication is the driving force behind his work.
Webb at WMC Action News 5 in Memphis
Webb attributes his passion for giving back to his mother, who made an impression with her caring for people. “We didn’t dwell on our own circumstances, we were taught that even though we don’t have a lot, what we do have we should share,” he said.
Webb has early memories of giving cans of food to the local food bank, donating clothes, and going door-to-door to recycle newspapers for Earth Day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up.
Fast forward to today and his current hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. He’s involved with a variety of organizations and initiatives focused on economic development, workforce development, and health equity. They include the Greater Memphis Chamber, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, New Memphis, and the Mid-South Minority Business Council (MMBC).
Another organization that is near and dear to Webb is INROADS, one of the nation’s leading organizations focused on STEM education, mentorship, and providing a pathway to employment for people in underserved communities. Webb was instrumental in brokering a partnership between the University of Memphis and INROADS and has helped make Memphis a top priority for the INROADS organization.
Improving health equity in Tennessee
At Cigna Healthcare, Webb’s passion for the community has come to life through efforts to reduce health disparities and improve health equity. For example, African American and Black women have a higher rate of death from breast cancer than any other group in Tennessee, and they are less likely to be screened for breast cancer. To combat this, Webb and his team oversaw a successful partnership between Cigna Healthcare and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, a Memphis-based medical group, to launch reminder campaigns and operate a mobile mammography screening van at community events. As a result, the screening disparity gap for African American/Black Cigna Healthcare customers in the state of Tennessee has narrowed significantly, Cigna Healthcare claims data shows.
Building cultural competency in health care is another way to improve health equity for underrepresented communities. Cultural competency in health care is the ability to recognize and understand cultural distinctions, address biases, and adapt care delivery and services to meet social, cultural, and language needs. In Memphis, Webb’s team saw the opportunity to leverage community health workers to build trust and break through cultural barriers. According to the results of a Cigna Healthcare pilot, when local residents were connected with community health workers, 92% of the residents lost weight, 67% lowered their blood pressure, 83% decreased their cholesterol, and 100% of those with depression saw positive improvement.
“Initiatives like these are excellent examples because they serve two purposes,” Webb said. “They help us come together to join forces for the sake of the community, and at the same time, they show the community that we can be partners and that medical providers and health insurance companies don’t have to be adversaries – which is unfortunately a narrative we often see.”
Go big or go home: Perspectives on leadership and growth
Webb’s passion for people and the community also shapes the way he does business. “You can’t live in a vacuum, I’m a firm believer that a rising tide can lift all ships,” he said, reflecting on his leadership style and the importance of supporting your team. Webb is a people person, and he likes to be in the mix. He wants to make clear that he has no problem rolling up his sleeves, and he doesn’t ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself.
Culture is crucial for Webb. When he took on his current role, the Tri-South region was a new organization for Cigna Healthcare and didn’t yet have a unique employee culture. “This is where I brought a little of New York with me,” he said. “I told my team that our new mantra is ‘Go big or Go home’ – and they have all bought into that, because as a team we have gone big for our customers and the communities we serve.”
Reflecting on his younger self, Webb said an important lesson was to keep an open mind because people often see in you what you don’t see in yourself. Webb never imagined himself being in sales, yet the people around him told him his strengths would help him succeed. “Sometimes you need to listen to others,” he said, “because there are blind spots we all have, and they can help you discover things you didn’t think possible.”
Webb is committed to maintaining and continuing to grow Cigna Healthcare’s leading place in the Tri-South market. He’s proud of his team’s work to put Cigna Healthcare on the map, and he is focused on continuing that success.
From a personal standpoint, Webb is a life-long learner and a voracious reader. He says he’s dangerous in a bookstore (and we believe him). Overall, he is excited to see where the future takes him. “As long as I’m growing, I’m a happy man,” he said.
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