Hard-wired for hard work, Angela Braly earned her finance degree at Texas Tech in just three years. Sometimes she wonders if that was a mistake.
“I thought college was fun!” she says. “I may have shortchanged myself by skipping that fourth year.”
Mistake or not, Braly’s academic achievement was an early indicator of what she would accomplish in the coming years.
After graduation, she attended Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law.
“I always knew I wanted a career in business,” she says, “but when you study finance, you learn about countless rules and regulations. I wanted to better understand the ‘why’ behind them, so I decided to study law.”
Lessons from a tragedy
One of five children, Braly grew up in Richardson, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. “I had a happy childhood and loving parents,” she says. “All of my siblings were active in school activities.”
During her first year of college, Braly’s father was killed in an automobile accident involving a drunk driver. “We were emotionally devastated,” Braly says.
She especially remembers the tragedy’s impact on her mother. “When my father died, she was suddenly responsible for every aspect of maintaining a home and raising five children. It made a huge impression on me. I learned the importance of being able to take care of yourself and your family.”
After graduating from law school, Braly practiced law in Fort Worth and later accepted an offer to be general counsel of St. Louis-based Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri, where she rose to the office of president and CEO.
WellPoint (now known as Anthem), which owned the Missouri company, called her to Indianapolis to be its general counsel and chief public affairs officer.
She served as WellPoint’s president and CEO from 2007 to 2012, assuming the additional title of chairman in 2010.
Braly believes her experience as CEO is valuable for serving on the boards of ExxonMobil and three other major companies: Brookfield Asset Management Inc., Lowe’s Companies Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co.
“CEOs and directors have some similar responsibilities,” she says. “They must look at large issues such as strategy, risk and succession planning. But directors don’t get involved in day-to-day operations. As the saying goes, ‘Noses in, fingers out.’”
One of the main reasons Braly accepted the invitation to stand for election to ExxonMobil’s board was its well-known reputation.
“ExxonMobil is a leader in an industry the whole world depends on,” she says. “Energy has been essential throughout history, and developing countries need access to affordable supplies if they are to achieve economic growth.”
Braly also noted ExxonMobil’s disciplined, consistent approach to safety. “It’s such a key part of the culture,” she says, “and I’ve been very impressed.”
During a director visit in 2016, Braly toured ExxonMobil’s mammoth Baytown, Texas, refining and petrochemical complex, one of the largest in the world. She met people who reinforced her impression of another ExxonMobil strength – the quality of its employees.
“The people I met were bright, engaged individuals of all ages and different educational backgrounds. I was struck by the fact that very young people are given big responsibilities early in their careers.”
Braly refers to her demanding work on four boards as her “day job.”
In addition, she is passionate about an innovative program she and two other women founded in 2015. The Policy Circle (www.thepolicycircle.org) aims to create a grassroots network for women to talk about public policy.
“Women are concerned and knowledgeable about policy issues,” Braly says. “Unfortunately, they sometimes don’t have the information or confidence they need to take an active public role in discussing and shaping those issues. The Policy Circle is designed to change that.”
Groups of 10 to 20 women meet in an individual’s home every other month. Members read a briefing paper on a selected issue, then get together for a discussion.
“Our ultimate purpose,” Braly says, “is to empower women to have influence in their local communities and to promote policies that foster free enterprise and the values of freedom and liberty at all levels of government.”
Steps to success
Braly is eager to counsel ambitious women and men seeking to rise in a large corporation. Her advice:
- Be committed to your work, and work hard.
- Take on challenging assignments. You may not always succeed, but you’ll create opportunities for yourself.
- Do the right thing, and strive to do it right the first time. If you fall short, think about what you’ve learned. Put that knowledge to work next time.
Above all, she says: “Know who you are. If you don’t, plenty of people will tell you who you should be.”