Centene's promotion of Cynthia Brinkley stirs speculation that she could be in line for CEO role

Table with chairs around it
Along with Cynthia Brinkley’s promotion, Centene announced additional changes in its leadership ranks on Thursday.

Centene has promoted Cynthia Brinkley to the role of president and chief operating officer—a move that one analyst believes has larger implications.

Brinkley, the current executive vice president of global corporate development, has been with the company since 2014. She oversaw the integration of Health Net, an acquisition that made Centene the largest Medicaid managed care organization in the country. Previously, she held leadership roles at AT&T and General Motors.

The company’s announcement noted that Michael Neidorff will remain chairman and CEO of Centene, and that Brinkley will continue to report to him. But to Leerink Partners’ Ana Gupte, “this is the first clear succession indication to CEO Michael Neidorff from the company,” according to a research note (PDF) from the industry analyst.

Either way, it has been clear in the past year that Centene is a company intent on growth. Not only did it recently announce a $3.75 billion deal to acquire New York-based Medicaid managed care insurer Fidelis Care, but it has also expanded its presence on the Affordable Care Act exchanges—even as other major insurers retreated.

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While the recent policy uncertainty surrounding the individual marketplaces and Medicaid would appear to threaten Centene’s two core business lines, Neidorff has repeatedly assured investors the company is both willing and able to adapt to regulatory changes.

Meanwhile, the company’s profits and revenues for the third quarter beat analysts’ consensus estimates—results that it attributed in part to the growth of its ACA exchange business.   

Neidorff himself has benefited from the company’s success. In 2016, he earned $22 million in total compensation, making him the highest-paid CEO among the eight largest publicly traded health insurers for three years running. 

Along with Brinkley’s promotion, Centene announced additional changes in its leadership ranks on Thursday. Mark Brooks, the current senior vice president and chief information officer, will become executive vice president and CIO. Jesse Hunter, the executive vice president of products, was appointed the executive vice president of mergers and acquisitions and chief strategy officer. Before Thursday’s announcement, some may have viewed Hunter as a possible CEO successor, Gupte noted.

In addition, Kevin Counihan—previously the CEO of Healthcare.gov under the Obama administration—was appointed senior vice president of products. He joined Centene this year as regional vice president of markets. Counihan will report to Brinkley.