As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Betsy Seals.
Betsy Seals is the CEO and Co-Founder of Rebellis Group, a consulting firm established to provide advisory and hands-on services to Medicare Advantage Organizations and their subcontractors. Betsy is a nationally-recognized leader in the managed care industry with over 20 years of experience.
Betsy brings to the table a solid mix of leadership and business acumen, as well as regulatory and strategic knowledge within the Managed Care landscape. Betsy’s expertise is focused in several areas, including mergers and acquisitions, compliance, sales and marketing, strategy, supplemental benefit landscape, innovative benefit design to address social determinants of health (SDoH) and health plan operations.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I had a bit of an unconventional childhood; I grew up on 10 acres in the foothills of Northern California. I was homeschooled from kindergarten all the way through high school, and the nearest town was 10 miles away. The first time I actually stepped foot in a classroom was my first day of college at Long Beach State.
Like many people, I ended up in Medicare Advantage by happenstance. I was in my second year of college, and I got a job in Customer Service for SCAN Health Plan, a local Medicare Advantage plan in Long Beach. It was a huge upgrade from my job as a waitress. I still remember how excited I was when they offered me the job at twelve dollars an hour plus benefits — I felt like I had won the lottery!
I learned a tremendous amount working in customer service, and I have taken this knowledge with me along the way. Most importantly, I came away with an understanding of the day to day needs and struggles of the Medicare beneficiary, who is ultimately the person we all serve when we chose a career in Medicare Advantage.
Once I graduated college, I applied for and was offered a job as Compliance Analyst for the same Medicare Advantage organization. A few years later is when my career path really changed. I started working as a consultant for a prominent managed care consulting firm based out of D.C. — Gorman Health Group. This is where I would spend the next 14 years of my career, working every available position in the consulting arm and leaving as Chief Consulting Officer in 2018.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We launched Rebellis Group on February 3rd of 2020, just weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States. Looking back, I’m not certain that we would have chosen to launch at that time if we could have predicted what was about to occur. I do remember a few moments of panic when the industry, and the country, essentially went dark in mid-March. We had a few key discussions with the founding partners and ultimately decided to keep going, believing in our ability to innovate and shift to the new world of healthcare and the new world of consulting. Now looking back 18 months later, I am very glad that we had the grit and foresight that we did. We have experienced tremendous growth over the past year and have been extremely fortunate and honored that some of the industry’s most talented executives and consultants have chosen to join the Rebellis team.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It was mid-March of 2020, and my children were virtual learning, just like every other child in the nation at that point. My daughter, who was in 1st grade at that time, walked into my office while I was on a conference call and started asking me questions about her schoolwork. I professionally let my client know that I needed one moment and “thought” that I had muted myself, only to discover once I got back on the video conference that I had hit the wrong button. I was absolutely mortified but learned an important lesson — at the end of the day we’re all human beings with families, and that fact that I was a mother of two young children home from school during a pandemic, yet still launching my own company, was a strength and not a weakness.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from many of the industry’s best and brightest leaders during my time working for health plans and most especially during my time working for Gorman Health Group (GHG). During my 14 years at GHG, I had two main bosses, and I consider them both mentors — I know that I would not be where I am today if these two leaders had not believed in me and invested their time to see that I reached my potential.
I was also very fortunate to be able to learn from the industry’s most prominent thought leaders during my time with GHG. Throughout my years with GHG I had the opportunity to learn about how politics impact the program as well as the social impact of managed care programs. I gained invaluable perspective which I have taken with me through the years, and for this I will be forever grateful.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
For me, the number one thing I can do to reduce stress going into a big meeting or presentation is to overprepare. I have often memorized the first few slides of a presentation as I know that once I get through the initial nerves, I will be just fine. Aside from the stress around preparing for a high stakes business event, I try very hard to keep the balance between work and personal life. I am on social media very little in my personal life and really try to unplug over the weekend to keep that balance. I also am a huge supporter of vacation. There are numerous studies that back up the idea that we are more productive at work and happier overall when we take vacation. Vacation and time away from work are not only important for me personally, but I also aim to set an example for the people within my organization — giving everything is not the expectation.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It is important for every person, and certainly every leader, to understand that it is impossible to have the full perspective on any issue. We are all molded by our own experience. Therefore, I believe it is and has always been of paramount importance to have a diverse executive group representing a diverse group of staff.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
My perspective from my own life as well as what has taken place in this country over the past several years is that it is important to ask questions and listen with an open heart and an open mind. If you don’t know the right thing to do in a particular situation, it is okay to ask for guidance from someone who has a different perspective than you. None of us will have all the answers, but if we can truly listen to one another, we can make changes for the better.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As CEO, my responsibilities are everything and nothing. I am not typically the person ever responsible for a specific task (other than signing documents), but I oversee every aspect of the business. This is very different than any other role, even a leadership role. I must have a solid understanding of each area within the company as well as each service we offer in order to guide the strategy and ensure the company is set up for success.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
One of the things I hear most often, which I also believed as a young person in business is that the CEO “doesn’t work”. Although it is true the work has changed, it is no less “work” than the work I did as a call center representative in my first job in managed care. More than that, if you’re doing it right, there is a tremendous burden to ensure both that your team members are happy and taken care of in terms of the day to day working environment as well as ensuring the longevity of the company.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I believe it is the issue of respect and being taken seriously as a leader or potential leader. For the majority of my career, I made a point to never discuss my family, my children or my husband to the top-level executives as I always thought that my responsibilities outside of my career would be seen as a weakness and would hold me back from promotions. Then, one day I read an interview that was given by a male executive at the very firm I was working for at that time about the importance of having a diverse group of leaders and what, in his mind, women in particular really added to the leadership team. I realized that he was right. Having women in leadership and board roles was not a gift to that woman, it was a gift to the company.
I also know that women face backlash that their male counterparts would never face when they have a family and a demanding career. Never in a million years would a man be questioned if he left his child at home with his wife for a long business trip. Never would a man sit down at an executive meeting (or any meeting) and be asked how the baby was doing without him — yet still to this day these are things that women face in the workplace.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Because of the role I was in previous to founding Rebellis Group — an executive for a prominent firm in the space — I do feel like I had a very good idea of what the job would require/encompass. The one thing that I could not have predicted is just how much I would be invested in a company where I was the co-founder and CEO, and the amount of responsibility that you have to ensure that your team is happy and the company is not only stable, but continuously moving forward.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I actually do not think that everyone is cut out to be an executive, and I don’t believe everyone would aspire to be, or be happy as an executive. I believe that one of the most important qualities as an executive is the ability to communicate effectively. I once had a boss who had an amazing ability to remain calm and communicate well no matter what chaos was going on. I remember being very confused at the time because I often thought she should have been much more alarmed than she was in a few specific situations. What I realized is that she was being calm so that I could be calm. As an executive, all the fires roll up to you so there is a large amount of time spent putting out those fires or dealing with challenges. The ability to maintain an executive presence in the midst of a crisis is of paramount importance.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Here are a few pieces of advice that I’ve picked up along my journey. When you’re young in your career, learn, be a sponge and pick up every piece of knowledge that you can. Your hard work will earn you the respect of others. Always treat people with respect, whether or not they’ve actually earned it. Be thoughtful and ethical in your interactions with executives, peers and direct reports — this will earn you loyalty. Learn to be resilient, you’ll have many blows along the way, but that’s not what will define you- it’s how you learn and adapt that will determine your path.
Once you are in a leadership position, this is your time to advocate for others and it is your duty (I believe) to speak up on behalf of those who can’t yet speak for themselves.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I believe that I have a unique experience in the managed care space which gives me the ability to see the full picture of the beneficiary experience. My success in this industry has given me a platform to speak on issues such as health equity, health literacy and Social Determinants of Health (SDoH). I view the awareness of these issues as one of the main gaps in the knowledge base of many executives, and one of my goals is to bring awareness so that these gaps may begin to be closed.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Once you’re in a position of leadership, be sure to tell your employees how much you value their thoughts and ideas — and then listen. I have had many experiences when I could tell someone wanted to say something but was hesitating. In this situation, I have said often “Please tell me what’s on your mind, if I didn’t want to hear from you, I wouldn’t have put you in this position”.
- You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be the most successful in business. There are many qualities that are actually more important to “success” than simply IQ. For example, being easy to work with, being dependable, being trustworthy and ethical are all valuable traits in a leader.
- If your boss doesn’t want to hear your ideas or your perspective — you’re probably in the wrong place. If you’re not given basic human respect — you’re definitely in the wrong place. Know when to walk away from a position that is impacting your personal life or your personhood in a negative way.
- One of the most important things you must learn to be successful in leadership is how to be resilient. There will be any number of roadblocks and hardships along your path; in order to be an effective leader, you must be able to pivot and innovate, you must be resilient and resourceful.
- Relationship building is one of the most important things you can do to be successful in your career and most certainly as a leader. Proactively build relationships and do your best not to burn any bridges.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I believe that in managed care, we are in the middle of a movement which will have a tremendous impact on the Medicare population, and that is the understanding of Social Determinants of Health SDoH*.”
We understand so much more now than we did five or ten years ago about health literacy and health equity and how those factors impact longevity and quality of life. As a thought leader in my industry, my goal is to move the needle related to how we’re innovating to close the equity gap in the vulnerable population that we serve in managed care.
*SDoH: “the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Trust but verify” I find this to be true in life and in business. Certainly, during my time as a compliance auditor, this was a cornerstone of the required method which was passed down to me by my mentor during that time. But even more than that, I have found this quote applies to almost all areas of life.