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Matt Peterson: Growing with UnitedHealthcare

May 9, 2023
Peterson (MBA'94) has devoted nearly 25 years to UnitedHealth Group, see how the current CEO of UnitedHealthcare grew with the organization.

By Lacie Blankenship

As a member of the Vanderbilt MBA Class of 1994, Matt Peterson’s career took off in a time of consistent and prominent global change. Upon his graduation, Peterson participated in the MBA Enterprise Core program, where 7 Owen graduates went to different parts of Eastern Europe to help newly formed countries connect with the West. Peterson was placed in Estonia for 2 years to privatize Soviet-designed enterprises before returning home to a healthcare consulting role, paving the way for his commitment to the healthcare industry.

In 1999, Peterson joined United, where he currently serves as CEO, Ancillary and Individual (United or UnitedHealth Group encompasses UnitedHealthcare and Optum). When Peterson started with the organization, UnitedHealth Group was a Fortune 100 company, and it is now Fortune 5 and is the world’s largest healthcare company. In Peterson’s years with the organization, he has worn many hats, taking on different roles and responsibilities as the company has grown.

Pictured: Matt Peterson, United, CEO, Ancillary and Individual, speaking at podium.

Peterson at the Management Hall Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony, April 2023

Starting at United

Peterson joined the organization to co-lead the corporate development group of United. At the time, United was developing into a healthcare powerhouse organically and inorganically. “United became a very substantial innovator in the healthcare space and is still known for that,” says Peterson. “I am very fortunate to have been on the front end of that construction, and our track record has contributed to significant growth.”

Moving throughout the organization, Peterson had his hand in corporate roles in the early stages of Optum and UnitedHealthcare, where he grew in new ways to help the enterprise advance. Peterson’s different roles focused notably on finance and administration, but he credits a decade with human capital responsibilities as transformative. “As a finance person, I learned many things about human capital, which was a huge change for me,” says Peterson. “It gave me a lot of different skills and different ways to do things more than just quantitative and valuation skills, but culture, people behavior, compensation, and talent.”

Simultaneous Development

Devoting nearly 25 years to United, Peterson has grown with the organization. He’s experienced change and development on professional and personal scales while helping United simultaneously grow. Professionally speaking, Peterson notes that his current role has emphasized the value of listening, trust, and long-term planning in leadership. 

“When you’re leading thousands of people, you have to enable and empower people to do their jobs. You have to provide guidance and support so that they can be successful, and if they’re successful, you’re successful,” says Peterson. “Leadership requires trust that people will do their jobs and do so with strong cultural values. In turn, they develop long-term skills to carry the vision and mission forward. It’s not necessarily about my short-term success as much as it is about helping others go forward and build on that success.”

Work-Life Balance

Although not a new topic, Peterson is interested in the conversation on work-life balance. After spending much of his life with the company, it’s important to note the personal milestones he experienced alongside United – like raising his 3 children with his wife. For Peterson, prioritizing what is important to him and attaching values to his work is key in his balancing efforts. At United, Peterson enjoys helping people live healthier lives and making a difference in the accessibility and delivery of healthcare. He extends his reach with his service as President of the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation, a 501c(3) public charity dedicated to advancing healthcare to underprivileged children in the United States. “Helping those less fortunate, particularly children, with the support of the enterprise has made my career even richer.” 

“The intersection of work and personal life continues to be a work in progress for executives, myself included, and knowing where to balance and to leave off and begin is very important, but the lines are clearly blurred,” says Peterson. “I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I prioritize things important to me and share those things with my family and coworkers.” 

Advice to the Next Generation

Peterson, the featured speaker at the 2023 Vanderbilt Business Commencement, urges the next generation of business leaders to “practice agility, curiosity, integrity, and to learn how to deal with ambiguity.” Peterson credits his experience at Vanderbilt with changing his life. “While I have returned home to where I was born and raised in Minnesota, I spent a fair amount of time looking at other parts of the world. My internship was in Japan, I loved being in Tennessee, I loved living in Europe, and it just so happened that I found a company growing into a large enterprise in Minnesota. All of that was enabled by Owen and Vanderbilt. I feel grateful to school leaders and professors and also my classmates, they’re terrific. I’ve known them for half of my life, and I feel very strongly about those rare and rich relationships.”

About UnitedHealthcare

UnitedHealth Group is the holding company of UnitedHealthcare and Optum and strives to impact the access and delivery of healthcare. UnitedHealth Group is a healthcare and well-being company with a mission to help people live healthier lives and help make the health system work better for everyone. UnitedHealthcare offers a full range of health benefits, enabling affordable coverage, simplifying the healthcare experience, and delivering access to high-quality care. Optum delivers care aided by technology and data, empowering people, partners, and providers with the guidance and tools they need to achieve better health.

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