WellPoint Health Networks Inc. (WLP) CEO Leonard D. Schaeffer has a well-earned reputation as a fierce competitor. He once cheered on employees who marched into a budget meeting wearing camouflage outfits and war paint. When a bidding war erupted for Cerulean Health Cos. last November, Schaeffer pounced, raising his offer from $500 million to $700 million. Just a day later, WellPoint emerged victorious.
That acquisition capped a banner year for Thousand Oaks (Calif.)-based WellPoint. While other managed-care providers suffered weak profits, WellPoint is expected to report earnings growth of 22% in 2000, to nearly $340 million. Schaeffer credits WellPoint's success to its focus on innovation. WellPoint, for example, offers even small companies more choices of health plans than most other insurers. And earlier this year, WellPoint asked the Food & Drug Administration to make the allergy drug Claritin available over the counter--which would reduce doctor visits and save WellPoint money. It may be the first time that an insurer has approached the FDA with this kind of request. "They were kind of stunned," he says. But facing this health-care warrior, the agency agreed to consider it.