UnitedHealth Group announced a surprise executive shakeup on Thursday, with Andrew Witty immediately serving as the new head of the health giant and former insurance subsidiary CEO Dirk McMahon now serving as Chief Operating Officer.
In the new role, Witty succeeds CEO David Wichmann, who will retire from the Minnetonka, Minn.-based company after 22 years. Wichmann worked as chief financial officer, president and was appointed as the company's head in September 2017. He will continue in a transition period through March.
Stephen Hemsley, chairman of company's board of director's, said Witty's previous work with the company informed the board's decision to make him its head.
"Andrew Witty combines an extraordinary breadth and depth of healthcare experience, sophisticated strategic thinking and outstanding leadership development skills, making him uniquely well-positioned to help the company take the next steps on its steady path to grow," Hemsley said in a statement.
Witty became the CEO of the company's Optum subsidiary in July 2018 and was named president of UnitedHealth Group in November 2019. From April to December 2020, Witty took an unpaid leave from UnitedHealth Group to serve as a Global Envoy for the World Health Organization's COVID-19 efforts. He also served as an advisor to the U.K. Government's Vaccine Taskforce. Witty, former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, was knighted in 2012 for services to the U.K. economy. He will immediately rejoin the UnitedHealth Group board of directors.
As part of the leadership changes, the company also announced that McMahon will now serve as COO of the company. McMahon most recently served as CEO of the company's UnitedHealthcare insurance subsidary, and has been with UnitedHealth Group since 2003.
McMahon, Witty and Chief Financial Officer John Rex now make up the company's executive team. A spokesperson said McMahon will continue to lead UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest insurer, and Witty will continue to lead Optum.
"Together with my partners Dirk McMahon and John Rex, we have the right strategy, and tremendous people and capabilities throughout the organization to continue strengthening our efforts to improve the health system for everyone," Witty said in a statement.
UnitedHealth Group hadn't previously announced Wichmann's retirement plans, and a spokesperson didn't respond to a question on the issue. The Wall Street Journal reported that Wichmann sent a note to employees on Thursday that called his retirement "bittersweet" and said the move "is the right decision for me and my family."
UnitedHealth Group said the leadership changes will not affect its bottom line.