Our Lead(H)er series features impressive women leaders in the tech industry. In this Q&A, we are featuring Annalisa Cooper, SVP, Customer Success at Wellframe.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe yourself as a child?
I grew up just outside of Washington DC in Hyattsville, MD. My Mom and Dad emigrated in their late 30’s from Sweden and Scotland, respectively. They met in the United States where they married and had three children after the age of 39 (and it was the first marriage for both of them!). My Mom was a nurse and Dad a machinist. Although we grew up as lower middle class, my siblings and I had a healthy upbringing, both emotionally and physically. My Dad was extremely committed to fitness being a semi professional soccer player in Scotland, tennis player and runner. He ran the Boston Marathon at the age of 50, which back in the early 70's was very unusual. My Mom, who spoke very little English and had no family in the U.S., had an extremely strong work ethic and a kind heart. I grew up appreciating the value of hard work and education and the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
What did you study in college and what was your first job out of school?
My Dad, who received his college degree at the age of 50 by taking one course a semester, was adamant that his children would get a college degree. Unfortunately, they could not afford to pay for our tuition so all three of us had to cover the cost of our college. I chose Sociology as my major, partly because I thought I may want to be a social worker and partly because I wanted to continue to get A’s in my classes (I was a bit of a perfectionist!) and it seemed an easier route at the time. After graduation, I wasn't able to afford a Masters degree to pursue social work, but was able to find a position as a discharge planner at a local hospital. To this day, it was one of my favorite jobs. I supported families by finding services to help their loved ones once they left the hospital, whether that was home health or placement in a facility. I saved all the letters of appreciation that I received that still bring tears and smiles.
Can you share the details on your career path and what were the critical moments that got you to where you are today?
Having worked as a discharge planner for three years, I took a chance with a sales opportunity for Partner’s Health Plan, when HMO’s were fairly new in the healthcare landscape. It was a risk given that I was fairly introverted and not at all comfortable with sales. However, I quickly learned that being authentic and believing in the product was a good combination for success. At the same time, I pursued a Masters in Business from Johns Hopkins. From there, I was promoted to lead account management and took that experience to several other health care companies. Along the way, I had a valuable mentor that gave me other leadership opportunities in operations–claims, customer service, care management, and training. This combination of sales, delivery and execution helped me grow into an executive leader because it gave me a holistic view of the organization where I could balance customer needs with the company needs. At the same time, I broadened my professional journey by seeking positions in different areas of health care including medical, behavioral health, pharmacy and finally the digital space.
Some of the critical moments in my career path that led me to where I am today was taking measured risks and never getting too comfortable. But the number one reason for my success was truly my mentor, who I followed to several organizations. She was very results driven and had high expectations, but was also extremely kind, supportive, and genuinely cared about your life outside of work. I learned that you can be kind and still be effective, but sometimes this combination is hard to find.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
Today I’m the Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Wellframe, a company that partners with healthcare organizations to modernize and build their relationship with members through technology. We support real time insights, staff workflows, and member interactions beyond the four walls of care delivery. We are at the intersection of mobile engagement for the members and the workflow for healthplan staff, and our goal is to have members feel daily support through technology so that the health plan becomes a trusted ally.
As the leader of Customer Success, I oversee the implementation of new customers, ongoing customer support for members and staff, and our relationships with health plan payers. My team cultivates partnerships with our health plan customers to maximize the impact of our digital health management solutions to improve member engagement and clinical outcomes
Looking back, is this where you thought you’d be professionally? Was it always your goal to be in this position?
I have always been interested in healthcare, particularly with my Mom being a nurse. However, I envisioned myself as a provider of care – a doctor, nurse, or social worker. Looking back, I could have been braver in following that path, although now in my larger role, I have the ability to make an even broader impact on overall health care delivery.
What are the most important skills that you need to do your job well?
Sounds elementary, but communication skills are critical in my role. I interact with all levels of staff, those new to the workforce as well as seasoned professionals. In addition, I work with clients to help them to pivot and transform to address changing expectations of consumers in health care. Active listening, awareness and authenticity are essential to becoming an effective communicator and leader.
In addition, Customer Success leans on every part of the organization. So collaborating cross-functionally, and always assuming positive intent, is a must in order to continue to deliver value for our customers and also support our internal teams. When you can achieve that balance, you can achieve success.
What do you find most interesting/rewarding about your work? What’s the most challenging?
Being a seasoned leader who has worked in this field for 35 years, the absolute best part of my job is helping staff develop, grow and achieve their maximum potential. There are so many individuals I’ve mentored along the way that are now in leadership positions. Also, I love our mission and vision at Wellframe where we are truly helping transform healthcare to focus on the consumers. Candidly, this can also be the most challenging. The ability to affect change and transformation in large organizations is a tall task.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’m extremely active and love hiking, running and biking (Thank you, Dad!) My new passion is pickleball (yes, me and the rest of the world). It is a sport where you can get to “average” very quickly and have a whole lot of fun with family and friends of all ages and abilities.
How do you manage stress?
I manage stress by staying active and ensuring I have a good work life balance. This has not always been easy given the work demands from my leadership roles. With two children, keeping that balance was critical. I tried never to miss an important event in their lives, and I’m thankful that I had the support of my bosses and spouse to accommodate this.
How many cups of coffee do you have in a day?
2 on a good day; 3 on a bad day
Any book or podcast recommendations?
I love any Jodi Picoult book, but I also try to read one self help book a month. (professional or fun)
What advice do you have for recent college graduates?
Find your passion and stick with it. Be brave and bold, but also kind. Don’t underestimate the power of collaboration and humility.