Sven Peterson has always loved teaching and coaching. In fact, it’s what brought him to the healthcare arena. “There’s so much room in the healthcare industry to help people solve problems and make things work better,” he explains.
It’s also one of the reasons he’s a great teacher in the more formal sense of the word. In addition to his job at Premera, Peterson is a Professor for the evening MBA program at the University of Washington, where he applies his love of teaching to a subject he is equally passionate about – Ethical Leadership.
We sat down with Peterson for a conversation about his role at Premera, his thoughts on ethics, and what makes a great leader. Here’s what he shared:
Q: Please tell us about your role at Premera.
A: I lead Premera’s Compliance, Ethics, and Regulatory Services team and serve as the company’s Compliance and Ethics Officer. I am responsible for all of our state and federal regulatory relationships, and healthcare is a highly regulated industry. My team and I partner with business leaders and teams across the organization to ensure that Premera implements business strategies in a way that’s fully compliant with specific rules and regulations, and consistent with Premera’s values and its purpose of making healthcare work better. We also partner with regulators to help change the system in ways that make health care work better for our customers and communities.
Q: The role ethics plays in all facets of healthcare is incredibly important. Can you speak to the importance of corporate ethics at a company like Premera?
Having a responsibility over people’s healthcare is really a sacred trust. People are relying on us in times of need and entrusting some of their most private information to us. Business ethics isn’t just about following regulations, it’s a matter of doing the right thing and earning and honoring the trust of our customers. Customers need to know that you are acting in a principled way and that you genuinely want to do the right thing for them and their families.
Q: Your career has touched many aspects of the healthcare industry – from a law firm, to the federal government, to a health plan. What drew you to – and has kept you – working in healthcare?
A: Healthcare touches everybody’s lives. It’s central to our ability to flourish as human beings and it’s a significant part of the economy. The opportunity to help make healthcare work better is what brought me to this industry, and I’m fortunate to have worked for health care providers, the government and health plans.
I joined Premera in 2012, when the Affordable Care Act was just coming on board. I saw a real opportunity to solve problems and improve people’s lives. Premera also has a real commitment to its community, and that’s important to me.
Q: How have ethical implications and considerations evolved as technology and data usage become more ingrained in a company’s day-to-day work?
A: Technology evolves rapidly, so we need to look for new and emerging issues and try to get in front of them. For example, the use of AI and data has awesome promise to help us solve healthcare problems, bring down costs, and better serve customers. But there is also peril. There is the chance of acting in ways that are unfair or discriminatory, particularly in diverse populations. My colleague, Rose Riojas, and I recently wrote an article on this subject for CEP magazine. It’s critical that we use AI and data in ways that are ethical and consistent with our values.
Q: Other than teaching, how else do you spend your time outside of work?
A: I really value my work with Mwanzo, a nonprofit that partners with the Rabuor Village in Kenya and surrounding subsistence-farming communities to provide resources to enhance the work that is led by these communities. Through this partnership, paying jobs are created. Rabuor now has Mwanzo Education Center, a school with 285 students, and we are currently building a community center that will house internet access, a library, meeting rooms and space for a health clinic. We also support community agricultural activities, and a microfinance program that provides small loans and grants to women in the village to help them develop their microenterprises to become self-sustaining. Programs like these make a big difference in communities.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring leader?
A: A leader doesn’t need to have all the answers. Their job is to listen, synthesize, and help people fulfill their potential. You will make mistakes as a leader, and that’s OK. Take accountability, learn, and build diverse teams whose skills complement each other.
It’s also important to think about the system you are operating in and how can you change that system. Take a broader perspective. How can you create the conditions that will make it possible for the system to evolve? Being a successful leader isn’t about your own material success or ego. It’s about what can you do for your employees, customers and other stakeholders. How can you serve, be a better person, and leave the world a better place?