Veteran business leader and turnaround expert Ronald A. Williams is best known as the former chairman and CEO of Aetna Inc. Over his 10 years with the insurance giant, he led it from $290 million of operating losses to $2 billion in annual earnings. A member of the Black Enterprise Registry of Corporate Directors and a former black enterprise Corporate Executive of the Year, Williams is now chairman and CEO of RW2 Enterprises L.L.C., where he counsels hundreds of executives on developing strategy and transformational leadership.
Williams tapped into that wealth of experience for his new book, Learning to Lead: The Journey to Leading Yourself, Leading Others, and Leading an Organization. In it, he provides proven advice from his own professional journey as well as other executives who have excelled at the highest levels of corporate America.
What do you hope to accomplish with the book?
I wrote the book, in large part, because I heard from so many of my colleagues and friends who were talking about their children who had graduated college and were constantly hearing negative messages about there was no room in corporate America for them, they were not going to be able to achieve the kind of success their parents had achieved.
I also heard from CEOs who had taken on new assignments and leaders at mid-level in organizations that had new teams. With all the coaching I did and calls that I received, it occurred to me that it was worth writing down the experiences I had, the lessons I learned, and then also visiting with friends and colleagues like Ursula Burns, Ken Chenault, and capturing their lessons and experiences.
So this book is about my journey of learning to lead myself from a very humble background, a very poor household; the first person to go to college. And it’s the story of others who started out in similar circumstances and rose to the highest levels in corporate America.
You came from the South Side of Chicago. It wasn’t like a finishing school for corporate CEOs in America. Early on in your life did you have an inkling about the ultimate potential for what you could do professionally?
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