During his five years as a steel worker — a trade passed down from his father — Murabito closely observed labor relations in a union environment, which served as the impetus to pursue a master’s degree in labor relations at the University of Iowa after earning his bachelor’s degree from Augustana College in Illinois.
Now as executive vice president of human resources and services for Cigna Corp., a health care insurance and services company, Murabito applies his interest and experience in employee relations to develop the company’s 35,000 global employees — a significant role to fill as the Fortune 500 company is in the midst of rapid expansion.
In light of Cigna’s recent global growth, Murabito has to implement a smooth leadership development program and talent pipeline within an accelerated time frame. His efforts are fixed on keeping pace with the company’s revenue growth, which he said increased from about $18 billion to $32 billion in the past four years.
Murabito is ready to meet the challenge. Becoming a key player in a large company’s global expansion was always one of his professional goals, and now, with nearly 10 years of experience in his role at Cigna, he applies his eclectic professional background to developing the company’s evolving HR function.
Before joining Cigna, Murabito worked in a related field at the Frito-Lay division of PepsiCo for nearly 11 years, but he wanted to explore the global aspect of HR, and he began working as senior vice president of human resources and corporate services at Monsanto, a global biotechnology and agriculture corporation.
He was responsible for Monsanto’s global employee base during his three-year tenure, spending much of his time traveling overseas. But armed with global experience, Murabito sought out a company with a larger scale, and Cigna fit the bill.
“John has [had] multiple employer experiences in varying industries and across geographies and has held both line and staff roles as well as leadership roles in compensation and benefits,” said David Cordani, president and CEO of Cigna. “With that extensive and varied background and expertise, John is a valued business partner and coach to seasoned leaders at Cigna as well as to emerging leaders. He is an integral member of, and adviser to, Cigna’s executive leadership team.”
Developing a Global Mindset
Cigna’s recent global expansion is not an anomaly. More than half of international companies’ revenues were generated outside their home country last year, a record high, according to a 2012 survey by Brookfield Global Relocation Services, an industry research firm. The increase in international assignments underscores the need to develop a company’s global mindset, an important aspect of Murabito’s role at Cigna.
“Talent management is so closely tied to global expansion and the need for globally mobile employees,” said Carol Joy, global mobility manager at manufacturer Moog Inc. “We are living in a global economy in all aspects. In order to be competitive in a global environment, we have to send employees abroad. That is the fastest way to establish a corporate culture abroad, and you are going to ensure having the right talent in the right places.”
For a large company such as Cigna, Joy said developing its international talent requires a strong corporate culture rooted in a global mindset. Starting from the top down, companies should evaluate the cultural differences in their international consumer base before instituting a leadership development initiative.
The importance of adopting a global mindset resonates with Murabito, who said he relies on his employees’ overseas assignments, project work and short-term assignments to grow the company and conduct business in more than 30 countries with more than 75 million customer relationships.
“At the key-leader level of the organization, as we become a more global company, the structure of our company is basically global in all of our key business segments,” Murabito said. “What’s important for us going forward is our growth outside the U.S. and our ability to be able to do business outside the U.S.”
Developing its top international talent is particularly important for Cigna, as the company does not manufacture products; it offers health care and related benefits to individuals and through employers, brokers and consultants. Murabito said its people are Cigna’s products. “We win in the marketplace based on the intellect and the innovation of our people, the passion and engagement of our people. You have to have a real focus on talent management.”
Cigna’s talent management strategy reflects the company’s international push — go deep, go global and go individual, Murabito said. Through the three-faceted approach, he said he hopes employees are honing their technical skills, building off of foundational abilities and applying those competencies to their specific career goals within the organization.
Working in conjunction with the company’s business strategy, Cigna aims to use its three-prong talent management strategy to aid future growth and expansion. Creating an effective leadership succession pipeline, for example, is an integral part of its evolving strategy.
“We use strategic workforce planning in our department functional areas,” Murabito said. “We look at what the demand is going to be like for leaders over the course of the next several years, and we try to use the results of that workforce planning mechanism to help us identify where we are going to need the talent, what kind of talent we are going to need, and how that translates into what our company actually does.”
Cigna evaluates the top 300 leadership positions, monitoring the inflow and outflow of talent while making sure the company’s highest performers are getting competitive compensation. Because the company relies on individual performance, its executives closely examine business results as a gauge for effective talent.
Further, to measure employee engagement, Cigna conducts quarterly questionnaires and annual, in-depth surveys to ensure employee efficacy, and with 83 percent participation, Murabito said identifying the key engagement drivers and comparing them to benchmarks reveals significant insights.
“John’s breadth of experience and ability to see opportunities makes him a unique leader,” Cordani said. “While many leaders see what needs to be done, John is skilled at recognizing how to leverage past successes to create new wins for the business. He leads by enterprise-wide engagement and fellowship through times of disruptive change, leading to the kind of innovation that drives our global business results.”
Leaving a Lasting Footprint
As the company continues to expand its global reach, Murabito’s role as executive vice president of HR also extends beyond Cigna. He demonstrates his impact on the HR field through leadership positions at numerous professional organizations and universities.
Murabito said this effort stems from his appreciation for leaders who helped him develop into an HR leader in his own right, and his desire to pay his gratitude forward is the impetus for his work with young professionals looking for a career in the industry.
“I have had the opportunity over the years to have some people that have paid really good attention to my own development, who have mentored me, and having resources available for early-career people is important,” he said. “It’s important to their respective businesses as well.”
Serving on the boards of Cornell University’s Center for Advanced Human Resources Studies, the HR Policy Association, a business policy and lobby group for large companies in Washington, and the Personnel Roundtable, a small group of CHROs from around world, Murabito can influence the global HR function as a whole, affecting industry research, trends and management styles.
“It’s important to businesses in the U.S. and outside of the U.S. to have a strong HR function that has influence on their respective businesses,” Murabito said. “It’s an opportunity to give back a little bit and to help with the focus and development of early-career people in the function so they can have a fruitful career as well.”
Cigna’s CEO agrees. He said Murabito is committed to his influential work outside of the office, and it is an essential component of what makes him an effective leader.
“John has a demanding role at Cigna, but he also recognizes that exceptional executives are multidimensional,” Cordani said. “His own work-life balance is critical to his success and enables him to coach others to maximize their career potential and impact to Cigna.”
Looking forward, Murabito’s plans for Cigna employees primarily entail global education and development. As the demand for new leaders continues to grow, Murabito said he plans to implement new, creative talent management strategies.
Cigna will begin to implement talent pools, for example, so it can better identify high potentials by categorizing its employees into various competency-based groups. Certain pools will be closely monitored, and as leadership positions arise, the company will be able to pull from the already-established groups to fill key roles.
“One of the things I get in HR that I really have always enjoyed is the variety and change. No day is the same as another,” Murabito said. “Part of the fascination of HR is the opportunity to get to work with different types of people, help different types of people and motivate different types of people from cultures and backgrounds around the world.”
Jessica DuBois-Maahs is a former editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cigna’s Push for Digital Wellness
MyFitnessPal, a free personal health and fitness online and mobile resource, announced in September that it will partner with Cigna to implement a preventive wellness initiative to launch in the U.S. in early 2014.
Combining MyFitnessPal’s nutrition and activity resources with Cigna’s health and coaching programs, the partnership is one example of how Cigna hopes to expand its role in preventive wellness initiatives while becoming more digital.
“The digital health movement is evolving rapidly, and it’s exciting to see how it’s fueling our customers’ interest in getting healthy and staying fit,” said Jackie Aube, Cigna’s senior vice president of product solutions.
This initiative will allow customers to choose to connect their MyFitnessPal accounts with a Cigna coach, sharing their diet and exercise activity. The coaches will be able to view a participant’s progress and provide tips, motivational support and encouragement.
“By integrating new technologies like MyFitnessPal, we’re not only creating a more personal relationship with our customers, but helping them reach their goals more quickly and conveniently. This partnership makes the coaching process more rewarding for both customers and coaches,” Aube said.