||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
UW-Eau Claire Alum Heads Up|
UnitedHealth's New Center in Eau Claire
MAILED: June 7, 1999|
For the woman in charge of opening UnitedHealth Group's new customer service center in Eau Claire, being back in Eau Claire feels like coming home.
More than 15 years have passed since Gayle Palmer Woodis graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in December 1984. Since then the marketing major has been growing with the Minneapolis-based company that today is the second largest health care organization in the world.
"I started with UnitedHealth as a temporary employee. At the time there were about 300 employees. Today the company has more than 29,000 employees with locations in all 50 states and several countries," said Woodis, who today is a UnitedHealth vice president and was previously the company's Medicare chief compliance officer.
A diversified health and well-being company, UnitedHealth Group is ranked 84 in the Fortune 500. The company, which offers products and services through five prime operating companies, serves more than 14 million people with their health plans and related services.
Woodis is in charge of opening the company's new claims processing center in Eau Claire that is expected to employ more than 300 people by the end of 1999. The facility, which is located at The Shops at London Square in the former Sears building, consolidates 15 locations of the company's medicare/medicaid claims operations. It is expected to open July 1.
Woodis' relocation team has been on a fast track since the decision was announced in April to put the new claims center in Eau Claire. Converting the space, setting up the systems and hiring a work force in a three-month period are daunting challenges, to say the least.
Woodis credits her academic preparation and experiences at UW-Eau Claire for helping to prepare her for these and other challenges. In particular she remembers a class taught by Michael Steiner, then an associate professor in the School of Business. "We had to do a complete, hands-on business plan come up with the business, collect demographics, design a facility, create position descriptions for the work force, and so forth" she said. "That's exactly what I'm doing here today, only this time it's the real thing."
Woodis honed her organizational abilities, marketing skills and personality during her student days, both through campus activities and work experiences. As the social director for the business honor fraternity Beta Upsilon Sigma, she planned fund raisers and dinner dances. She was in charge of the organization's first recruitment fair, which today draws hundreds of businesses to campus to connect with current students who will soon enter the job market.
She talked her roommates into working as Telefund volunteers and then walked away with top honors as the student who raised the highest amount of money for the Foundation in one evening's calling during the fall campaign of 1982. She also worked outside the classroom at the Wee Care day care, where she did bookkeeping and taxes, and at Menard's, where she did office work in the pre-hung door factory.
Woodis has wasted no time reconnecting with her alma mater since the new processing center was announced. With the help of Jeanne Sinz, director of Career Services, she has hired six summer interns to work with her planning group. Their backgrounds include organizational management, general business, marketing, computer science and information systems.
"We expect to work regularly with the universities, the technical college and the high schools' school-to-work program as we develop what we believe will be a model facility," she said.
Intern Lavonne Kasuboski, senior marketing and management major from Ripon, is working on plans for the center's grand opening and helping set up vending contracts.
"This is an amazing opportunity to be involved in starting up a company that expects to grow to 600 employees by 2002," said Kasuboski, a former vice president of the Student Senate. "I'm learning about the health care field and its complexities, using my experience working with people and giving back to the university."
UnitedHealth's new claims center is the centerpiece of the mall's renovation, which will include a day care center, revitalized food court, sit-down restaurants, five major retailers, a 24-hour grocery, a movie complex, dry cleaner, banking and play area.
"It's a very exciting project, and the people in Eau Claire have been great, from the mall owner, who is very family and people oriented, to city and state officials, who have been very helpful," Woodis said.
The response from prospective employees has also been excellent, Woodis said. "We offer an attractive training program, excellent benefits and very competitive pay ranges. Some are predicting we'll become the employer of choice in Eau Claire."
She said Twin Cities-based UnitedHealth employees have shown more interest in relocating to Eau Claire than to any other new facility. "Many are originally from Wisconsin and probably see this as an opportunity to come home. This community offers a great quality of living, and they know that."
Over time Woodis has stayed close to her 10 college roommates. Despite successful careers and busy family lives, the women get together regularly to celebrate personal and professional occasions and to recall the days they all lived together on the corner of State and Washington streets.
"The hardest thing was not telling them until the relocation site was announced publicly," Woodis said. "Now they can't wait until I'm settled in my temporary housing here so we can all get together, just like old times in Eau Claire.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: June 10, 1999