Former EVP at CVS Shares Leadership Experience in the Health Care Industry

Violetta Ostafin’s appreciation for health care began to take shape early in her life. Raised in Brooklyn by Polish parents, she grew up surrounded by first-generation immigrants. Navigating health care was a community effort, with word-of-mouth being the predominant means of finding the best options. While spending time in Poland, she observed additional access and navigation challenges that stuck with her 

My cousin [in Poland] had a premature baby who needed lifesaving surgeries,” she recalls. “And they had to drive to distant cities and make a huge effort to get the kind of care they needed. My grandmother had a chronic illness and needed constant medication, which was also hard to get. I was always seeing these issues in the backdrop and thinking, there must be a better way.” 

In her career, Violetta has served as managing director and partner at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Latam CEO for Health Solutions at Aon, global chief operating officer for Health Solutions at Aon, and most recently, executive vice president and chief strategy officer at CVS Health. At the Cornell Executive MBA/MS in Healthcare Leadership Program’s 2024 Luminaries in Healthcare Leadership event, Violetta joined Dr. Rainu Kaushal, senior associate dean for clinical research and chair of population health sciences, for a conversation on the changing nature of the health care industry and the awareness needed to thrive as a leader within it.  

In her time at BCG, Violetta navigated holistic business problems in the health care industry, among others. She worked with medical device companies, pharmaceutical companies, insurers, and care providers to develop strategies and large-scale change efforts for those businesses. As Violetta moved into her role at Aon, she was responsible for leading the business line in Latin America—a task aided by both her MBA and master’s in international studies. The market comprised both national and multinational companies of varying sizes, and she primarily provided leadership in meeting their employee-benefits needs. Throughout the pandemic, she developed solutions regarding well-being and focused on customer retention efforts using analytics and innovation. 

Her transition to her role at CVS was largely motivated by its closeness to the patient side and its focus on enterprise strategy. Thus, she was involved in priorities around strategic planning, strategy setting, business expansion and growth.  

“Without execution, strategy is just an idea,” she explained. “That’s where strategy and operations meet each other. You need good strategy when making decisions, but a good plan and good operationalization allows you to implement those decisions.” 

Her approach in any role, however, is often consistent. “It always starts with properly diagnosing a problem,” she said. “Understanding a business, how it works, your external environment, the different drivers. I’ve done that for different companies, both to find the problem and then find the right solutions.” 

Issues with improving care were at the forefront of Violetta’s time at CVS, and improving access to care was a priority. In turn, she shared her passion for the aging population, recognizing that in the US, thousands age into Medicare each day, and the systemic change needed to better support both elders and their caregivers. She further discussed the complexities of engaging with different health systems across the globe. The commonalities are valuable, and Violetta appreciates identifying ways that countries can learn from one another, or “cross-pollinate” on innovation and opportunity. In her experience, it’s fundamental for leaders to build teams that can work well together to enable positive change.  

“There was a training in my career where we spoke with an orchestra conductor about the nuance in how they work with their team and the signals they give,” she recalled. “Some of the signals are ever so slight but they bring the team harmony. As a leader, you may think your actions are subtle, but everyone is looking at you, modeling you, and understanding what you do to work towards the larger goal.” 

In offering career guidance to the EMBA/MS students, Violetta emphasizes her willingness to “take a call” as a significant driver of her success. “Be open to possibilities,” she advised. I had no idea I would get into health care as a profession, and the moments that made a difference in my career came when I was open to possibility and had the eagerness to take on a challenge and grow and contribute.” 



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