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Keith Williamson

Executive Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel Centene Corporation

They say you can never go home again. For Keith Williamson, that didn’t quite turn out to be the case.

Thirteen years ago, Williamson found himself in need of a new job when the capital services division he led at Stamford, Connecticut-based Pitney Bowes was sold. Williamson assumed he’d land in another financial services-related position in the New York area. Then he learned of an opening with Centene Corporation in his native St. Louis.

Keith Williamson“I’ve never heard of a Centene,” he recalls thinking. He knew nothing about health care, but after 18 years with Pitney Bowes, he knew something about business and the law.

“Certainly since I’ve gotten to Centene, I have been very excited to be part of the mission of transforming health care of the community one person at a time and the commitment to helping the most vulnerable with their health care needs,” he said. “But I guess the truth is, it was a little bit of a fluke.”

Whether fluke or fate, Williamson has seen Centene through a period of massive growth. The Fortune 500 company, which is headquartered in Clayton, began in 1984 as a nonprofit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Williamson came on board in 2006 as Centene’s first general counsel. At the time, the managed care enterprise had a presence in just eight states and had been a for-profit company for just 10 years. Its services now are delivered throughout the country and internationally, with more than 50,000 employees serving the health care needs of more than 15 million people.

As executive vice president, secretary and general counsel of Centene, Williamson has aided that expansion through the transactions and acquisitions needed to win contracts in new states, as well as working with programs such as Medicaid, the military-focused Tricare and the health insurance marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act.

“Certainly there was a vision from the very beginning and an aspiration from the very beginning of expanding across the country,” he said.

In his earlier years, when the company was smaller, Williamson wore more hats for Centene, such as overseeing its government relations group and its compliance section. Both now are separate areas that report directly to the CEO. Williamson remains president of the company’s political action committee.

“As Centene has expanded, it’s been a really stretching experience for me as well,” he said.

Williamson is heavily involved in the St. Louis community. Among those efforts is his role as chairman of the board of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. The Urban League has played a special role in his professional life: While at Pitney Bowes, Williamson’s boss, CEO Michael Critelli, was chairman of the Urban League’s national board. Upon joining Centene, Williamson’s current CEO, Michael F. Neidorff, served in a similar role.

“I don’t know that there are that many people who have directly worked with two people who chaired the national Urban League,” he said.

Williamson notes with pride that both his professional and his civic involvement overlapped in the wake of the 2014 riots in Ferguson that stemmed from the shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer. In 2016, Centene built a $25 million service center in Ferguson to help bring jobs to the community, while the Urban League established a job-training facility on the site of a QuikTrip that burned during protests in the wake of Brown’s death.

Williamson’s other efforts include helping to found the KIPP charter school network and working with the Opportunity Trust, which seeks to improve the St. Louis public education system. He also serves on the board of the St. Louis Art Museum — the type of position, he notes, “I wouldn’t necessarily get to do in a city on the East Coast.”

After graduating from high school in St. Louis, Williamson earned an economics degree from Brown University in Rhode Island, followed by a JD and MBA from Harvard, in 1978. (His daughter, Nicole, is now in her third year of law school at his alma mater). He later earned his LLM in tax law at New York University.

Williamson might not have been looking to return to St. Louis after his long career on the East Coast, but he notes that the city has afforded him many advantages.

“It’s a community that I think is appreciative of leadership and philanthropy,” he said. “I was very lucky in terms of joining a company whose philosophy centers on involvement in the community.”

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