E. Selemon Asfaw

Chief Financial Officer, OptumHealth Care Solutions and Health Services

What I'm seeing in my generation right now is an immense need for behavioral health care.

The Journey

E. Selemon Asfaw T’14 was raised in a medical family. His father is a noted cardiologist in Detroit and both of his sisters became physicians, but Asfaw had an eye only for business. During college he built an educational consultancy called Futurepreneurs for kids who learn best by doing. “I’d tell them, ‘I want you to start a business you’re excited about. How will you make money,’” Asfaw says. “And that's when we’d get into conversations about mathematics and communication skills.”

The Calling

Asfaw’s interest in health care came later, awakened during a summer internship at Goldman Sachs and sharpened the next year in a Tuck elective called Investing and Deal Making in Health Care, taught by Michael Zubkoff, Mike Carusi T’93, and Michael McIvor, D’86, T'93. “It was a case-oriented class, but it was also experiential in nature. You would either pitch your own deal or pick apart a deal to understand the dynamics inside of a transaction,” says Asfaw. He recalls the day Carusi asked him how a medical device transaction would be received at Goldman, placing him at the epicenter of an hour-long class discussion. “It felt like a culmination of my previous leadership experiences and my internship at Goldman, all coming together in this moment where I was the expert in front of my peers,” says Asfaw, who now returns to Hanover each year to teach a session of the course.

Looking Ahead

Asfaw worked in Goldman’s health care advisory group and then UnitedHealth Group’s mergers and acquisitions shop before transitioning in September to a CFO role at United’s provider-side sister, OptumHealth. Around the holiday dinner table, where he often represented the payer side to a family of providers, Asfaw found common ground in the belief that good business and quality outcomes go hand-in-hand. Whether considering an acquisition or gauging the performance of companies in his portfolio, he says Net Promoter Score is his most important metric. “When I look at transactions, I'm laser-focused on the user experience,” he says. “Shareholders in a large company expect some level of return, but you have to do right by the people that you're serving.”

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