Oral Histories

Roger Bolton

Interview Segments on Topic: Challenges/Accomplishments

Roger Bolton Biography

Bolton, senior counselor to APCO Worldwide, a leading global public affairs and corporate communications consultancy, began his career as a journalist before serving as a press secretary for a member of Congress.  Bolton became director of speechwriting for the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign, and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs and public liaison under President Bush in 1989.

As senior vice president of communications for Aetna, Bolton led a group of senior Aetna executives to think about culture and organizational effectiveness, which resulted in the creation of the Aetna Way, with integrity as its first fundamental value.  Roger Bolton is past president of the Arthur W. Page Society and current chair of the Arthur W. Page Center Advisory Board.


Interviewer: As you look back on your varied career, what activity or what was the thing that you did that gave your career the biggest boost? What caused you to really feel like you’ve done something good and got recognition for?

Bolton: I think I would say the announcement that we made of the settlement of a major lawsuit against Aetna by a group of physicians. We were the first company to settle that lawsuit. The lawsuits were brought by state medical societies against Aetna and against all of our major competitors in the late 90s. When our new leadership came in, it made the decision to basically become the first company to settle that lawsuit. And we did so out of the view that we needed to fundamentally change the way we operated with physicians. That we should see them as our partners and not as our adversaries. And so you might have found in another company where a lawsuit had to be settled an effort by the PR team to kind of down play it. To emphasize the fact that we’ve admitted to no wrongdoing and to try to, you know, slide a press release out at 4:30 on Friday and hope that it’d be buried in the Saturday paper. We took a different approach. We said this is a ground breaking thing. Yes we’re settling a lawsuit. Yes we’re paying damages. However, what’s represented here is a fundamental change in the way we do business that’s critically important. And so we’re actually proud of this. And we hired a room in New York. We got the head of the American Medical Association, the Connecticut State Medical Society and the California Medical Association to come with us. We put up a big banner up behind the stage that said New Era of Cooperation and we stood up there and we talked about our desire to work cooperatively with the physicians going on. It was live on CNBC. And the next day above the fold in the New York Times there was a story that said Aetna announces new era of reform. That was a pretty critical success.

Interviewer: What would you say some of your major accomplishments were while you were in Washington in this variety of different experiences and jobs.

Bolton: Well there’s a lot. That was 16 years. But let me just pick one or two if you wish. The first one I think I would talk about is while I was at U.S. T. R.  That’s the office of the U.S. Trade Representative. It was a really important time in the history of our trade policy because there was a growing protectionist movement in the United States. This is the mid ‘80s. The Japanese were very much on the rise. American business was very much under challenged from foreign competition. And we had an administration that was very very committed to a free and open trade policy and the belief that open trade would lead to economic prosperity. And yet the people were losing their jobs and there was significant concern within the body politic around unfair trade practices. And so the Reagan administration made the choice that it would begin to aggressively enforce Section 301 of the Trade Act which allowed the President to retaliate against unfair trade practices from abroad. So I was basically the spokesperson for the President’s trade policy at a time when this free market President began to put into place what some might view as protectionist policies and reaction to protectionism from abroad. And at the same time to use that policy to try to convince the rest of the world to come together with us to create a new round of trade talks that would further liberalize trade. So it was a real we had a lot of focus on trying to get the public not only the United States but around the world to understand what we were doing, why we were doing it, and why this sort of retaliatory action that we were taking to protectionism abroad was not in fact protecting it but was rather what we had to do in order to try to convince the world to move to a more liberalized trade regime.

Interviewer: In the course of working on that, did you have contact with the President himself or how did that tie-in work?

Bolton: No I did not. I had contact with the White House staff on a daily basis. And for example the office of the press secretary and my office were closely connected, we had constant interchange. Also with the White House speechwriters because I was working on issues that the President spoke on so I would provide paragraphs for the President’s speeches.