Humana co-founder David Jones Sr. encouraged University of Louisville students to pursue their passions, remain inquisitive and learn from their mistakes.

Humana co-founder David Jones Sr. talks with students at the University of Louisville after a presentation on leadership.
Humana co-founder David Jones Sr. talks with students at the University of Louisville after a presentation on leadership.

Jones gave the presentation as part of the BB&T Speaker Series last week at Harry Frazier Hall, at the University of Louisville’s College of Business.

In 1961, Jones — an accountant, lawyer and U.S. Navy veteran — co-founded a nursing home company that in 1974 became Humana Inc.

Humana, now an insurance company based in Louisville, is being pursued by Aetna in a $37 billion deal. Jones said he hopes the acquisition goes through.

Jones told the students that the one thing you need to learn from your mistakes is to not repeat them. People make mistakes, Jones added, but they have to find out why they made them.

For example, any time a Humana hospital had an unexplained death or accident, the company would send in a team to find out what happened, to prevent it from happening again.

And, he said, to get the facts before the lawyers got them, eliciting laughter from the audience.

Don’t be discouraged by mistakes, he told the students. Anyone who is doing anything of substance is going to have days that do not work out.

He also told students that hiring the right people can mean the difference between success and failure. If you don’t know how to do something, he said, hire someone who does. When Humana acquired its first hospital, it was beset by chaos until Jones and his partner hired somebody who had studied hospital administration.

Economics in a nutshell

And he often repeated the mantra that economics boils down to three things: Resources are finite and they have multiple uses about which people disagree.

Jones also voiced strong criticism of Medicare, the government health insurance program for the elderly. Jones said that a system in which the provider decides how much to sell is doomed to fail. He said it’s as if he went to an auto dealership to buy a Chevy, and the dealer told him that thanks to a government program called Carcare, Jones should just take the Bentley, as its $300,000 price is paid by the government.

“It’s rather bizarre,” he said.

Inspiration

For about an hour after his presentation, Jones remained in the auditorium to shake hands and mingle with students who had formed a line to talk to the entrepreneur and seek his advice.

“You have to be a lifelong learner,” he told one student. And he encouraged another to pursue her accounting career: “Accounting is a language,” he said, “ and a very important language.”

Another student thanked Jones for a hefty tip the Humana founder had once left for him in a restaurant.

Jones, 83, also frequently referenced his military service as a supply officer in the Navy, calling it “one of the great growth experiences in my life.”

He told another group of students that he decided early in life that he wanted to become a lawyer, because in the 1930s, the only family member who owned a car was an uncle who was a lawyer.

Jones told Insider Louisville that as a University of Louisville graduate, he enjoys coming back to campus, especially to inspire students to continue their education.

“All these young people are our life blood,” he said.

Stephan F. Gohmann, director of the university’s John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise, said the lecture series, in its seventh year, aims to expose students to ideas.

Having a prominent and successful graduate of the University of Louisville share his experiences is especially helpful.

“Hopefully it opens their eyes to the fact that people can be successful,” Gohmann said.

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Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.