The only deal Lynda Godkin failed to close in her long career was her decision to retire in 2006. “I always tell people I flunked retirement,” the vice president of health legal at WEX Health, Inc. says, laughing. Just a few days after making the decision, she was contacted by entrepreneur Robert “Bob” Patricelli—who had hired Godkin to come in-house at Cigna and subsequently went on to start his own businesses.
“He said ‘What’s this I hear about you retiring? You need to go on sabbatical for a month and come work for me.’ So that’s what I did.”
Sixteen years after joining Patricelli at Women’s Health USA, Godkin manages all legal affairs and revenue generation through contracting and product development at WEX’s health division where she has been since 2010. Had she retired, she wouldn’t have helped negotiate the 2014 sale of Evolution1, another company founded by Patricelli, to WEX, in a $532.5 million transaction.
Had she retired, she wouldn’t have helped acquire advanced billing company Benaissance, the COBRA administration platform that is now integrated into WEX Health. She also wouldn’t have negotiated the acquisition of WEX’s biggest customer, Discovery Benefits, in 2019 for $425 million. And more recently, Godkin helped acquire several hundred million dollars of health savings account assets from Bell Bank, as well as the acquisition of benefits administration company Benefit Express.
“I just keep saying that I’m waiting for two bad days in a row, and then I’ll stop,” Godkin says. “But I haven’t had a bad hour yet.”
Godkin’s optimistic outlook is the product of two parents who experienced adversity on a massive scale. Her English mother lived through the Nazi blitz attacks on London during World War II. Halfway across the world, her Ukrainian father, who grew up in Shanghai, was surviving a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp there for three and a half years.
They encouraged their daughter to always be prepared while still finding time to stop and enjoy the small things, like a family of cardinals that lived on the family’s property in Southampton, New York.
“From my parents, I got a firm sense of the impermanence of life and that you needed to be flexible, because anything can happen at any time,” Godkin recalls. “My dad, especially, had been through so much but still maintained such a positive outlook on life. It really stuck with me.”
Godkin says part of the reason she’s stayed at WEX so long is the flexibility and optimism shown by CEO Melissa Smith throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. While no one could have truly been ready for the challenge of the past two years, she says, the organization had already been moving toward a more evolved workforce and what equipment and logistical needs would be required.
“When it was time to make that immediate switchover, moving everyone globally to remote work was pretty easy, all things considered,” Godkin says. “It’s not just the great work the IT team has done, but this company has emphasized the need for flexibility, compassion, and care for our teammates.”
Despite working remotely (though Godkin had been working remotely for several years prior), the deals Godkin and her team have been able to complete are evidence of the kind of flexibility and adaptability the lawyer takes so seriously.
Looking ahead, though many in her position might be considering a second retirement at this point, Godkin says the company’s growth objectives will provide her and her team with interesting and novel work. The lawyer is clearly still inspired by the man who lured her away from her first attempt at calling it a day.
“We call Bob [Patricelli] a serial entrepreneur,” Godkin says. “He’s in his eighties and is still coming up with brilliant ideas. His desire to bring me back years after I first worked for him was a great lesson in not burning bridges and continuing to stay in touch with your circle. You never know where those connections are going to lead.”
Godkin says the idea of retirement has shifted dramatically from her parents’ generation. While she’s still finding time to golf and travel when advisable, the VP says her decision to keep lawyering comes down to a simple idea.
“Some people work to live, and some people live to work,” she says, “so just continue learning, be flexible, and keep finding what’s interesting and fun in your life.”
Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP:
“Lynda combines a deep knowledge of WEX Health’s business with an analytical mind and strong people skills. The confidence Lynda’s business clients have in her judgment is a tremendous asset when navigating thorny issues.”
– John Tanski, Partner