updated 1/4/2006 8:58:49 AM ET 2006-01-04T13:58:49

Insurance provider Aetna Inc. said Wednesday that John W. Rowe will step down as chief executive next month and named president Ronald A. Williams to replace him.

Rowe, 61, will retire as chairman before the end of the year, the company said. Williams, 56, will take over as CEO on Feb. 14.

Rowe has served as the company’s chairman since April 2001 and CEO since December 2000.

In a statement, Rowe said he had told Aetna’s board some time ago that he wanted to retire when his employment contract expires this year. “As a result of a very thorough succession planning process, we decided that naming Ron Williams CEO early in the year would provide for an orderly transition,” Rowe said in the statement.

Williams joined Aetna as executive vice president and chief of health operations on in March 2001 and became president in 2002. Before Aetna, he served as group president of WellPoint Health Networks’ large group division and president of WellPoint’s Blue Cross of California unit.

Once Rowe retires, Aetna said it will hire him as a consultant for his expertise on specific health business issues.

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