Excellus BCBS CEO: 'Listen to your employees, listen to your customers, listen to your providers'

James Reed officially became CEO of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield last month, succeeding Christopher Booth, who retired. Mr. Reed spoke with Becker's about what he's bringing to the new role and his priorities for the organization as employees return to the office.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited lightly for clarity.

Question: What are your goals and priorities for Excellus for 2021 and 2022?

James Reed: Excellus has a rich history in upstate New York for being a nonprofit, mission-oriented health plan. And so as we've gone through a leadership transition at the CEO level, and I've been CEO now for basically the last 30 days, my objective for 2021 and 2022 is really to continue building on the foundation that I think the organization has been focused on, which is really the mission of affordability, access and quality healthcare in upstate New York.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing Excellus at this time?

JR: Obviously we're coming out of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. And so we are faced with, like everybody, what will be the new normal once we are able to get back into the office and get back to a more normal state of business operations. So in the short-term, I think we're really focused on the culture of our organization, our return to work. We're still operating in a mostly remote environment and expected to have employees back more in person throughout the summer. And then Labor Day is really when we're targeting having more people in the office. So in the near term, I think we're really working on the new normal going forward in terms of our work environment.

Q: What knowledge and experiences from your past leadership roles are you utilizing in your new role?

JR: I've been fortunate to have been in leadership roles over the past 25 years with Excellus that have given me the opportunity to interact with our customers. So I've been in a variety of different sales leadership roles, and I've had the opportunity to interact with our provider partners in roles that I've had in the past. I've been fortunate to be able to engage with the external stakeholders for healthcare in upstate New York in a way that I think gives me good insight into how the health plans and our interactions with them impact the healthcare within our communities. So those roles, I think, have prepared me for the opportunity now to lead the organization at the CEO level.

Q: What are you looking forward to most about your new role?

JR: I'm most looking forward to engaging with our employees, our customers, our insurance brokers and our provider partners. I think for healthcare to operate effectively, a collaborative relationship among all of the key stakeholders is really important, and upstate New York has a rich history of that type of collaboration. And I'm excited about really engaging with all of those stakeholders as the CEO to continue the tradition that we've started. 

Q: What advice do you have for other payer CEOs?

JR: Listen to your employees, listen to your customers and listen to your providers. I think to really have a good understanding of the unique needs within healthcare, listening to key stakeholders is the most important thing.

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