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Executive Profile

Always On the Ball

Bob Grecyzn of Blue Cross goes one speed: flatout in running the big insurer and leading civic projects.

By Phil Kirk


Growing up in Highstown, N.J., Bob Greczyn delivered newspapers and flowers, cut meat in a butcher’s shop, sold men’s clothing, drove a tractor-trailer full of light bulbs, and worked in steel construction. So his career could have gone in many directions.

However, the influence of his mother, Lois, a nurse, led him to the healthcare field, beginning in North Carolina, in Anson County, where he opened the Morven Area Medical Center in 1979. There he did a little of everything from recruiting physicians and dentists to making sure the center received funding to keep its doors open.

“When my mother died in 1971, I spent a fair amount of time re-evaluating my life and I became more interested in healthcare,” Greczyn recalls.

That career decision led Greczyn through a series of jobs with Health America Corp. of North Carolina, Principal Health Care of Delaware, Health- source Health Plans, and CIGNA HealthCare before he arrived at his current place of employment as executive vice president and COO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.  In April 2000 he was named president and CEO of the state’s largest insurer.

Had he not chosen the healthcare field for his life’s work, he could have been an airline pilot or a NASCAR driver. He earned his pilot’s license while in graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill and was a member of the Chapel Hill Flying Club in 1976. Also a veteran race car driver, Greczyn has been to the Fast Trac Racing School at least five times. “It’s fun,” the hard-charging executive said. “I can feel my pulse going faster and faster.”

 On the Fast Track

Greczyn has been on the fast track most of his life, but has gone forward full throttle since his arrival at the BCBSNC headquarters on Highway 15-501 between Durham and Chapel Hill. The company has grown  from about 1.9 million to 3.1 million members. Revenues more than doubled, from $1.3 billion seven years ago to $3.2 billion in 2003. More than 3,300 BCBSNC employees process claims totaling more than $6 billion a year or about $18 million per day. The company’s tax liability was $143 million in 2003.

One thing is certain about healthcare — that it’s constantly changing. When Greczyn left Anson County and joined Health America Corp. of North Carolina 20 years ago as associate director of professional relations, he was joining one of the original HMOs. In 1986, he was recruited to run the Principal Health Care of Delaware group. But he was pleased when he was able to return to North Carolina four years later as the leader of Healthsource. “That was a wonderful day to be back in North Carolina,” he says.

Reflecting on changes in health care, the affable and unflappable CEO says, “When I got into the health insurance business, it should have been called the ‘sickness health plan.’ There was nothing about prevention. There has been a sea change since and a radical departure from traditional health insurance over the years. Many started to join HMOs and their successes also caused some backlash. Now we’re seeing a new trend —more consumer-oriented health products.”

Greczyn’s pro-prevention philosophy can be seen in many of the programs BCBSNC has started in recent years. “We are stepping up our efforts to promote healthy living and good preventive health practices. Our Healthy Lifestyle Choices program, a comprehensive effort to help our members get to and maintain a healthy weight, is one example.”

That program, begun last fall, encourages safe and effective weight loss, improved eating habits, physical activity and stress management.

Other programs underway for its more than 3 million subscribers include efforts to assist smokers who want to “kick” the habit, and a targeted program to help members manage stress.

“I am absolutely convinced that health care costs are going up for several reasons,” he said. “We are getting older and the baby boomers are moving through the system. We are seeing a very significant shift in demographics. In addition, we have seen the rate of obesity just explode in the last 15 years. More than 60 percent of North Carolinians are overweight or obese. Many diseases are related to lifestyle and until we begin to modify our lifestyle, we are going to continue to face very significant challenges.”

The healthcare executive feels strongly that if significant progress is not made in changing the way people live, “it will be difficult to control health costs.”

BCBSNC is aggressively promoting a number of health and wellness programs, such as Fit Together and Be Active NC. “Our efforts are starting to be heard by more and more people. If we are successful, then we will make a significant impact on health care and the quality of life for our citizens.”

 Proud of the BCBS Foundation

From Greczyn’s father, Bob Sr., former general manager of an automobile dealership in New Jersey, and his departed mother, Lois, the healthcare leader learned to give back to his community. “I was always taught as a kid that if you are successful, you have an obligation to give back and that is what we are doing as a company.

“One of the things I am most proud of here is the creation of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation which gives us the ability to begin to do the things we think are important. We are a part of the solution to the challenges facing the citizens of our state.”

Last year the foundation made its largest gift ever — $10 million to the N.C. Association of Free Clinics which operates more than 60 clinics across the state. The number will eventually reach 85. This commitment undoubtedly goes back to Greczyn’s first job in Anson County.

Dr. Evelyn D. Schmidt, CEO of the Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham and the state’s foremost pioneer in community health centers, became involved with him during those days. “Bob remains concerned about healthcare, its distribution and its including  prevention as well as treatment for all people as well as those already in the present insurance system.”

She pointed out his continuing commitment to community health centers by thanking him and Bob Harris, chief medical officer for BCBSNC, for providing flu vaccines. “This is just an example of a continuing concern for essential health care for all,” she says.

His community involvement extends beyond the Herculean efforts from many of his employees who are encouraged to help make the state a better place in which to live, work, and play. In other words, he leads by example. Last fall, he served as chair of the Triangle United Way campaign which exceeded its goal for the first time in three years.

“Bob Greczyn is the consummate ‘let’s find a way to get it done’ type of leader,” Craig Chancellor, president of the Triangle United Way, said. “His commitment and dedication, combined with a strong work ethic, inspires others and makes success the only option. Bob is a fine example of what community leadership is all about.”

Governor Jim Hunt credits Greczyn with “caring deeply for human beings.”  Hunt, who is making healthcare solutions one of his top priorities these days, added, “Not only does Bob Greczyn lead a health insurance company in a terrific way, but it all stems from his heart and he wants all people to have a good quality of life. He is a man with a real zest for life and his enthusiasm is infectious.”

Greczyn is chairing the 2005 Triangle March of Dimes WalkAmerica. At work, he somehow finds time to serve as campaign chair of Be Active North Carolina, a grassroots physical fitness campaign designed to help North Carolinians live healthy and active lifestyles.

Asked about his strengths as a manager, he replies, “I think I am reasonably good at putting a team together and then letting them do their jobs. I am the head coach but I also find a real need to know what is going on. I don’t like to be surprised about the issues. One of my hallmarks is that I like to have people around me who have diverse opinions. It is an interesting and fun process to pull it all together.”

His leadership and performance draw rave reviews from many quarters.

Rhone Sasser has chaired the BCBSNC board for the past eight years and has worked closely with Greczyn.

“Bob understands that in order to be an effective leader in bringing about positive change you must be strong. That means an organization must have the most qualified employees possible throughout the organization. It also means you must be sound financially, not only in order to pay claims and operating expenses, but to be able to try innovative ways to deliver services, even at the risk of losses sometimes. He is the leader in trying to bring about positive changes in the way health care is delivered.”

Bill Roper, the czar of healthcare for UNC Hospitals and a national leader in the field, lavished praise on Greczyn. “Bob Greczyn is one of America’s healthcare leaders — he combines running a highly successful health insurer with a genuine focus on improving the health of the population.”

“He is a leader of the first order,” Scott Serota, president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, adds. “He has quickly asserted himself within the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association as an individual who focused not only on doing what is right but also doing the right thing.”

Gov. Mike Easley and Frank Holding Jr., First Citizens Bank executive, also praise Greczyn for his leadership, vision, and compassion. “Bob is deeply committed to improving the lives of North Carolinians across our state,” the governor says. “His experience in the healthcare field and his ability to balance the complexities of the industry with the issues make him an outstanding leader of the state’s largest insurer.”

Holding adds, “Bob created a vision and communicated it with a sense of urgency. Couple his ability to lead organizational change with his high level of integrity, and Bob Greczyn has been a tremendous leader.”

Speaker of the North Carolina House Jim Black says, “Bob Greczyn is one of the brightest and most accomplished young executives in our state. As the leader of Blue Cross and Blue Shield during the past several years, Bob has helped the company become one of the foremost leaders in health insurance in North Carolina and in the country.

 Training Non-profits

Another contribution to the community not widely known is the work of the BCBSNC Foundation’s Healthy Community Institute for Non-Profit Excellence. It provides training designed to strengthen the organizational capacity of non-profit organizations in North Carolina. It offers a special two-day intensive course that engages three-to-four person teams from non-profit organizations in a comprehensive board and staff training curriculum.

More than 350 organizations across the state and about 1,200 people have been trained through the Institutes.

In addition to his commitment to his work and community, he displays an equal commitment to his family. Will, 18, is at Cary Academy and Matt, l3, and Samantha, 11, are students at St. Mary Magdalene in Apex. Along with wife, Kristen, they enjoy going to the beach and snow skiing. His father and stepmother, Anna, moved from retirement in Florida to Pinehurst two years ago.

Having been a part of all the changes occurring in healthcare the past 25 years, the industry leader has lost none of his enthusiasm for the challenges still facing his company, public officials, and society in general.

“Healthcare is an incredibly exciting business. Blue Cross and Blue Shield is on the leading edge and we are in a position to have an impact. To be in a position of leadership to help bring change is something I really enjoy. I love working with people,” Greczyn says.

Jim Talton, who has worked with him in a number of capacities at East Carolina University and in the community, put it this way. “Of all the CEOs I have worked with over the years, I have worked with none who are more committed to addressing the needs of our citizens in an industry which has seen much change in recent years and which will experience even more change in the near term. There is no question in my mind that the U.S. healthcare industry is broken. Bob has the knowledge, experience and foresight to forge new directions and initiatives in an industry that is calling for outstanding leadership.”

Echoing the assessment of many others, Talton says, “Without question, Bob Greczyn is a visionary leader who understands the problems and opportunities facing healthcare in the United States and who is working daily to address those issues. He is a man who has the utmost support of his staff for his vision, his fairness, and his openness.”

Greczyn admits, “I’m very, very competitive. I have a real passion for competing in the right way. That is incredibly important in today’s environment. I believe in playing hard and playing to win. I have a strong commitment to ethics.”

These feelings are an important part of the “Blue Cross and Blue Shield culture” and the CEO is credited with setting just the right tone in these areas throughout the organization.


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Last Modified: March 09, 2005
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