Jim Reed’s best business advice: ‘Make a friend first’

Jim Reed’s best business advice: ‘Make a friend first’

Jim Reed, President and CEO of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, poses for a portrait in their Rochester office. (Photo by Lauren Petracca)

Jim Reed has had more than 25 years of working at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield to prepare for his current role as president and CEO; and he wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Reed was able to establish long-term, solid relationships during that time with a range of people he still interacts with today, from customers and health care providers to elected officials.

“I can’t imagine being in a job like this without knowing the community,” he says.

Reed, 51, was named president- and CEO-elect of Excellus BCBS and its parent company, The Lifetime Healthcare Companies, Inc., in July of 2020 as part of a succession plan. The following May, he officially took the helm, succeeding Christopher Booth, who retired.

Excellus BCBS, headquartered in Rochester, is part of the $6 billion Lifetime Healthcare family of companies that finances and delivers health care services across upstate New York and long-term care insurance nationwide.

Collectively, the enterprise provides health insurance to nearly 1.5 million members and employs roughly 4,000 employees in New York.

Excellus BCBS ranked second on the Forbes 2023 list of America’s Best Midsize Employers.

Since taking the role, Reed — who was named to this year’s RBJ Power 100 List — has maintained his focus on the organization’s primary mission of providing access to affordable, high-quality health care to as many people as possible.

“It’s what we constantly are thinking about in all the lines of business we operate,” he says.

Reed grew up in Elmira, Chemung County, where his parents encouraged him to explore his interests.

He went to Le Moyne College in Syracuse where he played on the baseball team.

Reed had dreams of being a pitcher for the New York Yankees but when that didn’t look feasible, he shifted gears.

Reed took some business courses and was hooked.

When he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1993, Reed spent a few years at a couple of businesses but when he decided it was time to start a family, he looked for a place where he could build a career.

“I was looking for a local company that was big enough to provide opportunities, have a strong brand and was focused on its culture,” he says.

Reed found that at Excellus BCBS.

He joined the organization in January 1996 and has served in positions of increasing responsibility over the years. That includes serving as executive vice-president of marketing and sales and as regional president in the Central New York market.

Reed quickly connected to the organization’s product portfolio and understood the importance of health insurance.

He also sharpened his professional skills by returning to school and earning his master’s degree in business administration from Le Moyne College.

Reed’s workdays now vary in terms of what is on his agenda, but he says he strives to constantly evaluate and learn through experience.

He focuses on five areas: general operational oversight, leadership and culture, the company’s long-term strategy, internal and external relationships, and communication with the organization’s board of directors.

Faheem Masood, president and CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union, is the board chair for Excellus BCBS.

Masood spoke of Reed’s strong leadership style.

“Jim’s values-rich and people-focused approach sets the tone for his leadership team and the entire organization,” he says. “He is an authentic, transparent, mission-oriented, visionary leader who strives to inspire and empower those around him to achieve success for all stakeholders.”

Reed’s interactions with those inside and outside the organization are among the favorite parts of his job, he says, noting some of the best business advice he received was early in his career when a colleague told him to focus on making a friend first.

“Having a good, trusting relationship is the foundation for any kind of business transaction or success,” he says.

Partnerships have also been instrumental, he says, particularly when it comes to the organization’s core mission.

That includes working collaboratively with the region’s two health systems: Rochester Regional Health and UR Medicine.

“Collaboration is a logical way to achieve access to high quality, affordable health care in our community,” he says.

Reed is also focusing on another collaboration this year: serving as the 2023 campaign chair of the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes’ 105th annual campaign, entitled Better United.

“One area that COVID-19 really exposed was the inequalities that exist in health care, including access to health care,” Reed says, noting that the United Way excels at connecting organizations to the community’s needs. “This was a great time for us to partner.”

Moving forward, Excellus BCBS continues to offer new products that best serve the changing needs of the market, Reed says, noting the model of health care is changing.

That includes an increased focus on telehealth services and value-based payments, which are reimbursements that tie payments for care delivery to the quality of care provided and rewards providers for both efficiency and effectiveness.

Reed believes Excellus BCBS excels when it comes to customer support and believes the organization has one distinct advantage over its competitors.

“We are the local health insurance company,” he says. “That gives us immediate connectivity to the community that other large health plans don’t have.”

Lori Florack, senior vice president of human resources at Excellus BCBS, has known Reed for about 13 years.

Florack immediately knew Reed was a leader she wanted to follow, noting he cares about the workforce and aims to make a personal connection with those around him.

“He is extremely down to earth, trustworthy, inclusive and demonstrates the utmost integrity in all that he does,” Florack says. “He also has a knack for bringing humor into most discussions which makes him a lot of fun to be around.”

She added that Reed is a good listener, is passionate about the health and wellbeing of the communities the organization serves and applies creativity, positive and innovative thinking to solve complex problems.

“I have witnessed Jim take some difficult stands that have moved our organization forward in a way that rallied the entire enterprise behind him,” Florack says.

What she most admires about Reed is his ability to challenge others to reach their highest potential.

“He has a unique ability to see the value in others; often before they see it in themselves,” she says. “This has built a level of loyalty and engagement that is truly rare and has exponentially impacted our ability to advance our mission.”

Reed and his wife, Theresa, live in Skaneateles, Onondaga County. They have three children; two of whom are adults and a third who will be a first-year college student this fall.

Reed said he is getting ready to transition to life as an empty nester with his wife, without coaching or regularly attending his kids’ numerous sporting events.

In his free time, Reed exercises regularly and plays many sports, including golf and tennis.

He also enjoys traveling to the organization’s various sites throughout the region since it gives him the chance to visit with employees. That is particularly important now, Reed says, with the hybrid work environment in place.

“Face-to-face interactions go a long way when it comes to employee relations and the company’s culture,” he says.

[email protected] / (585) 653-4021

Name: Jim Reed

Title: president and CEO, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield

Age: 51

Education: Bachelor of Business Administration from LeMoyne College, 1993, Master of Business Administration from LeMoyne College, 2014

Residence: Skaneateles, Onondaga County

Family: Wife, Theresa; three children

Hobbies: exercise, golf, tennis

Quote: Collaboration is a logical way to achieve access to high quality, affordable health care in our community.