Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana has been outrageously blessed with talent over the years (and I’m not even talking about me!) and the 40-year commitment of Mike Reitz to this company, along with decades of time committed by his father before him (Mr. Howard Reitz). Their combined efforts have been instrumental in making Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana the stable, customer-focused entity that it is today.
Today, the Blue Cross Board of Directors elected a new President/CEO, Dr. Steve Udvarhelyi (say “OOOd-ver-high”), and he brings talent, power and experience that cannot help but take us even higher. In my next blog post, I’ll give you the complete rundown on Steve. But for now, let’s say goodbye to Mike Reitz.
When I started with Blue Cross back in November 2004, Mike Reitz was our Chief Marketing Officer. I was instantly in awe of his ability to put people at ease, establish meaningful connections and find common ground with basically everyone he came into contact with. Calling Mike a “people person” just doesn’t cut it; he is light-years ahead of anyone I’ve ever met in the ability to treat every human being, no matter what station in life he comes from, as his long lost friend. He clearly loves humanity and wants the people he meets to know that they matter in life. He goes out of his way to remember faces and names; you just feel important when you are in the room with him, no matter what your station.
He made me feel that way the first week on the job. I was a bit intimidated when he came to visit me. He was unhappy with the reporting on membership that he was getting; it just seemed the actuarial department and the marketing departments spoke different languages, he said. “I don’t have time to take a course; I need you to be my Rosetta Stone! And I know that’s what you are good at, so whatever you need to get it done, it’s yours!” I felt like I was back in 8th grade basketball with the best coach I ever had in my life across the table. If he had asked me to go through the wall in front of me, I would have believed it was possible. That’s the kind of impact Mike Reitz has.
When he became CEO, he told me once “I’m just not sure I’m the right guy for the job, not sure if this is the job that I want!” I told him something he had told me just a few years earlier “There’s nobody better than you, so make it work!” He laughed, slapped my back and said “Then I guess we’re all in trouble, right?” It seemed we could not stop laughing. Then he went to work.
Mike has vision. When the Presidential election of 2008 was over, he looked over the landscape and came to visit me again. What a day that was.
It was Dec. 8, 2008; a normal Wednesday at Blue Cross. I was working on membership reports, and as he is wont to do, Mike the CEO was passing through Marketing, home turf for him.
“Hey Mikey! (he always calls me that) I got a question for you.” He settled his long frame into a chair in my cube, crossed his legs and grinned that “I’m up to something” grin.
I smiled back “What’s on your mind today, boss?”
“Well, I know you handle all the membership forecasting in Marketing, and with our new President and the newly elected politicians in Congress, they are going to want to do something with healthcare, you know, healthcare reform. How’s that going to affect your ability to forecast our membership?”
Without thinking, I blurted out, “What’s healthcare reform?”
He smiled, reached over, grabbed my arm, and just like that I knew something was about to happen. “Come see me tomorrow,” he said. “Call Debbie (his executive assistant) and set it up.” And just like that, my job and my life changed.
Over a year before the healthcare reform law passed, Mike was all over it. “You need to watch my back on this thing!” he told me more than once. I put all my analytical power into finding out what the politicians were thinking.
For the first time in a long time, our business model could be drastically affected by Washington, not Baton Rouge, and the boss was trusting me — I was determined to be on top of it. He made me feel like I was the guy to get it done.
It took my immediate boss, Chief Marketing Officer Brian Keller, all of five minutes to get on board. “Here’s plane tickets, the names of our lobbyists, get to Washington and learn things. Come back with an outline of what they are going to do. We need to know as soon as possible!” And away I went.
And that’s Mike in action, identifying people’s skills at the most base level, giving them a job to do and then TRUSTING them to make it happen. As I sit here writing this today, five years and 800+ presentations, workshops, compliance seminars and college lectures later, I am still in awe that Mike could look into me, see the ability and talent and draw it out. I had plenty of doubts about my ability to do the job, but when Mike asked, you WANTED to do it for him.
That’s leadership in a nutshell. And Mike has it in spades. So whether he is enjoying his retirement at his camp in the marsh, or his camp in the hill country of Mississippi (snake central!), or on a bar stool in Key West (“saving you one, Bertaut” he told me the other day), you can bet he knows everybody’s name, and they all know and love him. That’s a gift from a very kind and understanding God. Now, I’ve embarrassed Mike enough.
The good news is the next guy in line, Dr. Steve Udvarhelyi, is amazing and well qualified to break through and keep this operation running at maximum efficiency for the benefit of the almost 1.6 million Louisianans walking around out there with a Blue Cross card in their pockets. In my next post, we’ll transition to Steve and catch you up on why I’m excited that he may be the best qualified CEO Blue Cross has ever had.