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Commentary: Of Blue Cross and Blue Chip

November 26, 2007

WellPoint CEO Angela Braly must be thinking to herself, "Enough with the most powerful and influential stuff already!"

In the course of the last several months, Braly has been named the 16th-most-powerful woman in the world-that's in the world-by Forbes magazine, one of the 19 mostinfluential women in central Indiana by IBJ, and the top woman to watch by the Wall Street Journal.

That's heady stuff, to be sure, but I know for a fact that her two school-age

daughters are more powerful than she is. She said so herself during her keynote speech at IBJ's influential-women breakfast Nov. 9.

We asked Braly to talk to our female-dominated audience about what it takes to be a successful businesswoman and maintain a solid family life. To add a little humor ... and a surprising amount of wisdom ... she incorporated the thoughts of her three children on the subject.

One of the highlights was this gem (and I'm paraphrasing here) as spoken by one of her children as Braly left for the office one day: "Mom, good luck dealing with The Man today. Oh, I guess you can't do that. You are The Man."

Braly, who has made a career of operating Blue Cross insurance plans, charmed the audience with a direct, downto-earth talk about life at the top of corporate America as a woman trying to be a good mother at the same time.

Accompanying her at the breakfast were her husband, now a stay-at-home dad, and all three of their children, who were out of school due to a teachers' conference. That was impressive and in character.

It's already become a well-known part of the Braly legend that WellPoint rescheduled a board meeting so she could attend her daughter's fourth-grade play. WSJ reported recently that she skipped a monthly dinner with her management team to be with one of her daughters on her birthday.

Having become somewhat acquainted with Braly through this breakfast and a lunch earlier this year, I find her to be an interesting mix. Her personable nature and youthful appearance belie her resolve, savvy and toughmindedness.

Happily, she also strikes me as a person who doesn't let all this powerful and influential stuff go to her head. That's real power.

Speaking of power, I helped pass out awards at the annual Blue Chip Business Awards luncheon Nov. 14, an event at which 10 local companies were recognized for overcoming serious challenges.

Dating back to the early '90s, the annual program is organized by WestPoint Financial, a general agent for Mass Mutual Insurance. Indiana companies who meet the criteria and want to share their story can nominate themselves.

A panel of judges from the Ball State School of Entrepreneurship picks the 10 with the most compelling stories (check out www.bluechipaward.com, for more information), and winners join a network of business owners and CEOs.

As the award-presenter, I get to read the stories and retell them to the luncheon audience. Every year, I am amazed by the power of perseverance demonstrated by the winners and the many lessons their stories teach.

Take the case of J.D. Byrider, the buy-here, financehere used-car chain whose founder and CEO James DeVoe Sr. was killed in a plane crash in March 2006.

As if that weren't enough for the company to deal with, at the time of the crash, the media was pounding the usedcar industry, and J.D. Byrider was feeling the pain by association.

James DeVoe Jr. took over as CEO and assured employees, customers and vendors that it was business as usual at the company. Byrider also launched a proactive communications program and set up a new customer-service Web site to counteract the industry's negative press.

2007 turned out to be a banner year for the company, in spite of the two major challenges.

Then there was Marketing Informatics, which lost nearly half its building in the storms of April 2006 and didn't miss a beat, or Priio, which discovered one of its three partners was a crook.

All these businesses survived their challenges and appear to be flourishing. Their stories make for inspirational reading. They also are good examples for other businesspeople. So, if you have a good story to tell, I'd encourage you to let the world know about it by getting involved with the Blue Chip program.



Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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