From Inspiration to Impact
From Inspiration to Impact
After beginning his career as an accountant, Stephen Harris, ’93, found inspiration in the field of health care. Today, he’s leading the charge at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.January 29, 2023
Growing up on the northwest side of Detroit, Stephen Harris saw many of his neighbors face those challenges common to underserved communities: crime, violence, lack of access to fresh food and undiagnosed mental health needs.
Years later, when he took a position with a small Medicaid managed care company, he viewed it as an opportunity to further his career and gain experience as a chief financial officer of a publicly traded company. But it also inspired Harris by illustrating the impact managed care could have in places like his hometown.
“I began learning what the medical director and care management team were doing to improve outcomes for the underserved population,” Harris says. “It was a population that did not look much different from the folks in the neighborhood where I grew up. That experience allowed me to use my talent to make an impact and set me on the path to where I am today.”
That job launched Harris’s 20 years in the health care industry. In 2022, he became the president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL), the state’s largest health insurance company, serving almost 9 million members. In his role, Harris is responsible for the overall financial performance, long-term growth strategy and strategic planning for BCBSIL.
But as a young adult at Michigan State, Harris wanted to be an accountant. He joined the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), where he served as president his senior year, and completed internships with General Electric and Baxter.
Following graduation, Harris took a position on the audit staff with Deloitte before deciding to broaden his career opportunities with an MBA from the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill. He returned to Deloitte, this time on the management consulting side. Four years later, Harris’s pivotal CFO opportunity came along. He stayed with United American Healthcare for seven years before joining Molina Healthcare and then Health Care Service Corporation, the parent company of BCBSIL.
“Each position I’ve had over the years has allowed me to gain meaningful experiences and build my skill set for the next opportunity,” says Harris. “In my previous roles, I learned the nuts and bolts of managed care, how health plans operate, how to build relationships with provider partners and how to advance quality outcomes for members. Those opportunities positioned me to be successful in my current role.”
It’s not just his other jobs that have supplied the knowledge to be successful. His experience at MSU provided him with foundational building blocks that he still uses today. These include his finance and accounting education, the leadership training he received by serving as NABA president and the patience he learned working as a tutor.
And it’s the experiences he had in his hometown that drive him to help BCBSIL expand access to affordable care and support communities in need. Among their many initiatives, the company addresses food insecurity and feeds around 250 families a month with fresh produce, and its three Blue Door Neighborhood Center locations offer free health education and wellness services focusing on physical, mental and social health.
“We’ve had a presence in Illinois for more than 80 years, and we’ve had decades of success,” Harris says. “My goal is to build upon that success, to deepen the relationships we have and to simplify the process for our members to access and navigate the health care system to get the quality, cost-effective care they need.”
Contributing Writer(s): Kelley Freund