One of the most important buildings on the Detroit campus of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is the 133,000-square foot brown brick building that anchors the corner of Lafayette Boulevard and Beaubien Street. It’s the home to our Detroit walk-in service center for Blue Cross customers, a state-of-the-art training area, and dedicated call center where our employees serve our members. Yesterday, the building we’ve called the Bricktown Customer Service Center since it opened in 1998 underwent a historic, symbolic and meaningful change. It became the Richard E. Whitmer Building, in recognition of the man who guided Blue Cross from strife to strength during his 18-year tenure as our president and CEO from 1988 to 2006. During the dedication ceremony, it was powerful to hear from Dick Whitmer himself. His words and actions still echo through our corridors today. When Dick Whitmer became CEO of Blue Cross almost 30 years ago, Blue Cross was a company desperately in need of a leader who could rally, innovate and transform. Within a year of taking over, Dick Whitmer led Blue Cross out of financial insecurity, forged resolutions with state regulators, articulated a vision for success, and boosted employee morale. After two years on the job, he saved $185 million by reducing administrative costs and increasing revenue. He also launched a landmark diversity initiative and welcomed 50,000 new members. In his first official address as CEO, he aptly stated: “Unless we can agree on what we are, it is not likely we can agree on where we are going and how we are going to get there.” And then, in no uncertain terms, he provided both the roadmap and the vehicle that transported us and helped transform us. That roadmap includes: Being worthy of public trust and serving the public good, forging partnerships and increasing capabilities, leading on cost, quality and customer service. The vehicle: Our people. Because as Dick Whitmer noted so very early on, “in the final analysis, it will be our people, their commitment and their attitude, that are really going to make (us) a success.” This building at 500 Lafayette in the heart of Detroit represents those things that defined Dick Whitmer’s leadership at Blue Cross: investing in and bringing jobs to Detroit, working jointly with the UAW toward shared goals, equipping our employees with the best training and tools to excel, and then providing the very best in service to all who carry the Blue Cross ID card. We are still driven by Dick Whitmer’s words and fueled by the momentum he created in this location and throughout the state of Michigan. The Richard E. Whitmer Building is a tribute to the man with the vision and fortitude to put Blue Cross on the path to become the health care leader we are today, protecting the health of more than five million lives, and for that, we are all grateful. Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
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