Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield announced today that Cory Harris, top photo, the insurance giant’s chief operation officer, will become the company’s CEO when John Forsyth, bottom photo, retires at the end of 2020. Harris will transition to the CEO position on Jan. 1, 2021.
Forsyth, whose plans to retire were also made public today, has been the company’s longest serving CEO, leading the company since 1996.
The announcement follows a yearlong succession planning process, the company said in a news release. Wellmark serves more than 2 million customers, making it the largest health insurer in Iowa and South Dakota. It employs nearly 2,000 people.
“I am humbled and honored with today’s announcement,” Harris said in the release. “And I am grateful that John’s legacy of successful leadership has created a strong foundation for Wellmark’s future.”
Harris joined Wellmark in 2011 as executive vice president and general counsel. He held various other positions before being named chief operation office in 2018. In that role, Harris drove Wellmark’s enterprise-wide operations and long-term business strategies.
Harris also leads several of Wellmark's affiliated entities, including his roles as chairman, CEO and president of Wellmark Health Plan of Iowa Inc. and CEO of Wellmark of South Dakota Inc.
According to the release, Harris led the development and execution of long-term business strategies and initiatives that will guide the company’s vision for building a sustainable health care market.
“Cory has played a leading and critical role in successfully developing our long-term corporate strategy and driving our strong business performance over the past several years,” Forsyth said in the release. “He is undoubtedly the right person to continue to lead the execution of that plan as Wellmark continues to evolve to meet the needs of our members.”
According to the release, Harris’ legal background and his efforts to improve operational efficiencies give him a unique perspective to understand the complexities and seize opportunities within the highly regulated industry, and maintain focus on doing what’s best for consumers.
“As a mutual insurance company owned by our members, everything we do is focused on making health care more affordable, accessible, and sustainable,” Harris said. “As we concentrate Wellmark’s efforts on our strategic priorities, we will deliver industry-leading, personalized experiences for our members.”
Harris credited Forsyth for leading Wellmark and for the contributions he’s made to the community over the past 24 years.
“John’s goal of creating a truly sustainable health care system will continue to be a core component of Wellmark’s work,” Harris said in the release
During his tenure, Forsyth has helped the company reduce health care costs and was an early advocate and adopter of diversity and inclusion initiatives, the release stated. Under his leadership, Wellmark’s administrative costs rank among the lowest in the nation and membership grew by over 60%.
“It has been a privilege to lead Wellmark,” Forsyth said in the release. “I have been humbled by the commitment and hard work of our employees and their passion for serving our members. I am very grateful to them, and each of our other stakeholders, who have helped make us one of the strongest positioned health insurance companies in the nation.”
Daryl Henze, Wellmark’s lead director, will replace Forsyth as chairman.
“John guided Wellmark through tremendous change in the health care industry,” Henze said in the release. “Every initiative John undertook, whether building a culture of diversity and inclusion within Wellmark, transforming the financing of health care, or implementing the Affordable Care Act, was guided by a desire to improve the lives of Iowans and South Dakotans and create a sustainable health care system.”