Best Book I’ve Read This Year:
The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
Red, White, or Beer?
Red or beer
Favorite Vacation Destination:
WSJ or NYT?
Since Eric Elliott took the helm of Prime Therapeutics, an Eagan-based manager of pharmacy benefits that is collectively owned by 13 Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, the company has been on a hiring spree and he’s been tasked with keeping his fast-moving ship on course.
When did you join Prime, and how was the company different then?
I joined Prime in 2010, and at that point the company was about 1,800 people. We are now just around 3,000 employees and we’ve grown the business in terms of adding more health plan clients. We have Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, North Carolina, New Jersey—each one bringing around a million and a half new members to our organization.
We’ve also won some major employers, where instead of going through the health plan, we have several we have gone direct to.
Do you anticipate sustaining your rapid growth?
We do. Whether it’s the exact same rate, I’m not sure.
What do you look for in new employees?
Fundamentally, you look for an expertise or for the type of specialist talent we need. But beyond that, you’re really looking for a couple things: No. 1 is people who want to be here, people who understand the growth and it’s something of interest to them. The biggest thing we can do is make sure our people want to be here.
Let’s say you just hired me as a direct report. What do I need to know about your leadership style? What makes you tick?
[As] a leader who, instead of hearing [suggestions for change] as “How do I shut that down because it’s making me look bad?” sees it as “How do we make our business better?” A big word for me is “completeness.” When we’re looking at a challenge, let’s make sure we’re not just dealing with what’s on the surface, but we understand what’s underneath that, what drives that.
What would you peg as your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?
As an organization grows, there’s a need to make sure you’re making the right investments to sustain the growth. I think early on, we made the right decisions around accelerating our investments in the core technology and foundational work, but now seeing how much growth we’ve taken on and how much potential [there is], could I have foreseen that and potentially accelerated that investment beyond even what we already did? (We increased it by 150 percent in the first two years.)
If I had predicted the Affordable Care Act with more certainty, could I have seen additional investments we could have made to put us in a better position today than we are? At the same time, had we made an even more accelerated investment than we did, and the growth didn’t come through, we’d be sitting with a very cost-heavy business, not well-positioned.
What’s your greatest challenge in the coming years?
There’s probably three. The first one: specialty medications, which are significantly more expensive than traditional medications, but on the other hand, they’re significantly more impactful.
The second is the individual exchanges that go into effect January 1 and will ramp up as employers decide to opt out of employer coverage. The challenge for us is to make sure that we are exceptional at understanding how many of those individuals will become Prime customers through our health plans, because we can’t underestimate and fall short on service expectations.
The third is how do we ensure that we continue to have the fundamentals we want while the business continues to grow—keeping employee engagement high, keeping the right people engaged the right way, making the right investments so that growth is not just sustainable from an opportunity standpoint, but [we] service it well, execute on the promises that we make to individuals and employers.