Outstanding Directors 2022: Teddy Bekele

Outstanding Directors 2022: Teddy Bekele

For board service to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota (2020–present)

Other board service

Genesys Works (2022–present)

Twin Cities PBS (TPT) (2021–present)

MNTech (MN Technology Association) (2020–present)

Agriculture Future of America (2019–present)

FCC/USDA Connectivity Task Force (2019–present)

GTC United Way Tocqueville Society Cabinet (2019–present)

Governor’s Broadband Task Force (2019-present)

As chief technology officer of the Land O’Lakes cooperative, Teddy Bekele leads initiatives to leverage data and technology that help make farmers more productive and sustain their land for the long term. “We’re here to transform people’s lives,” he says, which is why he finds his job so fulfilling.

That sense of purpose also influences how Bekele approaches board service. Before he accepts a board appointment, he asks himself three questions about the organization: What is the purpose? Is it really touching lives? Is it really making an impact?

In 2020, he determined he should make time to serve on the board of trustees of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota. About one in three Minnesotans has a Blue Cross Blue Shield health plan, and Bekele saw the potential to use his technical and leadership experience to improve services for members.

“Health care is complex,” Bekele says. “Everybody knows that health care is broken and needs to get fixed.”

At Blue Cross Blue Shield, he says, the large nonprofit supports a model of value-based care that’s designed to cut costs.

He explains the organization serves three sets of stakeholders. “How do we find the intersection of what’s right for the patient, what’s right for the provider so they don’t get in [financial] trouble and can operate a healthy business, and what’s right for the [insurance] plan?”

Value-based care is a transformative strategy for improving the health care system, says Melissa Barra, a Blue Cross Blue Shield board member. If it’s fully implemented, Barra says, it “means reducing the cost of care while maintaining and ideally improving the quality of [health] outcomes for all of Minnesota.”

Barra, Sleep Number’s chief sales and services officer, has worked alongside Bekele on the Blue Cross Blue Shield technology and operations committee. “He is a phenomenal sounding board for the Blue Cross Blue Shield technology teams on how to use data and analytics to address customer experience and to improve satisfaction,” Barra says.

In June, Bekele succeeded Barra as chair of the technology and operations committee. The organization has been grappling with several technology changes over the past two years.

After outsourcing claims management and provider relationship work to a third party, Bekele says Blue Cross Blue Shield took over those activities this year. The staff and board also had to select a technology platform to serve as the technical “backbone” to house those functions.

There are multiple advantages to bringing these activities back inside Blue Cross Blue Shield, Bekele says. “No. 1, we want to be able to govern the data that comes in and out and make sure that when we run analytics in the future, we are in a better position to get greater insights,” he says.

“No. 2, we want to be able to automate a lot of the tasks that could be automated, and so this platform has to have the ability to be able to let us do that,” he says.

Bekele is also excited that Blue Cross Blue Shield is upgrading the capacity of an app for its members. What’s been in use has been a basic app that allowed people to find health plan information, locate doctors, and look at claims.

“When it comes to health care, we want people to be able to gravitate to something that really gives them value,” he says.

The upgraded app will employ artificial intelligence and have some capacity to give consumers a pre-diagnosis. Bekele anticipates the new app will be available before the end of 2022.

“Health care is behind when it comes to digital tools. What I would call a pain point is that it is very hard for members to shop for health care services,” Barra says. Blue Cross Blue Shield has been developing a cost estimator tool.

“This is the kind of topic where Teddy’s expertise, input, and questions have been incredibly valuable, not just along the lines of the technology components, but the end outcomes of those components,” Barra says.

Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford advised Bekele to view his board role through a broad lens. He recalls Ford’s advice: “You want to be known as a board member who can critically challenge the ELT [executive leadership team] about the decisions they are making, and obviously you are just equipped better to have tougher questions on technology. You are there to help govern that organization, not to run their IT department.”

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