Mark L. Wagar

Mark L. Wagar
President & CEO, Empire BlueCross BlueShield, and Senior Vice President of parent company WellPoint, Inc.

Headquarters: New York City
Primary Business: Health insurance
Revenues: $6.8 billion
Employees: 4,000

Tailoring Health Services to Cultural Dictates

I have had the good fortune to live and work in several states. At every stop, I learned more about diversity and the richness it adds to one’s life. But it wasn’t until I moved to New York, where millions of people live, work, eat, shop and commute shoulder-to-shoulder that I have come to understand why it is known as the “melting pot” of America and how transcendent a concept that is.

Empire BlueCross BlueShield is the largest insurer in New York, covering nearly six million people. Our membership includes hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers of African American, Hispanic, Russian, Arab, Italian, Asian, Irish and Native American descent, and many others—a cultural mélange that is fascinating and profound.

If Empire BlueCross BlueShield didn’t strive to understand our broad marketplace, we wouldn’t be a company that people choose to do business with. Nor would we be a company that attracts top talent. Here are some of the ways we’re incorporating diversity into our business.

As a leader, I am committed to recruiting a diverse staff that reflects our membership demographic. I created a Strategic Diversity Committee to promote an environment of understanding, inclusion and respect, and recruited Workplace Diversity and Culture Ambassadors to involve associates in worksite events. Our Community Ambassadors actively build relationships in several local ethnic communities.

I communicate to all of our employees regularly about diversity. When New Yorkers were worried about a mosque being built near Ground Zero, we talked about the Ramadan celebration and the commonalities of religious faiths. I sent my holiday card out at the beginning of December, acknowledging and honoring not just Christmas, but Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Los Posadas too.

We tailor our health services to cultural dictates. When one of our Haitian members needed hospital care but couldn’t understand his doctor, we used one of our Creole-speaking associates to translate on the phone. We work to break down communication roadblocks between physicians and our members.

I sit on the boards of, and our company supports, dozens of initiatives that impact New Yorkers’ health status, increase access to services and help build strong communities…all of which support our company’s mission to improve the lives of the people we serve and the health of our communities.

Education: Bachelor’s, Master’s, The Ohio State University
First Job: Caddy, later greenhouse worker and farm worker
What I’m Reading: Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, by Steig Larson; Killing Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
My Philosophy: Whatever you do, say or decide, would it be the way you want your own family treated?
Best Advice: Listen more, say less and have a bias for action instead of standing still.
Family: Wife, Ellen; sons, Bret and Mark
Interests: Basketball, golf, travel, food, history, good times with family and good friends
Favorite Charities: Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, Jewish Community Relations Council, One Hundred Black Men Foundation, Asian Women in Business, The Ohio State University