Women in the C-Suite

Vicky Gregg, former CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee

Humana, BCBS of Tennessee created opportunities

As Vicky Gregg moved up the executive ranks in the hospital administration and then the health insurance and managed care industry in the ’70s and ’80s, she said other women executives were “few and far between.

“I just think that culturally there was a kind of a belief that women really couldn’t do those roles,” said Gregg, 61, who started her career as an RN. “You had to be mobile, so you had to be willing to be transferred and that was difficult for some women, particularly if they were married. But fundamentally there was just a bias and the question of whether women could assume those kinds of roles.”

She joined Humana in 1979 and moved over to the health insurance and managed care side of health care when the hospital chain added a health plan division in the mid-1980s.

“I was very fortunate back in 1986 when Humana made the decision to move market directors over to health plans in each of their markets,” Gregg said. “Wayne Smith, the president of the division at the time, made it a goal to be able to move women into those roles because I think he saw that as a track for women to be developed by the company and to ultimately take on other roles. There were actually five of us, all nurses, who were moved into those roles. That was kind of the breakthrough, not just for me, but for all of us.”

Ten years later, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee recruited her as CEO of Volunteer State Health Plan, its Medicaid subsidiary. “When I joined the Blues, the company didn’t have women in the vice president level and very few in director and manager levels. It had been a very male-dominated culture. The new CEO, Tom Kinser, made a conscious decision that the company needed to be more diverse. And so I was one of the first ones that he brought in at a senior level in the company.”

In 2003, she was named CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee with 3 million subscribers, 5,400 employees and $5.5 billion in revenue. About one third of her executive leadership was female. Gregg retired from the Blues in 2012 and joined Guidon Partners, a private equity firm run by partners with executive experience in health insurance and health services.

How many of the other partners are women? “I’m it,” Gregg said with a chuckle. “If you look at private equity and the whole finance world, women executives are not in abundance, and I think there’s work to be done there.”

Men have had a good influence on her career, and Gregg says it is helpful if they have a personal connection to some of the obstacles facing women: “If you’re a woman, the best thing you could do was work for a guy with a daughter, and preferably, only daughters, because they have an interest in seeing women do well and open opportunities, ultimately for their own daughters.”