Lou Lombardo has worn a lot of hats in his career at Blue Shield of California, and enjoyed them all. The man who is now Vice President of Installation and Membership started as a temp in the Orange County office 16 years ago … when he was twelve.
We’re kidding. He was 13.
“There’s such a rich history of ‘blue-blood’ that runs through the organization,” Lou says. “I enjoy seeing people advance in their careers. After 16 years, you get to know a lot of people.”
He means it. On our way from the interview room to the elevator, Lou greeted every person we passed by name.
What is your role here?
My team in Installation & Membership is responsible for welcoming new members and employers to Blue Shield. We work closely with our sales team to bring on new customers, enroll them into eligibility systems, and maintain accurate enrollment information. I like to think we’re the “front door” to Blue Shield.
What’s the most satisfying part of your workday?
Spending time with employees in the division – we have over 450 team members. Everyone has an idea on how we can do things better. Meeting with them individually or in groups is the most rewarding part of my job. I wish I could do it all day!
Do you talk with all of them?
I try to. We have two offices in Lodi and one in El Dorado Hills. When I’m in any of them, I think it’s important to stop and talk to everyone. I think I have the best team, but I’m biased. In operations, it’s critical to know your priorities. I’m accountable to the customers we serve and to the people who make it happen every day in I&M.
What’s the biggest challenge you encounter at work, and how do you solve it?
My biggest challenge is preparing my organization for Legacy Modernization. We’re replacing a 30-year-old system that has outlived its purpose, and the new process will touch everyone. But we have to bring ourselves into the future with new technology, processes, and ways of doing business that will keep us competitive.
We have some of the most talented individuals in the company involved in this project, along with the support of the entire executive team. I have no doubt we’ll be successful in moving to the new system over the next few years. But it’s everyone’s challenge. I don’t feel too lonely when I’m worrying about it.
What does success look like to you?
I’ve seen success happen at many levels here. When I started, I think we had just over 1 million members, and we were number 6 or 7 in the state. Now we have almost 3 million members and we’re the third largest. That looks like the right path to success – but it’s definitely a journey.
True success happens when everyone knows what they’re doing is the right thing to do. I’m thinking of something like the Welcome Experience for Employers: the team might not have known exactly how they were going to get everything done, but they didn’t get stuck thinking about roles or the difficulty of the challenge. They just did what had to be done – and they blew their goals away.
What made you happiest when you were young?
My parents made sure my siblings and I got to see the world. We were fortunate to be able to travel quite a bit, and I still find that very rewarding – seeing new places and meeting new people.
Is there a place you want to visit and haven’t, yet?
I haven’t been to Africa and I’d love to go. But I’m not the type who will sleep in a tent just to get close to nature. I’m waiting for the right opportunity.
What do you tell your friends you do at work?
I used to talk about my work at a health care company all the time, but then I started getting everybody’s medical questions … Lou, can you tell me if my prescription drugs are covered? How do I find the right doctor to treat my bunions? Can I see a chiropractor weekly? What about acupuncture?
So now I tell people I have a top secret job at the Pentagon.
Which of your personality traits has gotten you the furthest?
This will surprise no one: my sense of humor. The world is too serious sometimes. A lot of things going on in business create anxiety and fear; it shouldn’t be like that. Work shouldn’t define you.
At work, a sense of humor breaks down barriers between people. Humor’s unexpected, and it helps people drop their guard and deal with each other more honestly. We sometimes forget how important it is to stop and enjoy a moment. It really makes a difference.
Who is the most intelligent person you know?
Over the last few months, I’ve worked very closely with some great people on the business case for Legacy Modernization; Rob Geyer and Jan Vorfeld really stand out. I’ve learned a lot from them, and even when we don’t agree, it’s usually in those moments when I learn the most.
Rob and Jan made an impact on me in how they continually go deeper in their understanding of any problem they’re trying to solve. They’re inquisitive; they keep looking for solutions when it would be easier to stop. That’s intelligence.
What’s the greatest opportunity you see here?
I hope I can share my message about what a great company this is for anyone who wants to grow. When I started in the Orange County office, I was looking for a temporary job to hold me over while I looked for my true career. Little did I know that career had found me .
I went back to school to finish both of my degrees in order to advance at Blue Shield. I’ve had the greatest opportunities over the years, to work in each of the business units and now in Operations. All along, I always had an idea of the next step I wanted to take. This is a great place to grow if you work hard and develop yourself. That’s the story I want to tell.
The bonus question: what’s your favorite movie?
Ok, you can’t laugh. It’s a chick flick. I love The Color Purple.
It’s a great movie that shows sustained determination over time under such adversity. What people dealt with, over years, because they believed something better was possible: that’s such a testament to the human spirit. Each of us, through hope, determination and belief, can accomplish so much.
It is a chick flick. But it’s a great movie too.