As CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Brad Wilson (’78) is at the forefront of healthcare changes

Photo of Brad Wilson ('78), CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina

Brad Wilson (JD '78)

You don’t have to know where you’ll end up in order to begin an exciting journey, Brad Wilson (’78) told law and business students at his recent talk about the state of our health care system.

Much the same could be said of Wilson’s career choices since leaving Wake Forest University. He has been a lawyer in private practice, a public servant and a business executive, not to mention a husband, father of two children and community volunteer.

He is currently the president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, where he is at the forefront of changes to the state’s and the nation’s healthcare systems. Wilson spoke to students and faculty at the Wake Forest School of Law and Schools of Business on Oct. 25 regarding “Driving Value in our Health Care System.”

The skills Wilson learned while at Wake Forest have been invaluable tools on his journey, particularly in his current role. In his introductory remarks he cited Suzanne Reynolds, the executive associate dean of academic affairs at the School of Law, as a mentor.

“Critical thinking, writing, oral communications, listening broadly and certainly an understanding of the law are all applicable in my leadership role at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina,” he said.

Whenever he gets a chance, Wilson said that he asks doctors, nurses, insurance brokers, small business owners as well as the regular folks who are on the receiving end of health care, how they would improve the system.

Members of the Wake Forest community said that Wilson has steered a course of civility, optimism and clear thinking in an area that is sometimes dominated by contentious debate.

Mark Hall, a professor of law and public health, said that Wilson has taken the high road in such discussions.

“I was impressed by the importance that Mr. Wilson attaches to speaking with all segments of society, in search of shared responsibility for addressing health care’s intractable problems,” he said.

In his remarks, Wilson steered clear of rhetorical flourishes, vague prescriptions and business jargon. He was careful to note that his figures came from such sources as White House actuaries, not insurance industry data, which some people might see as biased. He offered examples of programs around the state that should provide critical information about ways to cut costs and improve the quality of health care.

Reynolds was a teaching assistant for Professor Charley Rose when Wilson was a student in the legal research and writing course.

“We stress in teaching legal writing that it begins with critical thinking and with using words properly,” she said. “I think we heard the fruit of that critical thinking and precision in choice of words as Brad explained what he considered to be the greatest problems with health care in the United States and why some of the proposals are doomed to failure.”

Wilson is a North Carolina native who earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University and a master’s degree from Duke University.

He first entered the legal profession through a private practice in Lenoir and went on to serve the state of North Carolina as general counsel for Gov. Jim Hunt, who served four terms.

Wilson has served as a member and chairman of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.    He has also served on the boards of such non-profit organizations as the Tomorrow Fund, which seeks to boost college graduation rates among Hispanic immigrant students.

Although Wilson spoke at length about the obstacles to reforming health care, he was careful to tell students that he is challenged, rather than pessimistic. He invited them to bring their fresh perspectives to the debate.

His approach to problem-solving goes to the heart of a lawyer’s work, Reynolds said.  “Brad remains optimistic that we can fix a broken system if we think clearly and act efficiently in efforts to get us back on course,” Reynolds said.

Wilson said that he is not only is optimistic about the future of health care, but about the use of a law degree, especially one from Wake Forest.

“After the lecture on Tuesday, an undergraduate student asked me if I thought he should consider law school,” Wilson said. “My response was, ‘I can’t think of any better training for any leadership position whether it be business, government, academia or the NGO world than the study of law. Wake Forest Law School in particular.’”