Jeff Roe (EMBA 1997), president and CEO of Premera Blue Cross, was the commencement speaker for the University of Washington Foster School of Business Executive MBA, Technology Management MBA, and Global Executive MBA programs on June 6.
Roe, who earned both undergraduate and MBA degrees from the UW, shared with Foster’s newest graduates three pieces of advice wrapped around stories that forged him as a leader and as a person.
When Roe was fired from his position as co-president of insurance at Safeco in 2006—one day before his 41st birthday—he thought at first that his career had been permanently derailed. After all, he had left Premera for Safeco not long before. But Roe said that eventually he realized that his brief experience at Safeco had taught him to be more discerning about people’s motivations and more perceptive of cultural and operational dynamics and different leadership styles—both good and bad. The whole ordeal also gave him a new perspective and taught him humility.
“Setbacks happen, and often when you least expect them,” Roe said. “You must learn from them.” He encouraged the graduating students “to confront [setbacks] optimistically—confident they will make you a better leader.”
Roe advised these members of Foster’s Class of 2016 to recognize that “leadership is not about you… The mark of leadership is not how good it makes you, but how good it makes those around you.”
He added that the success of these Foster EMBA, TMMBA and GEMBA grads, as they advance in their careers, will be increasingly tied to their ability to make others better.
Roe said that perseverance is a characteristic that has been essential to his success: “I get ahead by asking one more question, digging a little deeper, and learning constantly.”
He shared with the graduates that he competes with himself everyday to be smarter and more effective. And he suggested that having the mindset and discipline of continuous self-improvement will up your game and the game of those around you.
In closing, Roe touched on some indelible lessons that he learned while training for an Ironman triathlon that he completed almost ten years ago, a journey that stands as an apt metaphor for life and career: “Have a goal. Make a plan. Be organized and committed. Work hard. But mostly, never quit. Just keep going.”