Name: Melissa Cummings
Class Year: 1992
Title: EVP and Chief Customer Officer
Organization Name: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island
1. In one sentence, what does your job entail?
Lead the company’s business lines, responsible for growth and retention overseeing sales, account management, product development, marketing and brand, digital assets, operations, customer service and our retail footprint.
2. What planned and unplanned events connected you to your industry and your first employer after Holy Cross? How did you learn/decide it was a good fit for you?
I answered a job ad in the newsletter the HC Career Placement Office sent to new graduates for a job in NYC at a healthcare public relations firm. The hiring manager was a Holy Cross alum and she could attest to the value of the Holy Cross curriculum relative to thinking critically, writing effectively, considering alternatives and communicating with meaning. We connected right away given our shared experience and preparation. Public Relations was a great initial exposure to job that required strong writing, strong communication and creative skills My client base was an array of pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies and my “clients” were product managers in those firms, most of whom had a MBA. I knew I could give better counsel to my clients if I had a richer appreciation of all the levers a product manager considered, beyond just public relations, so I attended business school and chose a degree specializing in healthcare management, which at the time was a newer and growing MBA discipline. I went on to join a for profit health insurer in a MBA leadership development program designed to train general managers. The notion of being a general manager is a theme I have carried throughout my career as I have had a wide array of varying leadership roles across the health insurer landscape.
My mom shaped my health interest – she was a nurse who left her career to raise kids and later returned to graduate school to receive her Master’s in Social Work and to this day is a private practice psychotherapist. My dad shaped my business interest – he was a talented sales executive who later started his own business in the data communications space, his entrepreneurial spirit is a strong force for me. My work at UMass Medical Center while at Holy Cross in a community advocate role that I obtained because of a student run health and wellness program I was part of shaped my first exposure to recognizing the power of delivering health with care.
3. What were you involved in when you were on campus?
I was a Resident Assistant, an Admissions ambassador, a peer minister, I worked as a server in the “Kimball Café” (is this even a thing anymore? Faculty and staff ate in a café in lower Kimball) and a member of a student run nutrition and wellness organization.
4. What was your major and how did it affect your career decisions?
I was a Psychology major after trying out Political Science and Economics. The healthcare/business combination was clearly in me even then!
5. What are one or two skills that you developed at Holy Cross that you use in your work?
Critical thinking and curiosity as well as doing what is best for others and the community in which you live are two things that Holy Cross emphasized. I am a learner at heart and Holy Cross fueled that for me. I ask questions and am naturally curious and encourage that in those I work with on my team. My interest in joining a not for profit insurer like Blue Cross is rooted in my appreciation of and commitment to giving back to the community, a core part of my experience at Holy Cross.
6. What advice do you have for students on campus today?
Take as many different classes as you can – spark your curiosity. Find a way to give back to your student community or to the community at large by getting involved in something. Network. Use the alumni resources the College has to offer to explore different career options, graduate school choices, fields of interest, whatever it may be. No one ever said “no” to a networking request and it takes little preparation on the part of the person being asked. It’s a great way to learn about pathways and the twists and turns each career typically includes and it often leads to additional networking introductions.