Oregon Insurer SAIF Corporation today named their new CEO, ultimately ending a chapter in the sordid tale surrounding the unjust termination last year of John Plotkin. With this announcement I can boldly say that I was right. I can also say that I was wrong.

SAIF has a long history of hiring politically connected state government workers for the CEO role. The selection of Plotkin last year was an outlier, a move many speculated would not be repeated again anytime soon. I had personally forecast that the person selected was very likely going to be a “State agency attorney retread” – an Oregon attorney from another state agency. The person named today is Kerry Barnett, former state Insurance Commissioner and legal counsel and senior policy advisor to former Governor Kitzhaber.

From Oregon: Check.

Attorney: Check.

Politically Connected Insider: Check, Check and Check.

However, Mr. Barnett does have private sector experience, which is something I had not specifically anticipated. He comes to the SAIF CEO position from Cambia Health Solutions, were he is currently serving as Executive Vice President, Corporate Services and Chief Legal Officer. He has not,as far as I can tell, ever run or managed a private corporation.

Still, unlike some previous CEO's at SAIF, he does know something about insurance, and likely understands health care.  On these points I will give myself a “miss”.

I don't know Mr. Barnett. I know absolutely nothing about him. He might be an outstanding selection; a visionary leader that will sail SAIF to new and thrilling heights. The job is his. Only his actions over the next year and beyond will be the accurate barometer of his skill and ability, as well as how appropriate a choice he actually was.

But he faces an overwhelming history of middling and mediocre outcome running against his incoming tide. The employees are hoping for more than a run of the mill retread. He will want to hit the ground running in a most dynamic fashion.

So, for the present situation I was mostly right; politically connected attorney formerly with the state. It will be a big psychological hurdle to overcome for many in the company, who may be asking themselves “Why can't we look outward for fresh ideas and innovative directions? Why do we continually duck back into the security of the familiar, especially when it hasn't performed as expected in the past?” As for the future I will issue no prognostications, as it would be unfair to judge this newcomer who is unknown in this position. He might be a highly skilled and successful CEO. To that end it may not matter that I was right.

After all, he has the ability over time to prove me completely and unquestionably wrong. Let's hope he does.


For a list of Bob’s other SAIF/Plotkin articles (as well as a couple old AASCIF articles that get picked up in the search), Click here.

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