Protege Profile: Allison Young

Title: Vice president, benefits administration division

Company: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana

Mentor: Helen Cousins, CIO, Dex Media Inc.

What's been your career ladder? I worked at Graduate Health Systems in the information systems department for 10 years, and then moved to Coopers & Lybrand (which became PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting) as a principal consultant in the Solutions Through Technology practice. One of my clients was Cendant Mortgage Corp., whom I went to work for as a vice president in the IT department, responsible for operations improvement. I then moved from the mortgage business to the corporate offices as vice president of applications development and support. My mentor, Helen Cousins, was corporate CIO. I worked with Helen for about three years and left there in 2003 to go to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.

What special skills do you bring to your job? I have strong analytical and management skills. I'm able to empower the people who work for me and encourage them to take risks. I'm an experienced systems development manager, so I can bring large projects to closure. We're getting ready for a go-live for a $45 million core operations systems implementation that will replace our 30-year-old legacy system, for example.

What's important about having a career mentor? There are four things Helen really helped me with. The first is understanding organizational politics -- you have to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em! You have to assess the political situation early on and make decisions on forward-looking strategy not only on the facts, but also the political landscape.

The second thing is to make split-second decisions without 100% of the information. I had a consultant background and naturally wanted to do a lot of analysis before making decisions. [Helen] taught me that from a market perspective, sometimes it's very important to be fast. Timing is huge.

Helen can really synthesize a lot of analysis quickly, moving through the information to weed out the important things, based on three critical drivers. She liked to first be presented with three bullet points, and I have carried over that philosophy. The three things she wanted were the financial implications, the risk and the suggested path going forward. After that, I would provide alternatives and more background information.

The third thing is speed. I'm relatively fast, but Helen was so much faster. She forces you to quickly ferret out the important information.

The last thing was to learn to have a good time. Work is work, but people are whole human beings, and we have to value the whole person. An example is holding lunches or parties to celebrate wins, which brings things to closure and lets people know they are appreciated.

Are there any downsides to being mentored? You get feedback even when you don't want it. [Laughs.] Seriously, having the right mentor is truly a win-win situation. I could learn from her and in turn make her more effective. Mentoring is truly a relationship, and you have to be able to find someone with whom you have a degree of simpatico. Mentoring programs can work well if the people are well matched, and if they are not, it's important to say so.

Are you mentoring anyone? This company has a formal mentoring program, and I'm mentoring a young woman, an internal [electronic data processing] monitor. I have had many battles with our auditors, so I was flattered she picked me as her mentor. We are similar personalities. You have to find commonalities with a person and develop an empathy with them to understand what skills they need to develop and how to encourage them.

We meet biweekly. One meeting is more formal, where I provide feedback, outline things to do, etc. The second meeting is more informal, usually over lunch. She seems to think the program is successful. I always check in with her to be sure that our meetings are providing value for her. I want to push the envelope in the next step of development, but I want to be sure that she is comfortable with the pace. I want to be sure that we are both having fun and building a lasting relationship.

Special Report

2006 Premier 100 IT Leaders

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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