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Patrick Springer, Published September 23 2010

Former North Dakota Blues exec recalled as visionary

Hale Laybourn, who transformed North Dakota Blue Cross during more than two decades as its top executive, was remembered Wednesday as a visionary business leader.

Laybourn, who retired in 1986 after 21 years heading the health insurer, died Sept. 16 at a hospice in Fort Collins, Colo., at the age of 87.

“It was the leadership and courage of Hale Laybourn that laid the groundwork for the success and size of our organization today,” said Denise Kolpack, vice president of communications for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

“Ultimately, this community, our members and the entire state of North Dakota have benefited from his legacy here,” she added.

When Laybourn took over the reins of North Dakota Blue Cross in 1965 – before it merged with affiliated Blue Shield – the organization had 50 employees and revenues of $10 million.

When he stepped down, it had grown to more than 700 employees and income of $125 million, not including income from subsidiaries and affiliated companies that he launched, such as dental and vision insurance and government health claims processing.

“I felt he was a true visionary leader who started a number of the affiliate organizations that benefit the company and members,” said Larry Gauper, the company’s retired spokesman.

“He was a great boss,” Gauper added. “You knew where you stood with him.”

Laybourn, a native of Wyoming who came to North Dakota after serving as administrator of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming, was a fan of opera and the theater, and sometimes employed a theatrical flair as an executive.

Once, to motivate the company’s sales force, Laybourn impersonated Gen. George Patton, a World War II Army commander.

“Others have tried it, but he pulled it off,” Gauper said, adding that Laybourn was an Army combat veteran who had served in the Battle of the Bulge. “He had this aura of authority.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522