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IBX: The Cover Story – Cultivating Purpose & Meaningful Relationships in Business

By April 22, 2022May 16th, 2022Employers Podcast Spotlight Well-being
INX: The Cover Story - Episode 10

In episode ten of IBX: The Cover Story, I sit down with my guests — Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of Independence Health Group Crystal Ashby, and Marketing Solutions Consultant Melinda Bryan — to discuss the importance of internships and mentorships in business.

Internships and mentorships not only help build the next generation of leaders, but they also help cultivate purpose and meaningful relationships, and provide a safe space for people to learn and grow, which is important for our well-being.

Listen to our conversation here:

A full transcript of the episode is also available below.

Episode 10 Show Notes

Below you will find some of our favorite quotes from the tenth episode, sources that were mentioned, and a segment breakdown. As always, thank you for listening!


“They (mentees) challenge me not to say, ‘That’s the way we’ve always done it.’ They open my mind to how they perceive something, because they’re coming in new with fresh eyes. So, the value of a mentoring relationship to the organization is constant innovation and growth, while helping someone become a part of the culture of the organization in the process.” — Crystal Ashby

“Crystal, I love the internal and external mentorship, and you touched on it a little bit relative to confidence, right? And providing that level of strength to you as you were going through your journey, that Steve and Bill provided to you. And I can recall, during my early days and some of the mentors who helped me, the one attribute that I took away from it was their belief in me and saying, ‘You can do this. I see it. All right?’ Whereas, I may not have seen it.” — Peter Panageas

“I think another value that the mentor-mentee relationship brings is that safe space. When you’re a young professional in a big organization, it’s a safe space to bounce ideas or questions that you have off of somebody that is there to support you and be a trusted relationship.” — Melinda Bryan

Episode Segment Breakdown

0:00 – 8:52: Crystal shares what mentorship means to her personally and how it’s helped advance her career.

8:53 – 14:10: Crystal discusses the role of mentorship within The Executive Leadership Council.

14.11 – 16:07: Crystal talks about the approach to internship and mentorship programs at Independence and the company’s plans for the future.

16:08 – 22:22: Melinda discusses her personal experience in the Independence internship and MATCH mentoring program.

22:23 – 26:36: Crystal gives insight into the value being a mentor has brought to her.

26:37 – 28:25: Melinda offers advice for interns entering the workforce this summer.

28:26 – 31:43: Peter, Melinda, and Crystal offer their closing thoughts.

Sources Mentioned

If you have a topic idea you would like us to cover in a future podcast episode, email us at

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Full Transcript

Episode 10 Transcript: Cultivating Purpose & Meaningful Relationships in Business

Peter Panageas (00:07):

If you’re looking for timely, relevant conversations about the most important topics in health coverage, you’ve come to the right pod. This is IBX: The Cover Story, from Independence Blue Cross, hosted by me, Peter Panageas. So, by day I oversee all of our national commercial business here at IBX. I’m also a caregiver and a patient. We always say that healthcare is personal and it is, so my guests and I are exploring how the big picture and the big issues affect our everyday lives and the wellbeing of those we all care about. Together, we’ve got this covered, so let’s get started.

Peter Panageas (00:45):

Hi, everybody. This is Peter Panageas, and welcome to episode 10 of IBX: The Cover Story. In this month’s episode, I’m going to be talking to my guests about the importance of mentorship and internship in business. Internships give young professionals the opportunity to have a hands-on experience working in the field that they’re studying. And mentorships help develop the next generation of leaders in our business. Mentorships also cultivate purpose and meaningful relationships, and provides a safe space for individuals to learn and grow, which is also important for our wellbeing.

Peter Panageas (01:17):

So, it’s a distinct honor to introduce you to today’s guests. First, we have Crystal Ashby. Crystal is Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer here at Independence. Crystal joined our organization last July and brings more than 30 years of corporate leadership to her new role. Her breadth of experience includes leading DE&I initiatives and building people-focused organizations. She most recently served as the first female interim president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council, which is a non-for-profit organization that supports inclusive leadership principles and the development and advancement of black executives.

Peter Panageas (01:55):

I’m also proud to invite Melinda Bryan, Marketing Solutions Consultant here at Independence. Melinda was a college intern at our company eight years ago, and is now a full-time associate supporting my team in our marketing efforts. Crystal, Melinda, thank you so much for being with us today.

Crystal Ashby (02:11):

Thanks for having us, Peter. I appreciate it.

Melinda Bryan (02:13):

Thanks, Peter. It’s good to be here.

Peter Panageas (02:15):

So, Crystal, let’s first discuss what mentorship means to you personally, and how it’s helped you advance in your career.

Crystal Ashby (02:21):

Peter, mentorship has been at the foundation of my career. I was fortunate enough to go through a program called Menttium 100, which was a program for women to be mentored by male or females outside of their organization, and I got one of my lifetime mentors from that. He happened to be the CIO of the Chicago Board of Trade, and I’ll share the significance to that relationship in just a second. But probably as it relates to my entire professional career, once I left private practice, the person who hired me at Amoco, who was my boss, subsequently became my mentor and I have always suspected, my sponsor, who is now a very dear friend, Steve Winters, who was my boss for many years.

Crystal Ashby (03:01):

He was my mentor in the organization as it related to learning to navigate Amoco and then BP. But more importantly, he had a belief in me and what I was capable of doing. And whenever he worked with me, and I reported to him directly off and on over the years, he was very specific with me regarding his knowing that I could do almost anything he would give to me to do. And that kind of respect for what I brought to the table, the skills that I had, the confidence that he gave me, helped me be able to step into rooms and be as confident in my own belief of myself as he was in his belief of me.

Crystal Ashby (03:36):

And it allowed me to advance, because the more comfortable I was with being able to engage with the executives in the organization, share in their business objectives and their deliverables, the better off I was as it related to the advancement in my career. But one story I would share with you, Bill Farrow, who was the CIO of the Chicago Board of Trade, became my mentor during my time in the Menttium program, it was Menttium 100. And what was very significant about that was he was an external mentor to my organization. And I’m a strong believer, having been through this, of having someone who mentors you internally and someone who mentors you externally, and bill really had no skin in the game other than, what was going to be best for Crystal and Crystal’s career?

Crystal Ashby (04:16):

And when I was making the decision about whether or not I was going to accept the position that had been offered to me in London, and I had initially turned it down, I called Bill and I said, “Oh, I just wanted to share with you, this is what’s going on, I turned the job down.” And he put me on hold and he told his assistant, he said, “Cancel my afternoon meeting. Crystal’s on her way down here, I need to talk to her.” And he got back on the phone, he said, “Get in your car and drive to my office now.” He said, “If you’ve got a meeting, cancel it.”

Crystal Ashby (04:39):

And I walked into his office and he said, “Now, explain to me, what about going to London you don’t understand is going to change your career?” And to be very honest, the career trajectory I had after my assignment in London made a total game changer in my career path. And so, he was looking at it through the lens of what is best for Crystal? When Steve talked to me about it, he too said it was a game changer, but he was also looking at it through the lens as an officer of the organization, what was best for Crystal, what was best for BP? And having mentors who come at it from both angles was so important and so critical to me and really a game changer in my development.

Peter Panageas (05:13):

Crystal, as part of that, I love the internal and external mentorship, and you touched on it a little bit relative to confidence, right? And providing that level of strength to you as you were going through your journey, that Steve and Bill provided to you. And I can recall, during my early days and some of the mentors who helped me and it shaped my career, the one attribute that I took away from it was that belief, their belief in me and saying, “You can do this. I see it. All right?” And whereas, I may not have seen it.

Peter Panageas (05:45):

And can you share with our audience a little bit about that level of what Steve, Bill, have done for you or did for you relative to the level of confidence? Because that, obviously going overseas into Europe and a big change and a big move like that, obviously, probably both from a professional and personal perspective, was probably a huge leap for you. Right? And so, as they spoke to you about that from a confidence perspective and a belief perspective, can you share with the audience what that meant to you?

Crystal Ashby (06:12):

So, I think I’ll pick up at the end where you were talking about the huge leap part. It was a huge leap. I never, ever, if you had asked me about my career, saw myself living internationally, taking an assignment someplace other than the US. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, practice in a firm, become a partner, but I didn’t see or have that vision for myself.

Crystal Ashby (06:32):

So, when Steve was talking about the opportunity, and he would talk about it from the place of what I would bring to the opportunity, which allowed me to understand how he saw my skillset, how he saw the attributes that I brought to the business, how he saw my confidence, how he saw my analytical skills, how he saw my engagement with others and my ability to be influential. You hear organizations talk about gravitas, how I was able to understand what the objectives were and look at, what are the best possible ways to get what’s done without saying no? Because we were a law department, I practiced law at the company at the time when I was reporting to him, we were a law department that didn’t say no, we said, “Not that way.”

Crystal Ashby (07:15):

So, how all of those skills, how he saw them. And oftentimes, we don’t see ourselves the way others see us, because we’re so in our head and we’re always thinking about our shortcomings. If you ask me to make a list of 10 things, I will probably give you three, but I’ll give you seven that don’t. As opposed to, “Here are the things I’m really, really good at.” I’m always thinking about, what are the things that would keep me from being successful at something? As opposed to, what are the things I bring to the table that will ensure success? And Steve’s confidence and in him constantly giving me opportunities and constantly pushing me to do the next thing, which may not have been in my wheelhouse, allowed me to cultivate and develop a confidence.

Crystal Ashby (07:54):

And Pete, to be very honest, it got to a place where he would give me an assignment and people would say to him, “So, what did she say about her next assignment?” He said, “She laughed and she just walked out the room.” Because I would just throw my hands up and say, “Okay, if you think I can, I’m going to go do it.” So, that was internally. And again, Bill looked at it from what he knew about me, what he knew about my desires and aspirations, what he knew from an external perspective, what does Crystal really want? How does Crystal want to make an impact? What does Crystal think she’s good at? And what does Crystal, from a developmental standpoint, believe she needs to do to achieve what she wants to achieve?

Crystal Ashby (08:26):

So, when those two came together in this moment, in that decision, it was really eyeopening for me, because the two perspectives folded in, in an opportunity that was undeniably something I should have gone to do. I mean, and I will tell anybody, having done it, if you ever have a chance for an international assignment, the answer is yes, you figure out everything else on the back end, but the answer is definitely yes.

Peter Panageas (08:50):

Thanks so much for that, Crystal. As I mentioned in our introduction, prior to joining Independence, Crystal, you served as the interim president and CEO of the Executive Leadership Council. Can you talk a little bit about the role mentorship played for you at ELC and what you’ve learned from that experience?

Crystal Ashby (09:07):

When you think about the nature of the Executive Leadership Council, which is an organization of some 800-plus senior executives, SVPs, EVPs, and C-suite executives, and board directors at companies Fortune 1000, 6500. When you think about the nature of that group of people, the organization is about their continuous success, their advancement, but it’s also about how do we ensure and bring the next generation along?

Crystal Ashby (09:36):

The Executive Leadership Council has an institute, which is about the learning. And it is a model that creates opportunities for people that are in mid-level management to go through training classes, but also to interact with and engage with these executives, because you sit back and you say, “Who do I want to be like?” Well, there are 800-plus people at ELC for you to engage with, for you to look at, for you to understand their career path.

Crystal Ashby (09:58):

And the ELC looks at it through both lenses. We’re looking at, who are the people that are already arrived and how do they give back? But also, who are the people that are in that pipeline, where they should continue to advance and get the opportunities? If you think about how many black people have actually held the CEO seats in companies, why isn’t the number larger? And it is an organization, first and foremost, the membership is black. How many black women have held those seats? Ursula Burns, well, Thasunda Duckett, and Roz Brewer, last year. Huge, huge excitement about that. So, how do we create the opportunities, change the landscape, and how do we build the talent pipeline underneath us to make sure we’re pulling them up, so that they have those opportunities and we continue this legacy going forward?

Peter Panageas (10:42):

Within ELC, and I know that we’ve had a few associates from Independence go through that in the past. And I know you mentioned there’s, I guess, around 800 members who are part of it. Can you tell us a little bit about ELC and the journey they’ve been on and the growth that they’ve experienced? From individuals, from Independence, who have gone through it, they’ve just come back and have raved about it and how impactful it was for them in their professional journey.

Crystal Ashby (11:06):

I think you have to think about the organization, the Executive Leadership Council’s been in existence … We just celebrated our 35 year anniversary last year. So, it’s been in existence for 35 years, but it came together 35 years ago when 19 black executives, all C-suite executives, but at different companies, came together and they didn’t come together for each other. They came together because one of the HBCUs was in trouble, the historically black colleges and universities, and they wanted to help that school. And they felt they had the resources that they could reach for that would be of help, which they were, and they did.

Crystal Ashby (11:40):

But in the course of that and the conversations they were having, they realized that they were having some very similar experiences, but they were the only ones in their companies. And so, there was no one to talk to about, “What’s the experience that I’m having. How am I going to get through this? Is this about me or is this just something about the company?” And so, they actually started to bond together. And if you think about it, 19 people versus where the organization has grown to now, which is 800-plus, it was a much smaller, much more intimate setting, where you could unpack everything that was going on in your day-to-day. And it pro probably started with work, but it led into the personal.

Crystal Ashby (12:14):

And so, they not only worked on issues that were work related, but they became friends. And so, they formed this organization and over the years it has grown. And in the last few years, it’s grown exponentially for the development, because what was the way that they could give back? They had already arrived. What was the way they could give back? They could develop people to come up behind them, because when they looked behind them, they were not seeing themselves.

Crystal Ashby (12:37):

So, you fast forward, and as the organization has grown and progressed … And I’ve been a member since 2012. And as I think you know, our CEO, Greg Deavens is also a member. We’ve done leadership roles in the organization. So, it creates an opportunity, I sat on the board, I did speaking engagements at mid-level managers. I had the opportunity to serve as the vice chair of the board, and then was very fortunate to be the interim president and CEO for a while. But it’s also a ground for development in an executive way. Sitting on our board is a learning ground for sitting on corporate boards, because while the ELC is a pure not-for-profit member organization, that board operates just like any other board. So, it’s a training ground.

Crystal Ashby (13:17):

We have relationships with NACD, which is a training ground for boards. So, there are lots of developmental opportunities. We start with mid-level managers. We have programs that are specific for women in corporate America, black women in corporate America. And it’s throughout the trajectory and course of your career. And the beauty is also, it’s an organization that is a cradle to grave organization. And by that, I mean, you join, you stay, as long as you pay your dues you’re a member, even if you leave the company that you were in or you stop altogether. And that wealth of knowledge with people who stay, is something that gets passed down to our members who are younger in their career trajectory. And it’s invaluable.

Peter Panageas (13:56):

Crystal, and it is an amazing story and the growth that the ELC has experienced over the last 35 years. And I would imagine, a lot of what you’ve taken from ELC, you’ll bring to us here at Independence. And knowing the foundation that our internship and mentorship program has established itself, can you do talk a little bit about the opportunities at Independence and our approach to many of those programs? And if you had a crystal ball, where do you see it going based off of where we are today?

Crystal Ashby (14:25):

So, as you know, I’m fairly new to the organization. So, these are things that I have learned since I’ve come in and we are constantly evaluating and looking at the opportunities to do better, do more, have a greater impact. But one of the things I really love about our program is that it’s very intentional and purposeful about what people need when it comes to our mentoring.

Crystal Ashby (14:46):

Our approach is based upon, what’s an opportunity that you’re trying to create? What’s something that you need to enhance? How do we help you develop and fix something that you are finding is keeping you from moving into something else that you want to do, or is preventing you from doing the role that you have right now, really well? So, we monitor the programs along the way, to make sure that people are getting exactly what they need. And we actually tweak the approaches if there are some problems there.

Crystal Ashby (15:12):

Fundamentally, we’re using our mentoring and internship programs to build the pipeline of talent for key entry roles when it comes to the internship, and for developmental opportunities when it comes to mentorship of our associate population. When I joined, in trying to understand, I think the program’s been in existence, it was implemented about six years ago, and we take the opportunity to match the particular expertise of the mentor to what the mentee is looking to gain, or what the mentee is looking to understand, or what the mentee needs to assist them in their development and growth. And it could be something as simple as, “I am really struggling at this in my job, and I can’t figure it out.” So, we look to help them resolve that, to enhance what they’re doing, so that it develops them and moves them to the next plateau. And then we go through a feedback process, so we help them through the short-term. What I love about it, it’s very intentional and purposeful. So, there’s definitely a reward at the end of a well done plan.

Peter Panageas (16:06):

Crystal, as you know, we have an associate with us here today in Melinda Bryan, who came through our program. And Melinda, thanks so much for being with us today. And as someone who’s gone through our Independence internship program a little bit over eight years ago now, and our Match mentorship program, talk to us a little bit about what your experience has been with both.

Melinda Bryan (16:24):

Yes. Thanks, Peter. So, as you had mentioned, I had joined Independence in 2014 as a college intern. And honestly, one of my most memorable experiences was the first day of the internship program. I think there was about 120 interns that summer, that were invited up to the 44th floor of our headquarters in Philadelphia. And the HR team that runs that program, gave a very comprehensive overview of the corporate culture at Independence, our mission, vision, values, and what we could expect for the summer.

Melinda Bryan (16:57):

Also, business leaders from different departments came up to introduce themselves, which personally made me feel that the interns at Independence were very valued. For leaders to take time out of their busy days to introduce themselves and educate us a little bit on what their departments do and the role play at Independence, was huge. Also, it was just a great opportunity to meet other interns and get to know one another, because of that first day, on the second day there were familiar faces in the hallway, which when starting at a new company was very comforting and was really great to experience.

Melinda Bryan (17:31):

The summer internship program itself is so great. I always joke that I’m a walking, talking billboard for the internship program at Independence. There were professional development courses that were offered on a weekly or a biweekly basis, resume writing, interview skills, where you got to practice interviewing with somebody. And really, it created a safe space to receive that constructive criticism that we need as young professionals.

Melinda Bryan (17:58):

There was also a group internship project where we were randomly placed into teams with other interns. And we were presented with an opportunity that the company was actually looking to achieve. And we were put into groups to come up with ideas. We were also given a mentor to bounce those ideas off of. That mentor made connections for us throughout the organization, so we could explore those ideas a little bit more, which was really great. And then at the end of the summer, we got to pitch the idea that we had, to a panel of judges, which was made up of Independence leadership. And it was a fun project. Unfortunately, my team did not win, but it was a great opportunity to work in a collaborative team environment and to be given something that meant a lot to the business itself.

Melinda Bryan (18:46):

And then just working with my team, my manager and the team members that I had, I could really tell that the company took time to make sure that we had meaningful work that meant something on our resumes and made a difference within the organization. So, that was also very great to experience.

Peter Panageas (19:05):

Melinda, I’ve watched you develop over the last eight years as you’ve been part of our organization and certainly the contributions you’ve personally made to my team and the clients that we serve and the consultants that we serve every day. For our audience, I would tell you, just this podcast alone, that this is Melinda Bryan, right? This is her vision. This was her idea. This was her orchestrating and architecturally driving this on behalf of Independence.

Peter Panageas (19:31):

And I’ll tell you, Melinda, I’ve watched our intern programs year over year, and I’ll tell you, I give a lot of credit to Independence for the incredible foundation it’s built upon, the commitment from our executive staff and our executive team. And as you articulated, being part of that and working with our interns and our programs, being part of those contests has really allowed us the opportunity to bring on some incredible talent. You being one of them.

Peter Panageas (19:57):

Some are on my team today who continue to demonstrate leadership capabilities and skills that are going to take us to the next level. And I think that’s an incredible attribute to the leadership at Independence, but certainly, and more importantly, the incredible talent that we’ve been able to recruit in and, Melinda, you certainly being one of them.

Peter Panageas (20:16):

So, Crystal, if I could pivot back over to you for a moment, as an executive here, talk to us and discuss what it means to you to be a mentor and the value … And I know we talked a little bit about it earlier, what it means to you personally and professionally, but for you being a mentor now, right? And you taking all the great things that Bill and Steve shared with you and helped you in your journey, and you do that for others. What does that mean to you?

Crystal Ashby (20:41):

So, first of all, Peter, I hope you don’t mind, I do just want to comment on what Melinda said. First of all, this podcast is extraordinary, so thank you for creating it for us. But also, I think that Melinda, what her story shows is so important about internship. It’s a two-way street. Internship is this young person, because when they come to us they are early in their careers and early in their development. But it’s them looking at, what’s the opportunity that we’re putting on the table? And whether or not that’s how they want to spend their time and is that what they want to do?

Crystal Ashby (21:09):

But it’s also an opportunity for us to show our very best. When she was talking about her first day, it was for me, so impressive that we showed up the way we always show up, as the people she’d want to meet, as the people she’d want to work with every day, and as the people she would want to join. So, I think the process of an internship can turn an idea in a young person, in their careers, it can turn that idea in their mind into the reality for them.

Crystal Ashby (21:32):

And then when they land, and this goes to the question you asked me about mentorship, mentorship in an organization … And there’s a couple of prongs in how I think about it. When people come to an organization, they need to understand the business that they are in and what their accountability is to the organization. Sometimes in the process of doing what you do every day, you don’t necessarily understand how you connect in and therefore, what the relevance or importance of you and what you do is to the organization.

Crystal Ashby (22:00):

Having a mentor in the organization that can help you figure out how you trial through what it means to start someplace, is very important. And that’s one of the things that mentoring means in an organization. It helps people navigate the existence that you have on a day-to-day basis in the organization. And so for me, the value that each of us, as leaders in the organization, and so many … You might talk about our roles and titles, but really everybody’s a leader in the organization. So, everybody has the opportunity to mentor someone, because as long as you have knowledge about Independence, you have something to share and to give.

Crystal Ashby (22:37):

And so, I look at it from the perspective that everyone has that opportunity. And I often say to people, “The value of mentoring, and there’s a twofold, mentoring is a process. I think the mentee own that process. I think they connect with someone.” And I can’t get in your head and decide what you need or what you’re struggling with, or what you want to know, or what I can be helpful on. So, the mentee has to be open and willing to share, so I can actually be a part of that journey, so that we in the organization can help you go through, or not just to help, but be a bolster for you or be a support for you as you’re navigating your career here.

Crystal Ashby (23:15):

But what I will also say, as executives in organizations, as leaders in organizations, as mentors, the value that comes back is that, to be honest with you, everyone I’ve ever mentored, I’ve gotten more out of that relationship than I think they have, because they challenge me to think differently. They challenge me to not say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” They open my mind to how they perceive something, because they’re coming in new with fresh eyes. So, the value of a mentor, mentoring relationship to the organization is that constant innovation and that constant growth, while helping someone become a part of the culture of the organization in the process.

Peter Panageas (23:55):

Well, Crystal, I’m smiling here because I couldn’t agree with you more. And again, it’s a testament to Melinda. When Melinda pitched this idea to me and a few others just about, I don’t know, Melinda, it was a year or so ago, right? When we started on this journey. I wasn’t even thinking along those lines of doing something like this. And it was really Melinda making me and making us think a little bit differently than the way we’ve approaching these sorts of things.

Peter Panageas (24:19):

So, I couldn’t agree with you more, right? Many, many instances that we as mentors get a heck of a lot more out from our mentees. And Melinda is certainly living proof of that. So, Melinda, let me pivot back over to you for a moment. And I think many of our listers would love to get your advice. If you’re going to give a college student who’s getting ready to start their internship programs, what advice would you give them?

Melinda Bryan (24:43):

One of the biggest pieces of advice I could give a college intern about to start their internship program for the summer is, don’t be afraid to make your own opportunities. If you find yourself with some free time, ask your manager or your team members if you can join them in a scheduled meeting that they have in their calendars, to either be a note taker, or just to be an extra set of ears for listening for deliverables in that meeting.

Melinda Bryan (25:06):

One of the stories I always tell is, I was invited to attend a meeting that was around the creation of our newsletter called Independence Edge, which gets distributed to our consultant and broker partners, as well as the employers that offer our health insurance to their employees. And really, my role in that meeting was to take notes and take back what our next steps were and what deliverables we needed to come back to the team with, to make that newsletter possible.

Melinda Bryan (25:34):

And I remember one of the items was to build an editorial calendar and I found myself the next day with some free time, so I took a stab at making that editorial calendar. I think, as an intern we don’t realize how much those little tasks mean to somebody when you can take them off their list. Giving someone something to react to rather than having them create something from scratch is a lot more meaningful than I think interns realize. And once our team provided feedback on that editorial calendar, it looked nothing like what I had started with, but it did get the ball rolling. It started that process and I was actually brought in to help with the creation of that newsletter that we still have today.

Peter Panageas (26:17):

Incredible. So, Crystal, Melinda, as I do with all of our guests at the conclusion of our podcast, I’ll always ask our guests if there’s any one or two things that you’d like to close for our listeners, what would that one or two things be? So, Melinda, how about we start with you?

Melinda Bryan (26:38):

Yeah, sure, Peter. So, one thing that I want to add is, when I was in college I was on LinkedIn one day and I saw something that really resonated with me. It was a graphic that said, “For your first job, don’t pick a job, pick a manager.” And I used that advice when I was doing my interview process for internships and full-time positions when I was out of college.

Melinda Bryan (27:02):

And, Crystal, I think you had touched on this earlier, your first manager gave you opportunities that were outside of your wheelhouse. I don’t think you see yourself the way that sometimes others see you. And my first manager, who is still my manager today, Karen Burnham, I think she gives me opportunities that are sometimes, I feel that are outside of my wheelhouse, but have really helped me grown professionally and have made me who I am today. So, that’s one closing thought that I have.

Peter Panageas (27:33):


Crystal Ashby (27:34):

Melinda, I really like the fact that you took that away from your experience with her and that you recognize that she’s doing that with you. I think I would strongly suggest, when it comes to finding your mentors the one thing I think I would want to talk about just before we close, when you’re walking around an organization or when you’re talking to someone on a Zoom call, or you’re experiencing people, you might have a few aha moments when someone’s talking and, “I really like that person’s style.” Or, “I really like how that person occurs.” Or, “I really like the way that person handled that situation with somebody else or with you.”

Crystal Ashby (28:06):

And what I would strongly suggest is, don’t be afraid to reach out to that person and just do a get to know you session. Schedule 30 minutes over coffee, have a conversation. You’d be surprised where a mentoring relationship might crop up. And I think conversely, as leaders and executives in the organization, as you’re connecting with our new talent, think about the fact that when you started, did somebody reach out to you and say, “Hey, do you have any questions?” Take the time to ask the, “What can we do?”

Crystal Ashby (28:34):

Independence is a big place, especially when you first start. And I can say this, I’m only seven months in and I’m pretty seasoned, but Independence is a big place when you’re trying to find your way. So, take a moment and pause and ask the question, “Do you have any questions? Is there something you need to talk about? How are you doing? What can we do for you?” And you’ll be surprised where some of the most rewarding relationships might crop up out of those simple questions.

Peter Panageas (29:02):

Crystal, Melinda, thank you both so much for joining us today and sharing your personal mentorship and internship experiences.

Crystal Ashby (29:08):

Thanks for having us.

Melinda Bryan (29:09):

Thanks, Peter.

Peter Panageas (29:10):

And to our listeners, thank you. I hope you’ve enjoyed our discussion today. And please do us a favor and check out the show notes, for more information at That’s Thanks again for being with us today and we’ll talk soon.

Peter Panageas (29:38):

So, Melinda, as someone who’s gone through our internship program, can you share with our audience exactly what it’s meant to you?

Melinda Bryan (29:45):

Sure. So, to switch gears, fast forward seven years, I applied to our Match mentoring program. As Crystal had mentioned, the company does do a really great job trying to match the goals of the mentee to the mentor that they’re assigned. And that’s done through an application process that the mentee is asked to fill out prior to being matched with their mentor.

Melinda Bryan (30:07):

And the program itself lasts about six months, where a mentor and a mentee meet once monthly. One thing that I think is great about the mentoring program is that it gives you the opportunity to meet somebody within the company that you may have never worked with before. And then that person has their own network of colleagues that they can introduce you to, which I think is great for building your internal network.

Melinda Bryan (30:29):

I think another value that the mentor-mentee relationship brings is that safe space. When you’re a young professional in a big organization, it’s a safe space to bounce ideas or questions that you have, off of somebody that is there to support you and be a trusted relationship. So, I think that’s another value that our mentorship program brings to our organization. Mentees are matched with mentors, where they are able to explore their ideas, explore where they want to be in their career. And having that safe space can make all the difference.

Peter Panageas (31:04):

Melinda, you bring up such a great point, because entering the workspace today, after graduating college, was a heck of a lot different than when I was entering the workspace at 20, 21, 22 years old. Right? And not only from a professional perspective, but also from a social perspective, a lot of the realities that are facing in the marketplace today, even in society, and I think where you’re going with this is so relevant, right? Having that partnership, having that mentor-mentee relationship is so critical.

Peter Panageas (31:32):

And I’ll tell you, Melinda, you’re actually teaching me something here, right? That I’ve got to be really, really conscious as I’m bringing on and I’m being assigned new mentees, and really trying to create that safe zone to allow our mentees the opportunity to feel safe and come to us and share different and unique ideas. And you’ve had the benefit of an incredible mentor in Karen Burnham. And as you had said earlier, giving you that opportunity to think outside your wheelhouse every day, but equally that balance. And I think what you’re trying to articulate here is that balance of being able to do that for a mentee today and in a safe environment, that they feel comfortable and safe approaching somebody in an executive level position. Is that a fair statement?

Melinda Bryan (32:14):

Yes, absolutely.


Peter S. Panageas

Peter Panageas is senior vice president and market president — national for Independence Blue Cross. In this role, Mr. Panageas has profit-and-loss responsibilities focused on new business and retention for all groups 1,000+, including Large Local, National, Health & Welfare, Education, and FEP. Mr. Panageas joined independence as vice president of Sales in 2010. During his tenure with the company, he has implemented significant changes to the sales incentive program and improved the membership reporting capabilities to increase sales force effectiveness. Mr. Panageas is a respected client relationship leader with recognized expertise in new business creation, client relationship management, and innovative client solutions. Mr. Panageas received a bachelor of science degree from Rutgers University.