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Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 30, 201012:00 PM EST

Availity: from scratch to 300 employees and 700 million transactions

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by Karen Brune Mathis

Managing Editor

Julie Klapstein is CEO of a 300-employee company that is a joint venture of five organizations and operates nationally.

It didn’t start out that way.

Klapstein was recruited to build the organization, Jacksonville-based Availity LLC, when it was formed in 2001. The health information network now processes more than 700 million transactions a year, connecting hospitals, physicians’ offices and vendors with health insurance companies and other providers.

When medical professionals have a question about a patient’s health insurance status, they can access it immediately through an Availity portal online rather than call the insurance providers separately and directly.

Its motto is “Patients. Not paperwork.”

Monday, Klapstein shared her story with more than 60 members of Women Business Owners of North Florida.

Her message to WBO, which is dominated by small businesses and many one-person shops, was that passion and values are key to the success of any size business.

“It is important that we have passion,” said Klapstein. “If you are not passionate as a leader, your people won’t be passionate.”

She also talked about Availity’s core values, applicable to any business owner: Speed, accountability and trust.

Speed with quality, however, she said.

Availity is a joint venture of five companies: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Humana Inc., Health Care Service Corp., WellPoint and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota.

Klapstein outlined challenges in joint ventures:

• Balancing the joint venture partners in their roles as customers and owners.

• Speed and flexibility vs. processes and procedures. As companies and ventures grow, the need increases for processes as opposed to the quick responses possible by small businesses.

• Communications, internal and external, about the company’s progress and status. Klapstein stays in close touch with the partners and her board members as well as staff. “We have monthly all-employee meetings and I share everything,” she said.

• The right people in the right job. She said that it is important to put the right people in their jobs, but it’s also important “knowing when they no longer fit the culture.” Some people prefer to join small companies and help them grow but don’t want to stay in a larger company with more structure.

Klapstein said that much has been working well: Trust among board members, who are competitors; focus on measurements and scorecards; pricing models; the financials; compensation; management of different cultures; its staff of human resources, financial and legal experts; its willingness to expand; and its visibility.

Difficulties and challenges are national expansion; mergers; balancing product requirements; bringing owners onto the same page operationally; aligning middle management; aligning an exit strategy; expanding rapidly but with quality; hiring, retaining and motivating employees; and continuous communications.

Availity has six goals, Klapstein said. Those are expanding through organic growth and by acquisition; exploring alternative business models; doubling revenue in the next three years; innovating with mobile devices and other tools; continuing to be recognized as a world-class employer; and reaching one billion transactions.

And, with all of it, “align everything.”

[email protected]

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