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Former Blues CEO Unhjem back in business as consultant

Mike Unhjem

For the record, Mike Unhjem never left Fargo.

The ousted president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota said many people thought he moved away a year ago when a Florida-based health management firm announced his election to its board.

But Unhjem is still here, and he's back in business.

The consulting company he launched last October, Unhjem & Associates LLC, has five clients in three states: Illinois, New York and North Dakota, he said.

The Fargo Moorhead Chamber of Commerce welcomed Unhjem's new company as a member in its newsletter this week.

Unhjem served as president and CEO of the North Dakota Blues for 18 years before he was dismissed on March 9, 2009, amid public furor over a sales reward trip to a luxury resort in the Grand Cayman Islands.

He received a $2.2 million severance package.

In his new business, Unhjem said he hasn't noticed any negative effects from his mode of departure from the Blues.

"I just think that these things happen in business, and that my record, the record of growth at the company, and the positive years that we had speak for themselves," he said. "And that's what people have focused on as I've launched my business."

At 56 years old, Unhjem said he was too young to retire, and consulting seemed like a natural first step after the Blues.

"I guess I could say this tongue-in-cheek, but it seems to be what most semi-retired and/or dis­placed corporate ex­ec­utives look to," he said. "At the same time, I am also exploring em­ployment options. ... I've been approached by a couple of executive search firms and have got contacts out with a couple more."

Unhjem & Associates isn't limited to consulting in the health care industry, although a majority of his clients so far have a health care connection, he said.

Unhjem said he's doing business development for a couple of firms that want to do more business with health insurance com­panies. His client list also includes two health care providers and a sales company that grew quickly and needs help getting its processes and procedures in line, he said.

Upp Technology, a provider of information technology consulting services and software solutions for the health care industry, announced a strategic partnership with Unhjem & Associates in May.

Based in Downers Grove, Ill., the company stated in a news release that the alliance will "bring greater visibility to its innovative health care technology consulting solutions."

"We are excited to work with Mike Unhjem as he shares the same values that Upp holds including honesty, loyalty and a commitment to developing mutually beneficial, long-term relationships," Vice President Scott Upp Jr. stated in the release.

Unhjem operates his consulting business from his south Fargo home with a part-time administrative assistant.

He said the under­standing of the health care industry he gained during his 23 years with the Blues gave him a "pretty good handle on not only the big picture, but a lot of the nuances in the health care dilemma that we're facing in this country."

"Clearly, overseeing a company with at one point 2,500 employees and multiple offices in several states ... dealing with management issues, corporate finance issues, regulatory issues, legal issues, I think I also have a pretty good handle on just general management and executive leadership kinds of issues," he said.

Unhjem said he expects the need for consulting services to pick up as the health care reform measures passed by Congress in March begin to take effect.

"I think it will start to become busier now," he said.