Blue Cross names Cole chairman Byron, Altobello join the board

January 27, 1995|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Sun Staff Writer

J. Owen Cole, former president and chairman of First National Bank of Maryland, was named chairman yesterday of the board of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland.

Mr. Cole has been on the Blue Cross board for six often-tumultuous years. The company flirted with insolvency in the late 1980s and early 1990s under its former president, Carl J. Sardegna.

The company also announced two new members: Beverly B. Byron, a Democratic former U.S. representative, and Daniel Altobello, who is chairman, president and chief executive of Caterair International.

Mr. Cole replaces Frank A. Gunther Jr., chairman since 1992 and a board member since 1979. Mrs. Byron and Mr. Altobello fill two of three openings created by the mandatory retirements, also announced yesterday, of board members Richard E. Hug, George L. Russell Jr. and Dr. John F. Strahan.

Charles W. Shivery, a board member since 1993, was named vice-chairman. He is vice president and chief financial officer of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

The board changes occur at a time of rapid change at the company, the state's largest health insurer with 1.4 million subscribers. Although Blue Cross' financial health has improved significantly in the past two years, the company's long-term health is in question, according to William L. Jews, who became president and chief executive in 1993.

An ambitious corporate reorganization plan -- which would have created a new for-profit subsidiary and enabled the company to sell stock -- was rejected Monday by the state insurance commissioner.

The board changes were required by state law and Blue Cross guidelines limiting time members serve.

The naming of Mr. Cole puts another well-known business leader in the chairman's post. Mrs. Byron, an eight-term Western Maryland congresswoman defeated in 1992, and Mr. Altobello, whose company is based in Montgomery County, give Blue Cross' board more representation in areas of the state where the insurer hopes to expand.

Mr. Cole is a friend and confidant of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who named him in 1993 to a nine-member advisory commission for Baltimore-Washington International Airport. He accompanied Mr. Schaefer in 1993 on a two-week trip to Europe to explore new trade opportunities for Maryland firms.

Mr. Altobello's company produces meals for airlines. He also is a former executive vice president of Marriott Corp. Mrs. Byron is the founder of Byron, Butcher & Associates, a public affairs consulting firm.

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