John Crawford: Looking out for others

John Crawford, interim president and CEO, former CFO, Pacific Blue Cross | Chung Chow

John Crawford’s long journey to winning a 2018 BC CFO Award in the lifetime achievement category began almost 40 years ago and several thousand miles from British Columbia.

The native of a small village on the west coast of Scotland, Crawford emigrated to Canada in 1979, 18 days after he had obtained his professional designation from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland – “the world’s first professional body of accountants,” Crawford said. “It received its royal charter in 1854.”

After stepping off the plane in Canada, Crawford made his way to Prince George and an accounting job in the logging industry.

“I had an uncle who lived in Seattle and I thought Prince George was nearby,” he said. “But when it hit 40 below in the winter, I realized I’d been misinformed.”

Despite the unpleasant climatic surprise, Crawford decided to stay in Canada. He got married, and he and his wife began to raise a family, settling into life in northern B.C.

In 1987, Crawford and his family moved to Vancouver, where he took a job with the Medical Services Association (MSA), one of the predecessors of Pacific Blue Cross.

“As controller of MSA, I took part in the merger talks between it and CU&C [Credit Union & Cooperative Health Services Society],” Crawford said. “In the course of the negotiations, I became familiar with a Vancouver delicacy that I hadn’t encountered in Scotland – sushi. There was a sushi restaurant halfway between MSA and CU&C, and that’s where most of our meetings took place.”

In 1997, the two companies merged to become Pacific Blue Cross (PBC), and Crawford became CFO of the new entity. 

In November 2017, he became interim president and CEO of the company.

Crawford says running a company the size of PBC, which has 750 employees, can have its challenges.

“Pacific Blue Cross is an intermediary between its client companies and the employees of their clients,” he said. “In the course of a year, we put through a tremendous volume of health and dental claims – millions of them – most of which have small dollar values.”

PBC’s clients want fast and accurate processing of their claims.

“Everybody’s expectations need to be met,” Crawford said. “We have a call centre to deal with the claims and it handles just under one million phone calls and emails per year.”

Crawford says PBC has grown “tremendously” in the 21 years of its existence. 

“Our health and dental product list has grown quickly,” he said. “There are regulatory changes that need to be satisfied in connection with them and we have only a short time to deal with them. It gives us much added work to do, but with no business benefit.”

Crawford said he is dedicated to the best interests of others, including members of the accounting profession in which he has spent his working life.

“Looking out for others is part of my DNA,” he said. “I have always believed in doing the right thing, being open and transparent and looking out for the organization, our employees and our clients.”

Hugh Notman, managing director of Vancouver-based CCC Investment Banking and one of the BC CFO Awards judges, said Crawford stood out as “an amazing candidate.”

“Not only has he helped to lead the growth and success of Pacific Blue Cross, he has also given generously of his time to many industry associations and community organizations.”

Sarah Hoffman, CEO of Healthcare Benefit Trust in Vancouver, said she is glad Crawford is receiving the award.

“John is pragmatic, a good listener and always very responsive,” Hoffman said. “He has been our go-to guy when we want to make sure we’re getting the best pricing possible for the benefits we provide.”

Arthur Chung, CEO of the British Columbia Construction Association Employee Benefit Trust, said Crawford has exemplified the highest standards and ethics throughout his career.

“John and I have worked together for more than 20 years,” Chung said. “I have been his employee, his colleague, his peer, and I have been mentored by him.”

Chung said Crawford is “an understated guy, but he knows so much about the benefits industry.”

“He’s always accessible and he’s very generous with his time,” he said. “He has chaired numerous industry committees and his contributions have elevated the industry.” 

Business in Vancouver and the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia will honour the province’s top CFOs at the BC CFO Awards gala dinner, being held June 7 at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For more information or to register, go to biv.com/bc-cfo-awards.