When Bruce Caswell first stepped into the government consulting arena in 1990, he was able to draw from his educational background in economics and public policy to pursue what would eventually become a common thread throughout his career: work on government programs from a private sector perspective.
“I chose that area because it enabled me to pursue my passion for public policy while at the same time allowing me to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives through the transformation of government programs,” the MAXIMUS CEO told WashingtonExec.
Caswell has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Haverford College in Pennsylvania, and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. And as Caswell put it, his educational background fed into his interest in government contracting.
After his graduate studies, Caswell joined Pricewaterhouse in 1990. The Kennedy School’s curriculum readily prepared him for the type of consulting work he would eventually be doing with PwC. The job allowed him to work on the real-life issues that had caught his interest in school, from an academic and theoretical sense
“When I first joined Pricewaterhouse, they didn’t have any new consulting work lined up that I could step right into, so they sent me over to the audit and accounting side of the business,” Caswell said. He started working on internal control review for the Housing and Urban Development Department.
“It was quite a place to start your government contracting career,” Caswell added, but an important experience to see what it was really like at the ground level, as an entry-level auditor looking at complicated mortgage insurance programs operated by HUD.
Also, during that period, states began to implement electronic benefit transfer — the conversion from paper-based food stamp and check distribution systems to the commercial payment infrastructure. Pricewaterhouse joined other firms in assisting governments with that task, which Caswell describes as being at the nexus of public policy, legislative change, technology and program operations for a beneficiary population that very much needed the benefits.
“For me, that was a great way to learn about the vulnerable populations and programs that we still serve today here at MAXIMUS,” Caswell said.
But ultimately, Caswell has always been interested in the mechanics and challenges of solving complex problems facing governments.
“I’ve always had a keen interest in the application of technology to improve business processes and have been decidedly public sector-focused in my interests, while believing in the important role the private sector can play in that process, ” he said.
A Trio of Career Stages
Caswell said his government contracting career can be described in three distinct phases.
The first was his consulting work with PwC for about five years.
The second phase was systems integration, application development and IT infrastructure management defined by Caswell’s nearly 10 years with IBM, where he later served as vice president of public sector for state and local government for IBM’s business consulting services.
In fact, along with his economics and public policy background, his experience at IBM granted Caswell “just enough technology [experience] to be dangerous.” He visited research labs and saw the future technologies IBM was working on.
“I had to learn a great deal about technology in a short period of time to be effective in my role. I felt fortunate to work with so many colleagues who had distinguished careers in technology and government contracting. Many days, I felt like I was proverbially just a couple of chapters ahead of the class in the book,” Caswell explained.
And at IBM, Caswell was fortunate enough to work with people like Anne Altman, a retired general manager of IBM’s U.S federal government and industries who now serves on MAXIMUS’ board of directors.
“She exemplified the very best of IBM during that time,” Caswell said. “Her leadership in federal is legendary and she had the ability to bring together — time and again — the full capabilities of the company over important, mission critical programs for government.”
While the work at IBM was intense and rewarding, “I still felt, though, that everything we were doing was just one degree of separation away from the final beneficiary, the people that really needed the services,” Caswell said.
He loved working at IBM and had no intentions of leaving. But when the phone rang and the opportunity to join MAXIMUS came, he realized the work he could do every day would fulfill that last mile.
“It’s that connection to the citizen,” Caswell said. “And that really inspired me and enabled me to address that missing portion of my career.”
Reaching the Last Mile
Caswell has been with MAXIMUS for nearly 15 years, serving as president and general manager of health services in 2004, president in 2014 and becoming CEO in April 2018.
And it’s that last mile that allows the nearly 35,000 employees at MAXIMUS to reach the citizens they serve and connect with every day, in person, over the phone or through digital channels, to help them complete complicated transactions and navigate social safety-net programs.
“Whether that’s getting access to health benefits through application assistance for programs like Medicaid, the federal marketplace, or state-based exchanges, or navigating complicated Medicare appeals,” Caswell noted.
“It’s that last-mile connection . . . to the consumer where you have an opportunity to really understand the issues that they’re facing and make a difference in their lives,” he added. “What is really exciting now is how MAXIMUS is transforming the experience with the intersection of traditional customer service tools and new digital enhancements. Not only have we improved the user experience, but we are bringing significant efficiencies to programs through machine learning, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence.”
And his economic and public policy background gives him a unique perspective into the ins and outs of certain impactful legislation or health programs, such as the Affordable Care Act, and find the areas of opportunities for MAXIMUS.
“We often say that we don’t make public policy, but we take policy and translate it into operating models that achieve the desired outcomes for our clients,” Caswell explained.
And at a micro level, seeing the difference MAXIMUS can make in people’s lives continues to motivate Caswell.
“It’s amazing when you spend time in our citizen engagement centers listening to our employees — and from time to time customer calls — understanding how individuals navigate these programs and get access to benefits for their families that will make a big difference in their lives. It is very motivating,” he said.
And there are clear motivators at the macro level, too.
“We’ve got an aging population globally and governments are facing tight budget constraints. Clear issues arise related to equity and impartiality as it relates to merit-based benefit determinations. Being independent and conflict free, transparent, innovative and customer-centric are critical success factors for us,” Caswell said.
For Caswell, it’s important to offer solutions that aren’t just technology driven but lead with the outcome you’re trying to achieve for a certain population.
“Let’s look at the problem, decompose the business process, optimize the process and then apply the technology,” he added.
Ultimately, it’s attacking the very complicated citizen needs in an environment where there is constrained spending, but the ability to bring great innovation to the table. That’s what inspires him.
How To Be A Leader, CEO
Caswell never explicitly set out to become a CEO, but being in the right place at the right time with the right skillset and extra initiative helped get him there — and having the right people around him kept him moving forward.
Thanks to modeling behaviors from a few respected leaders, Caswell follows several learned leadership traits.
The first is to treat everyone with respect in every interaction — listening well, engaging and interacting.
“I’ve tried, for example, to stop bringing my phone into meetings. It’s tough, but I’m getting there,” Caswell said.
The second is to communicate the vision and objectives clearly throughout the organization, hiring great people, giving them what they need to succeed and then “getting the heck out of their way,” Caswell added.
And the third is to communicate clearly and transparently with people to establish trust. This included outlining his vision of increasing MAXIMUS clinically-related services, executing on digital transformation capabilities and expanding into new markets. Through various communications channels, Caswell routinely provides updates to these initiatives to keep the organization informed.
“I try to make sure that I’m always being forthright and transparent and clear, whether about the status of a certain portion of the business, or a project, or somebody’s performance, because people really want to know where they stand. This includes positive feedback and unfavorable news,” he said.
And Caswell uses these traits he has gathered from leaders along the way to take MAXIMUS into the future. As CEO, he’s in a unique position to be the custodian or caretaker of what he refers to as a “phenomenal brand.”
“We try very hard to ensure that we’re focused on quality and improving the citizen journey. As part of my vision as CEO, we are implementing a long-term digital transformation strategy that supports an improved experience for citizens who access and utilize government programs,” Caswell said.
“Partnering, executing extremely well, delivering continuous improvements for our government clients and meeting or exceeding our contractual obligations — these collectively lead to profitability. And if you’re a profitable company you can invest in growth.”
The Last 50 Miles
When he’s not driving that last mile of citizen connectivity at work — or spending time with his family — Caswell can most likely be found adding miles to his heavy running routine.
So far, Caswell has run 30 full marathons, eight 50-milers and has added a 100-mile race to his bucket list to simply “see what the experience is like,” as he put it.
Caswell did say moving up in an organization relies on one’s ability to scale and multiply impact very quickly. Perhaps this way of thinking can just as easily be applied to the trails as it is to career ambition.