Alumnus credits his graduate years at OSU for decades of achievement
Growing up in the 1970s outside Boston, Brian LeClaire was raised by education-focused parents who instilled a strong work ethic in their three sons. Dad Leo LeClaire was an electrical engineering major who went to college on the GI Bill after enlisting in the Marines after high school. Mother Barbara was a nurse. From an early age, LeClaire said, the importance of education was emphasized in the household.
“I also liked to have fun, so I played football and baseball in high school and probably had a little bit too much fun,” he said. “I struggled to do well in school, preferring to do better on the field than in the classroom.”
The way LeClaire explains it, the “A” he received in a typing class his senior year allowed him to graduate from high school.
One wonders how his life would have gone if he hadn’t learned how to quickly type, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” flawlessly on an IBM Selectric typewriter back in 1978.
A sampling of his accomplishments tells of his success since:
- Earned three degrees, including a bachelor’s in psychology, an MBA with an emphasis in accounting and a doctorate in management information systems.
- Taught information technology concepts and techniques at graduate levels for several years.
- Served in various senior leadership roles across a 21-year career at Humana, a health and well-being company, including as senior vice president and chief information/ services officer, overseeing a $2 billion budget and more than 15,000 employees.
- Innovated and served as a founding board member of Availity, which today operates the largest real-time information network in health care, connecting over a million providers, health plans and their technology partners.
These feats are pretty impressive for someone whose education was hanging in the balance before that typing class. He first graduated from Ripon College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. LeClaire became certified to teach students who had learning disabilities in kindergarten through eighth grade. He also prepared to become a school or clinical psychologist. Instead, he decided to pursue his MBA, feeling an overriding desire to use his education to ensure he had multiple options in his career, with an ultimate goal of obtaining a doctorate.
“One of the big themes for me is around optionality,” he said. “I believe you should have a focus in life. What’s your objective? What drives you? You need passion, but you should have optionality, too. Ideally, passion drives career. Education and experience create optionality. But it all starts with curiosity and a goal.”
After graduating from Ripon in 1982, he used his college graduation gift money to purchase a Timex Sinclair 1000 computer with 4k of memory and began to teach himself about its internal workings and how to program it. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh that fall.
“I had a passion for technology, a natural curiosity, and I did a lot of self-learning, which I still do to this day. I also helped my professors back then by developing VisiCalc spreadsheets for their accounting clients on early IBM PCs,” said LeClaire, who earned his MBA with an accounting emphasis in 1984.
But LeClaire’s desire to pursue a doctorate still pulled him. His search for doctoral programs in management information systems found only three in the United States — at the University of Indiana, University of Minnesota and Oklahoma State University. He applied to Indiana and OSU and was accepted to both.
“It was a conversation with Wayne Meinhart (head of OSU’s Department of Management — Management Science and Information Systems) that caused me to say that’s the place I want to go,” he said. “He was extremely receptive. He was very inviting, very accommodating. He spent time, in essence, recruiting me. He invested in me.”
Today, more than 35 years later, LeClaire calls his time at OSU a life-changing experience.
That’s where he met Dr. Ramesh Sharda, who was then a relatively junior associate professor but who is now vice dean for graduate programs and research at Spears Business, and the two developed not only mutual admiration but also a friendship.
“Like Brian, I have always had a penchant for learning about new technologies,” Sharda said. “Soon after getting tenure, I started teaching a doctoral seminar in advanced topics in management information systems. Brian took that class and did extremely well.
“When it was time for him to work on his dissertation, he asked me to be his advisor. He was interested in an emerging (then) topic, objectoriented programming. We learned a lot through this project, and it set a foundation for Brian’s continued zeal for new technologies that has led him to have such a stellar career. I am so proud of everything Brian has been able to achieve.”
LeClaire spent five years at OSU, earning his Ph.D. in management information systems with a quantitative emphasis and doctoral minor in computer science. He accepted a position as an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee upon graduating in 1989, where he taught graduate-level courses. He liked teaching but found he enjoyed applying technology in the business world. “I felt like I had found the sweet spot, and I could take what I’d learned and make a difference in people’s lives in a practical way. Who wouldn’t want that?”
Eventually, LeClaire left academia for the business world, where he worked for Prudential Insurance (1993-96) and Alltel Information Systems (1996-99) before being hired as vice president in Humana’s information technology organization. He was eventually promoted to chief information officer, chief information/services officer and finally to senior vice president and chief information officer in 2014. After two decades with Humana, LeClaire retired last December.
“My technology-based core learnings and experiences navigating higher-stakes organizational dynamics all came during my time at Oklahoma State,” LeClaire said. “They’ve served as a solid foundation for the career I’ve had. My intellectual intelligence was challenged and grew, coming through the technology, quantitative analysis and computer science experiences I had while there. But also, the organizational dynamics and coaching I received helped me learn to navigate large organizations and their dynamics.”
The LeClaires — Brian and his wife, Beth, a Ponca City, Oklahoma, native whom he met in what was then known as the College of Business Administration at OSU — recently found a way to give back to Oklahoma State. Through a gift to the OSU Foundation’s Brighter Orange, Brighter Future campaign, the couple established two technology-based scholarships for women at OSU.
“Beth and I had discussed giving back to OSU many times. It was only a matter of when and how to do so,” he said. “Eventually we decided that setting up an endowed scholarship was the best thing to do. It was clear to me from my experiences in the field of technology, both in academia and industry, that it is diversity-challenged, perhaps, especially for women.
“Opportunities may be abundant, yet it seems it’s also about investing in individuals who may not have the wherewithal to build the right personal foundation to pursue them, but otherwise have the desire, passion, curiosity and innate ability to do so. Yes, my typing story is funny and true, but had others not invested in me, our lives may have been radically different. We believe the time is right to pay it forward. There is no better place to invest in than a place and the people who invested in you.”
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