Achhar Singh is on a journey with no end in sight.
The Mumbai, India native first traveled to the U.S. nearly 20 years ago, when a contract job as a software architect with General Electric brought him to Cincinnati. From there he moved to Chicago, where he continues to reside with his family, and now travels to Chattanooga on a regular basis in his role as chief enterprise architect, managing director of enterprise strategy and architecture for BlueCross.
But for Achhar, a journey isn’t defined by travel from one destination to another. By following the tenets of his Sikh faith, he’s embarked on a spiritual quest that’s meditative, motivational and inspirational all at once.
“By definition, Sikh means ‘disciple, student,’ and that means you’re constantly learning every moment of your life,” Achhar says. “It doesn’t matter who you are or how old you grow.”
“One thing I’ve realized is that every day and every time life brings something to you, there’s a learning experience. That learning is considered constant all throughout your life, till your last breath.”
A dream comes alive
That life-altering epiphany may not have arrived until his mid-20s, but Achhar had already been a lifelong learner. Growing up in the suburbs of Mumbai, India’s financial and entertainment capital, he was introduced to technology in school.
“I was passionate about it right away,” Achhar recalls. “I dreamed for a career in computers.”
That passion led him to earn a bachelor’s in technology degree in electronics and telecommunication from the Doctor Babasaheb Ambedkar Technological University in Lonere, India, followed by his being selected for a post-graduate diploma in advanced computing the Center of Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC).
“C-DAC is the institute that brought supercomputers to India,” Achhar says. “Before that, during my third year as an engineering student, I started building and selling PCs in my spare time for some extra pocket money. All of this led me to my first job as a software engineer with a company called Patni Computer Systems. My interest in using technology to solve business problems kept growing.”
Culture shock to culture comfort
Through a work visa filed by Patni, Achhar traveled to the U.S. for the first time in 2004, moving from a major metropolitan city to a not-quite-so-major one. After joining the GE Transportation architecture team in Cincinnati, Achhar found the change of pace jarring.
“Everything in Mumbai moved very fast,” he says with a laugh. “That just becomes part of your life. When I came to Cincinnati, a large city but still with a much lower population than I was accustomed to, I can remember walking outside and there no was no one around! In Mumbai, if you walk out at 2 a.m., you will still see people around. That constant activity was normal and certainly embedded in me, and is probably the reason people in the U.S. sometimes still tell me, ‘Now, you need to slow down a bit on this …’”
Thankfully, the comparative quiet of the U.S. wasn’t a deterrent. As Achhar’s career journey took him from GE to Motorola to TriZetto to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association and, in 2022, to BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, he found that American culture and its corporate world had a refreshing openness.
“I’ve found that overwhelmingly, people in the U.S. truly believe in equality, and those beliefs are acted on,” Achhar says. “Here, ideas from anyone are welcome, and you can engage a CEO in the hallway, even if it’s just to quickly say ‘Good morning.’ That would be uncommon in India, as the corporate culture is very different there.”
In his role at BlueCross, Achhar helps oversee the use of technology as a tool to enable our mission of peace of mind through better health. Through planning, strategy, roadmapping and design, his team is focused on the user experience, creating secure, digital resources that result in value for our members and improves their quality of care.
“We’re here to help our members find solutions for their health in an incredibly complicated industry,” Achhar says. “Health care is not a single organization, as providers, payers, pharmacies and the government all have a stake. Building solutions for health care really means you have to think about it broadly.”
His team is also responsible for technology governance that ensures alignment across BlueCross as an organization, cost reduction, and compliance to technology standards. Governance and compliance come with their fair share of pressure, but Achhar finds both calm and motivation early every morning through prayer and meditation.
“When Sikhs open our scripture, the first hymn that falls on the left side is what we call the order of the day,” he says. “And the intention is that when you read that, you implement it as you go through your day. So, in the back of your mind, you make sure that you try to practice it. And that results in more conscious attempt to watch your thoughts and your actions. It’s a required part of my faith.”
“If there are days where I have to start my prayers late because of travel and whatnot, I can feel the difference. It’s a nagging feeling, like something’s missing. That tells you how much of impact it has on your life.”
Part of Achhar’s journey of learning is embracing opportunities to teach others and helping them along their own paths, be it fielding technology questions from senior members of his house of worship or formal mentoring. Currently he serves as mentor to a BlueSky Institute student and a few colleagues, in addition to engaging with community youth and serving on a Chicago-based board for driving improvement and engagement in local communities. In August, Achhar will participate in the Parliament of World’s Religions convening to celebrate 130 years of history in Chicago.
“I’ve been a mentee as well, and I’m lucky to have experienced what people can bring to you, which is how I approach mentoring,” Achhar says. “The questions, situations, and experiences of others make you think. ‘What would I do in this situation? What would my approach be?’”
“And obviously I have some experiences to share. It’s an exchange of thoughts and views, and that learning has always helped me a lot.”
A continuing drive
When at home, Achhar admits he no longer builds computers in his free time, spending most of it with his family — including his soon-to-be-16-year-old son, who’s preparing to test for his driver’s license.
“He seems most concerned with how he’ll look in his license photo,” Achhar says with a laugh. “Kids are kids, right?”
Though he resides in Chicago, Achhar loves the opportunities to travel to Chattanooga to take in the natural beauty of the city. (“I always look forward to the sunrises there,” he says.) And as he helps his son prepare to get behind the wheel, he remains driven by technology opportunities that lie ahead as he continues his journey.
“What drives me to work every single day is exploring new things to make a difference,” he says. “That includes a difference for our members, a difference for how we operate as an organization, or a difference for how we operate as an industry. Changes must be viewed with a holistic lens of how they impact the member, and how they impact our operations on day-to-day basis.”
New technology comes with challenges and risks, but Achhar believes that nothing is truly hard.
“The day you started exploring it, it becomes a little easier,” he says. “I always encourage others from that perspective, whether it’s my team, my colleagues, my mentees, or our members.”
And to learn from them, as well.