COLUMBIA -- Ed Sellers, one of the state's most prominent business leaders for the past two decades, announced his retirement Wednesday as chief executive of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina.
Sellers, 65, will retire Aug. 1, having run the state's largest insurer for 18 years. He will remain board chairman of the Columbia-based company, which has 11,000 employees.
David Pankau, a 17-year BlueCross veteran who assumed the company's No. 2 position last year, will succeed Sellers as chief executive.
Sellers said he will split time between his waterfront homes in Columbia and Sullivan's Island. He also will stay on the board of Spoleto Festival USA.
Sellers leaves behind a legacy of building BlueCross' business, via contracts to handle government health insurance programs, and its reputation for corporate giving and community involvement.
"If you needed something, you call Ed Sellers," said Charlie Way, chairman of The Beach Co. of Charleston and a former S.C. commerce secretary.
Sellers' role as chief executive of one the state's biggest companies came as other large firms left the state. Sellers managed to keep money in South Carolina that could have gone elsewhere, said Joel Smith, a former Bank of America executive
and retired dean of the USC business school.
Business leaders described Sellers as a renaissance man who combined his passion for numbers, a plus in running the $3.8 billion-a-year insurer, with care for the community.
"He is unpredictable in his thinking," said USC President Harris Pastides, who first met Sellers as dean of USC's School of Public Health. "He is well-known in his working with data, but that belies the soul of an artist."
Community leaders praised Sellers for working to improve the state, especially trying to boost the income of ordinary South Carolinians and build the state's nascent knowledge economy.
"Some 20, 30 years from now when you look at who made sea change occur in South Carolina, Ed Sellers will be at the top of the list," said Don Herriott, who oversees USC's Innovista research campus.
Smith said Sellers was known for being comfortable with and accessible to everyone. Sellers quipped, "Some say I'm open, and some say I talk too much."
Sellers' predecessor, Joe Sullivan, hired Sellers from the BlueCross in Chicago. "He had great presentation skills and was a wonderful analyst."
Sellers also could motivate people and "make them feel like they were on top of the world and able to walk on water," Sullivan said. "It didn't take long for the board to appreciate the fact that I picked a winner."
Sellers said he was proud of adding some 8,000 jobs, mostly in South Carolina, during his tenure and establishing divisions where managers could make more decisions.
He said he also was pleased with the company's record of giving.
Still, after turning 65 last year, Sellers said the time was right to hand over control to the leadership he groomed. "I thought I need to step away and keep this fresh. ... David is ready to handle the next period for the company."
The Associated Press ontributed to this report.