Renae Kluk Kiehl Went from TV to Army Trial Defense

Renae Kluk Kiehl draws from a broadcasting background to solve corporate governance issues at Capital BlueCross

Before embarking on a corporate governance career, Renae Kluk Kiehl served as a news anchor, radio host, reporter, and television producer. She enjoyed the fast-paced, engaging work. But during one daunting transition that took her from interning for Dateline NBC to producing stories for a prominent local station in western Pennsylvania, she became drained trying to mimic the slick, highly produced work she learned at Dateline.

“At Dateline NBC, we had all the bells and whistles and all the time that we needed to put together a wonderful story. And here I am working in local news,” recalls Kluk Kiehl, now corporate secretary at Capital BlueCross. But a colleague’s offhand words of advice have stuck with her throughout her career.

“He told me, ‘Renae, you can only play with the toys on the floor.’ I liked that because he was right: I only have so many resources.”

Renae Kluk Kiehl, Corporate Secretary, Capital BlueCross

Kluk Kiehl has since set a pattern for how to make the most of available resources.

In 2004, she was feeling less and less challenged by her radio and TV career. She was also concerned about how she would remain happily occupied while her husband was deployed to Iraq. Kluk Kiehl decided to reroute and go to law school. In retrospect, she says, “It was the best decision I ever made.”

Intent on becoming a judge advocate for the military, she underwent Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG Corps) training, which provided hands-on exposure to numerous facets of the law. It also revealed to her that she was very much cut out for the work.

“I had really great grades in things that I never thought that I would have great grades in,” she laughs. “Property, contracts, business—I was even fascinated by tax law. Law school really opened my eyes to a lot of things that were available.”

After discovering that governance work suited her surprisingly well, Kluk Kiehl took a job at Capital BlueCross. “I never thought that I would be working at a health insurance company and practicing health law and working in corporate governance,” she says. “But it’s been a tremendous fit for me and is challenging every day.”

At Capital BlueCross, Kluk Kiehl is responsible for keeping the board of directors accurately and regularly appraised of everything governance related, including federal and state government mandates. “Being able to see around corners is very helpful,” she says, adding that she still leans heavily on her background in broadcast communications. “You have to understand your audience.”

For example, in the past, Kluk Kiehl had to quickly and accurately explain complicated concepts, such as economic development strategies, in fewer than thirty seconds for her television viewers. “You have to learn to be succinct and to the point. And you have to think about who your audience is and what they need to know.”

She also stresses direct and regular communication when managing her team. “We have a meeting every morning just to talk about what materials are needed, what we are missing, what’s coming up with the next meeting, what our priorities are today, and what’s on the horizon that we need to start thinking about now,” she says. “It’s really helpful because when you get everybody on the same page, everybody can help.”

Kluk Kiehl applies the same direct and tailored approach to communicating with outside counsel. “I can say, ‘Look, this is the issue we’re working on. I don’t need a five-page memo. I just need an email response within the next two days with your interpretation of the issue,’” she says. “They know how we work and what we need, and from which players.”

Kluk Kiehl hiking the last 100 kilometers of the El Camino de Santiago in Spain. Photo by Kraig Kiehl

In addition to working full-time at Capital BlueCross, Kluk Kiehl served for eight years in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. “One of the great things with serving is the personal satisfaction that it gives you,” she says.

When she left the National Guard in 2017, she served with the United States Army Trial Defense Services. Her clients were typically being discharged from the military due to positive drug test results. Kluk Kiehl drew from her experience communicating directly and with nuance to help find personal solutions.

“Usually they don’t understand how this is really going to impact their lives,” she says. She explains that, depending on how her clients are released from the military, they can potentially be precluded from government benefits such as federal student loans. They might also be required to disclose their discharge on a future job application. “For something that you did in your early twenties, it really does follow you.”

To help mitigate such outcomes, Kluk Kiehl took time to explain the entire scope of the situation to help her clients understand how they can navigate tough disciplinary situations. Often, she helped her clients address bigger, more crucial issues that are at the heart of their substance abuse.

For example, a defendant might have been caught using drugs after attending a funeral for a friend and fellow soldier killed in combat. Kluk Kiehl would then suggest counseling or help the service member connect with a religious organization.

“The ones I was able to get good results for were truly appreciative,” she says, recalling former clients who have thanked her for staying by them at their lowest moments. “That’s what motivated me—the satisfaction from actually being able to help and make a difference.”