Industry the November 2021 issue

Getting to Where We Want to Go

Meet newly elected Council Chair Nancy Mellard, EVP, and General Counsel, CBIZ
By Brianne Spellane Posted on November 1, 2021

As only the second woman in The Council’s 108-year history to hold the top position and the first to hold it as sole chair, Mellard shares what she thinks is needed for diversity to truly be “at the table,” which is non-negotiable, she says.

Mellard is also The Council’s first chair representing the employee benefits side of the business and is a former chair of The Council’s Employee Benefits Executives Advisory Committee. Our conversation covers the biggest challenges facing EB brokers, the changing talent paradigm, and what excites her about the future of the industry—“really, everything.”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q
Your list of professional roles and titles is lengthy. You’ve held senior positions in the industry, chaired numerous boards, raised a family, competed as an athlete, and continuously supported the larger Kansas City community. What motivates you?
A

First of all, I don’t get exhausted very easily. I’m always on the move. I’m always trying to find new ways to get things done. I have a saying that is just to the side of my computer monitor that I see every morning which asks, “Am I the person I want to be today?” And particularly in the last 20 months with COVID, that really motivates me. I’m constantly asking myself am I doing enough, am I doing the right things. That motivation is good for me.

I also strive on servant leadership. I share that passion with my husband, Ken. That’s one of the things that I will always check myself on—am I doing what I should do from a servant leadership perspective. I learned that from my father. He instilled that in me when I was very young.

The way I look at it, when you list all those titles, it may have taken me a lot of years in my career to get to those places, but I like to think of myself as a constant learner and what comes with that seems to be a title. And I don’t care about the title as much as I care about what I learned along the way.

Q
You were chosen by CBIZ’s chair to build the CBIZ Women’s Advantage. Tell us about the initiative and why it is so important for our industry.
A
The president and CEO at the time, and chairman of the board, Steve Gerard, was such a visionary. He approached me with the idea to build a women’s program for our company, and he asked me to build it. As a publicly traded company, business development was one of our core principles. How can you advance women into these positions at a C-suite level if they don’t understand the importance of business development? So he found in me what I knew I had—that passion for the collective advancement of women. I was given the opportunity to create this program back in 2007. It’s very simple, and it still has the same three goals: professional development, business development, and national community outreach. From that point, we just never looked back. It was fun. We are very proud of what we’ve done.
Q
What does it mean to you to lead The Council? And why is it important to have women in this leadership role?
A

I think it’s a statement on the diversity, equity and inclusion position of The Council. I think that we are walking the talk, and I think that’s critically important. I got involved at The Council level because I looked around and there just weren’t women there at that time. Women today have to say to themselves, “I can do this.” As simplistic as that comment is, I know that I can do this. If we can’t convince ourselves, if we can’t truly understand that, then I don’t think that we belong at the table. I would say without a doubt the principal reason, as a woman moving into this chair position, is it really does highlight and spotlight and give The Council that very visible walk the talk of, “Yes, yes, we are about diversity.”

One thing I will live by is diversity at the table is non-negotiable. The concept of pipeline and the “Old Boys Network” must disappear from our behavior and our talk and then our walk. Recently, I was talking with some people about board positions. As you know, in a board position, there’s a pipeline which has been worked on for years. I think we’ve got to shift our paradigm on all of this if we’re truly going to get to the places that I know we want to go. I also know that it takes time to do what we haven’t done over the past couple of decades. But I think time is of the essence, and that concerns me. I don’t think we have the opportunity to use our history as an excuse for not celebrating what needs to be done.

Q
On the topic of DE&I, do you think the industry as a whole is moving in the right direction?
A

I think there is a fresh, fresh look—not a different look, but a fresh look on what diversity, equity and inclusion is. Since we have a different vision, we also then have a different definition of talent. We have a different definition of experience. We have a different definition of timeline for not just women but minorities.

Remember the days when gaps in a résumé were looked at as a horrible thing? Well, gaps in your résumé now are an opportunity for an employer to look at diversity and say, “Talk to us about that. I see your degree. I see your experience. But tell me about that gap. What did you do [during that time] that you bring a fresh perspective to our organization that we don’t have from someone who doesn’t have a gap?” So I’m really excited about what I think diversity, equity and inclusion has done to really change the paradigm of what talent is in our organizations today.

Q
You have two daughters, Rachel and Michelle, both successful professionals in their own right. They may simply call you “Mom,” but certainly you’re also a role model to them. Can you share what your conversations with them have been like as they’ve developed and advanced in their own careers?
A
I couldn’t have accomplished what I have in my career without the constant support of my marriage with Ken and the support of Rachel and Michelle. If I were to chart out my motherhood path raising two daughters, I would tell you that when I transitioned from being the mother/caregiver to the mother/student to the mother/learner was when I realized I had arrived at learning and receiving as much (or more!) from them than they were learning from me. It was and still is a magic time. And I’m just so blessed to have that.
Mellard rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange when she was the national leader for CBIZ Women’s Advantage. Her daughter Michelle was living in New York at the time and was able to experience the day. In a note to her mother, Michelle wrote:
“As a parent, you are able to go through major moments with a child—life’s milestones that you remember forever. As a child, you don’t traditionally have the opportunity to watch a parent have this type of experience, but I am so grateful and proud to have been able to be a part of your NYSE moment. As I said to your CBIZ female colleagues, I am the woman I am today because of you. Your hard work, dedication to yourself and your work is forever inspiring.”
Q
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to young talent looking to make a career in this industry?
A
Always remember that you are capable of doing so much more than you thought you could. And again, that may sound like a simple statement, but I truly believe we too often limit ourselves. So in our industry which offers the opportunity to do so much and to be so much, I want to tell these young, wonderful, talented people, don’t let your degree limit you. I also want to tell them after they’re out for a few years, don’t let your title limit you. Don’t let your title put you in a box. I have to say, throughout my career, there were times when I felt like I did that. It wasn’t until someone said to me, “You can do more,” that I realized, “Oh my god, I am capable of doing so much more.” I think that too often we limit ourselves. So that would be the advice that I would give to young talent today.
Q
You’ve been described as a maverick, a baron, and a mentor. Like it or not, you are viewed as a trailblazer. What do you want to achieve most in this capacity?
A

It sounds a little bit like a cliché, but I do want to look back and say The Council is stronger and it’s stronger in part because of me and in part because I brought my leadership skills to it in a very different way. I hope that my position will be seen as a strong statement to everyone in this industry, that diversity and inclusion has got to be one of our number one priorities. And I believe you can have more than one number one priority, by the way.

What I would also like to do in that “maverick” kind of way is to see where we can take our relationships with our carriers and strengthen each other by sharing best practices on diversity and inclusion. They’re over here doing some really great things, and we don’t necessarily know what those are. We know what we’re doing over here as broker members because we come together as The Council and we talk about it. But I am never into recreating the wheel. So if we can take the relationships we have over here on the carrier side with what we have over here in the member side, I think we’re going to be twice as good.

Q
What are some of the biggest challenges facing employee benefits brokers right now?
A

We’re going to face more and more increased regulation. And that regulation, in my mind, challenges the benefits industry to look at more training instead of spending our time looking at product sales. By taking whatever the regulation is going to be in two months, in two years, we need to figure out how we can become more valuable to our clients through a consultative approach.

Of course, the other big one is transparency. And that’s transparency across all areas. It’s not just in the broker world, it’s not just in the pharmacy world, it’s not just in the provider world; it is across the board. We need to educate the consumer so they truly can understand, and we can only do that through transparency.

Q
Many companies are in the midst of large employee turnover or are at least rethinking how to attract and retain talent. How can benefits brokers play a role in helping their clients through this challenge?
A

We have to bring more creative solutions to our clients that support their overall priority of the well-being of their employees. We no longer can talk about the well-being of our employees to be their problem. It is an employer’s problem because it is productivity and it is longevity.

Then there’s cutting-edge technology. We hear that all the time. But I think it increases clients’ efficiency, it reduces clients’ risk, and it controls their costs.

Q
How do you see the benefits industry five years from now?
A
Embracing change management. We’ve been talking about change for years. I believe that we have to be nimble and able to pivot quickly. This is where I get very optimistic about our industry because I am very hopeful that we will have so much more young talent in five years that sees this industry as such an incredible opportunity for them to create a career, and they’re going to teach us that nimbleness—they’re going to teach us that change management piece. Look at how they grew up—differently than so many of us that grew up and lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same school and the same church and so forth. Their movement is so different, and I think they’re going to bring to us that ability to be much more nimble and to move more quickly.
Q
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?
A
Everyone says this, but it’s our reputation. I would add this part: we own that change. It’s not going to come from the outside. It has to come from the inside out. I think we have spent too much time looking outside for the problems with our reputation. We own it.
Q
What excites you about the future of the industry?
A
Everything. I love being in this industry, and I am very proud of it. I am very proud of the people, their commitment to our clients, their commitment to the industry. I think that there are so many really brilliant, caring people in our industry. I am very excited not only for where we are today but wherever we’re going to go. What else excites me is when I look around now, having been coming to EBLF and ILF for the years that I have, that there is younger talent. So, everything. Really, everything.

Nancy Mellard has been with CBIZ in Kansas City, Missouri, for nearly 30 years. Born and raised in Glasgow, Missouri, a small town along the Missouri River, she’s never strayed too far from the Kansas/Missouri state line (she earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Saint Mary in Kansas before jumping back over to Missouri for law school at the University of Missouri). Here, we pose a series of questions that may or may not tip the scales on her allegiances.

If you could pick which hometown sports team would win the next major championship, would you choose the Chiefs or Royals?

Do I have to pick?

Yes.

I want to say all three.

All three?

Chiefs, Royals or KU basketball. Andy Reid (head coach, Kansas City Chiefs), John Sherman (owner, Kansas City Royals), and Bill Self (head coach, Kansas University men’s basketball) have taken all three of these sports teams and done great things with them.

We’ll let it slide. Brisket or pulled pork?

I don’t like either. I live in barbecue country, and I’m not a beef girl. But I would take a really good piece of spicy chicken.

Jazz or country?

Country, hands down. There is a great history in Kansas City of jazz. But I am just a country girl.     

In a previous interview with Leader’s Edge you said one of your dreams would be to play golf with Condoleezza Rice at Augusta. Why Secretary Rice? Why Augusta? And would you give her strokes?

I’d like to ask her, as we’re playing a round at Augusta, which would be fabulous, to give me her top three leadership tips. Because she, in my mind, is a role model for women who stay true to their values and their strengths. They know their values. They know their strengths. And they don’t lose sight of those as they go down their career path. I just think she’s like this silent giant. If you study her and how true she’s been to what she believes is important, it’s just spectacular. I think she is truly one of those role models for all of us, as women.

She sounds a lot like you.

What a great way to end. Thank you. This has been so fun.

But you didn’t answer the most important question. Would you give her strokes?

Umm, no. Absolutely, positively no.

Brianne Spellane Associate Managing Editor Read More

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