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Want to make a difference in the cost and quality of health benefits for businesses? Jennifer Pagels has an opportunity for you.

Pagels is director of human resources for Trek Bicycle Corporation, Waterloo, Wis. She is leaving The Alliance board after eight years of service. As she goes, she is urging human resources or C-suite executives who are looking for opportunities to move health care forward to consider standing for election to The Alliance board.

We asked Jennifer to explain why serving on The Alliance board is worthwhile.

Did serving on The Alliance Board of Directors meet your expectations for making a difference?

Pagels: Absolutely. I think the biggest thing is getting a higher level of exposure to the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. It’s continuously what the board is looking at: What are our strengths? What do we want to continue to leverage?

We look for opportunities to make an impact on the market. If we want to be competitive or grow or expand in this changing health care marketplace, then what are the threats or risks associated with that?

Jack Welch says, “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” For The Alliance board, that meant continually recognizing that the health care industry is changing rapidly, and that The Alliance needs to remain strong and nimble to continue to ensure that the needs of employers and consumers are addressed.

Why did Trek feel it was worthwhile to have you on The Alliance board?

Pagels: Healthcare spend is a big factor for Trek. This was an opportunity for us to more closely partner with an organization that has influence of such a big expense for our company. I thought, “Wow, The Alliance isn’t just another vendor that we use as part of our health care benefit. The Alliance truly is a partner.” I was able to understand this at a much higher level because of my experience on the board. When you’re not seeing the inner workings of what a company is about, I don’t know that you would have that same kind of exposure.

Is health care important enough to companies to justify sharing their executives’ time on the board?

Pagels: Here’s the thing: For any organization that has employees and is offering health care, it’s a significant part of your expense pool, now and for the future. It absolutely impacts the profitability of your organization. The Alliance is an organization that allows you to truly address and get at the cost that we all see as a huge line item each year.

We sometimes forget how significant that is. As businesses, we all tend to see it as something we have to pay every year, not realizing that there is something we can do about it.

That was a turning point for me – I realized I can actually influence the drivers that are going to change the cost curve here. There aren’t a lot of other organizations that I participate in that allow me that opportunity.

Is The Alliance receptive to board advice about making changes?

Pagels: I always felt that our input was valued. I always felt we were helping the organization make a meaningful change.

I think the fact that the board is used as a listening tool is really what made the biggest difference. The Alliance uses its board for decision-making, but it also uses the board as a sounding board for what employers need.

There were times when I pushed for The Alliance to do more. I would ask, “Why aren’t we pushing the envelope?” And when I asked, my voice was heard. I hope our next board leaders will help use The Alliance to work together to help push for meaningful change.

There’s such influence when you’re on The Alliance board. If you’re an executive looking to leave a legacy – not only in your business but in the greater marketplace of something that can be so impactful for your business and the community – this is an opportunity to do that.

Do you take pride in any specific Board achievements?

Pagels: Here are examples of things that we got behind as part of The Alliance:

  • QualityPath®
  • Expanding the geographic area served by The Alliance
  • Having a health policy consultant to lobby for employers in a non-partisan way on health-related issues.

For example, expanding The Alliance’s service area makes it easier for companies like Trek to be “all in” with The Alliance. That actually is having an impact for employers.

What’s your advice for people who are interested in seeking a seat on The Alliance board?

Pagels: The biggest thing is not to be intimidated by what you don’t know. The Alliance is in the health care market and sometimes, if you’re not super-educated about what’s happening in that industry, it can be a little intimidating. But the board truly benefits from people who are knowledgeable in other industries or have other areas of expertise, be it finance or human resources or you name it. It’s having that outsider perspective that can be pretty impactful. I want somebody who will question, ‘Why are we doing it that way?’ when it doesn’t make sense to them.

How much time is required?

Pagels: Having time set aside to be a participant is absolutely important. You attend meetings and you share ideas. Beyond that, it’s not a huge time commitment for somebody. I’ve found that it’s been the best opportunity for me to get board experience. It’s relevant to my job but I didn’t feel like it was adding a whole additional job to my commitments.

When you imagine the next set of board members, who are you looking for?

Pagels: As the representative of a company that is a continuing member of The Alliance, I hope that the cooperative is able to find individuals who can continue the tradition of visionary leadership as it relates to the future of the organization. The Alliance is a catalyst for change in health care and we need this to continue to move forward.

Representatives of member companies are welcome to complete a nomination form for The Alliance board. Nominations are due no later than Wednesday, September 7.

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