Michelle Behrman Helps Keep Health Costs Low and Outcomes High

Michelle Behrman keeps BorgWarner employees happy, healthy, and paying almost nothing for healthcare

Michelle Behrman has worked across a multitude of different operational groups in her career, building out expertise in global benefits organizations in private equity and, for the past fifteen years, at automotive and parts supplier BorgWarner. Early on, the current director of global benefits learned the value of partnering with the business she was supporting to achieve the best for the employees she was serving while still effectively executing organizational strategy.

The global director has learned “the way it’s done” doesn’t necessarily mean serving her manufacturing or technical engineering workforce in the same way, but one thing is certain. Behrman has achieved benefits results that keep BorgWarner as a competitive employer for employees young and old across the world.

michelle behrman
Michelle Behrman, Director of Global Benefits, BorgWarner

Decentralized but Fully Aligned

Behrman came to BorgWarner in 2005, and it was quickly apparent that there would be a learning curve. “I came out of more centralized businesses prior to my work here,” Behrman explains. “Meeting the business where it’s at and supporting its core beliefs are important in establishing what your benefit strategy and mission statement will be. We developed a mission that has really aligned well with our decentralized culture.”

The global director says it was essential to develop a clear and attainable strategy in establishing the benefits program. “We decided that we did not want to be a market leader in benefits; however, we wanted a market-competitive and value-driven benefit design across the globe,” Behrman says. That meant working hand in hand with insurers and other stakeholders around the world to determine what makes most sense to streamline worldwide, versus what geographic locations might have to be much more locally tailored based on the needs of employees.

Results on Both Sides

The success of the BorgWarner benefits program seems to be working from both sides. Of all employees, 85 percent have nothing taken out of their paycheck for their medical plan. The company’s 80/20 cost-sharing plan isn’t just incredibly competitive as an attraction tool; it’s clearly working.

The company’s “premium point discount system” is a point system where employees can keep the amount of money deferred for health costs out of their paychecks by engaging in behaviors critical for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, like completing a health risk questionnaire or an annual physical or dental exam. “It’s not only an attraction tool, it’s a retention tool,” Behrman says, “because if you look around, you’ll find very quickly that it’s certainly not the norm.”

 “The BorgWarner benefits team has proven to be highly successful, and I think it’s something we should all be proud of.”

From the other side, Behrman has also been able to drive significant savings. “When I started, we took a look at the consumer-driven methods that were out there and decided it was time for us to get on board. Year over year, our communication strategy focuses on individual accountability our people have relative to healthcare costs,” the director says.

That effort has kept health costs growing at an average of 4.5 percent year after year, a significant achievement considering wildly fluctuating healthcare costs. A Willis Towers Watson study showed that the program runs roughly 9 percent more efficiently than other members of its peer group, and in BorgWarner’s world, that’s a difference of nearly $5.5 million dollars.

The Value of the Team

Behrman says the success of the healthcare plan should be reflected back onto the people at BorgWarner. “It’s our employees and their engagement that really is the driver in keeping costs low,” the director says. “My team and I deliver the messaging of what’s available within our programs and why engagement in overall well-being is important, including our retirement program. BorgWarner has made an investment to ensure that its people are able to contribute to and move into retirement.”

The numbers, once again, back up the words. Ninety-seven percent of BorgWarner employees are deferring pretax contributions into their 401(k)s. “Our plan uses Vanguard, and our enrollment numbers beat their own in-house plan,” Behrman says.

The benefits director says that the satisfaction she gets from her role is present every day in those around her. “I work with people who are passionate about what they do, and I get to see improvements in people’s health and well-being,” Behrman says.

BorgWarner’s workforce varies from foot-in-the-door first jobbers to sixty-five-year-old lifetime employees who have no plans on retiring soon, and Behrman and her team have been able to help each and every one. “This team has proven to be highly successful, and I think it’s something we should all be proud of.”


Vanguard congratulates Michelle Behrman and BorgWarner. It’s been our pleasure partnering with Michelle and BorgWarner to build retirement plan solutions that help ensure their employees are on track for successful retirements. BorgWarner’s combination of smart plan design and personalized communications has generated tremendous leaps in participation and employee savings rates.