Rick Kusnierz has been in the healthcare benefits space for thirty-four years on both the consulting and employer sides of the industry, and his passion remains as strong as ever. “It never gets dull,” he says. “You get to use both sides of your brain every day. You need to be empathetic, strategic, and tactical all at the same time, so I always found that interesting.”
Today, he’s the corporate director of US benefits at AMETEK Inc., a role that requires him to keep up with upcoming market trends and help the company prepare for them while staying ahead of competition. For Kusnierz, who spent much of his early career in the trenches working on daily tactical matters, those kinds of responsibilities have required a shift in perspective.
“The evolution of my responsibilities over the years has been getting me into a more strategic mindset and at first it was a bit of a struggle. It’s hard to let go of the day-to-day tactical stuff when that is what you’ve been doing for so long,” he describes. “It’s hard to step away but you need to if you want to bring value to the company.”
His formula to letting go of the reigns is simple: trust your team members and let them do their jobs.
“My job should really be to help them understand the vision, clear obstacles from their path, and then let them do their jobs because the only way you can stay abreast of trends is to have some line of sight into the broader market and there’s only so much time in the day to do that,” the benefits director says. “So, I make it a priority [by] taking advantage of educational opportunities, talking to a lot of people, and networking while empowering my team in their roles.”
Kusnierz draws lessons from his journey to becoming a leader. While studying finance in graduate school, he took an internship with a small healthcare consulting firm. It not only sparked an interest in healthcare benefits but allowed him to land a job with a PPO after he graduated. He went on to serve three years in that role before spending seventeen years in consulting with various organizations, including Mercer and Aon. Though he admits that he didn’t enjoy sales, one of the most valuable lessons he learned was how to sell himself.
“In sales, you’re always learning how to make a point or make an argument with confidence. So, it was both a good training ground for healthcare specific skills and developing that confidence I needed,” he says. “Today that translates in the way I present myself, how I might write an email, or talk in person.”
After nearly two decades in consulting, Kusnierz decided to move to the employer side of the industry, joining the likes of Peabody Energy and Carnival Corporation as director of global benefits. In those kinds of roles, he got a chance to see “a bigger picture” of the industry. “Working in both sides is like going from being lead string in an orchestra to being a conductor,” he says. “In recent years, I’ve been able to make a difference and have a greater impact on the people I work with every day.”
Today, he’s excited to continue that work, especially as the benefits industry focuses more on improving the lives of employees through behavioral health support—a trend Kusnierz says was pushed by the onset of COVID-19.
“During the pandemic, there was a lot of need and many companies looking for ways to help. Prior to that, most companies had grossly underutilized EAPs [employee assistance programs] that weren’t much more than an intake and referral service, but the need for behavioral health has always been there,” he says. “My observation is that almost every employee struggles with some level of behavioral health issues, either for themselves or their dependents. It impacts just about every family. From a business perspective, it’s a productivity killer.”
Kusnierz is encouraged by emerging vendor programs that provide enhanced behavioral health options and help employees understand what’s available to them. He believes those programs can be the difference in saving someone’s life. “Without those kinds of benefits people are either going without care, going into the medical system to get it, or waiting until it’s a crisis and ending up in the emergency room,” he says.
The director’s advice for young professionals who want to succeed in their careers derives from a client he worked with in his early consulting days.
“They said to never pretend to know more than you do,” he reveals. “The one thing you have going for you is your credibility and nothing will kill it more than that. Learn as much as you can, admit what you don’t know, and don’t be afraid to do the hard tasks that no one wants to do.”
Alight Solutions applauds Rick Kusnierz for creating an engaging wellbeing experience for colleagues. Rick’s commitment to employee needs, easy-to-choose benefits and accessible support have made a real difference in the lives of colleagues and their families.
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