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Job to help pay college bills leads to lifetime career

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When Bonnie C. Sawdey joined Crawford & Co. in 1989, she had no idea that she would be spending the next quarter century with the Atlanta-based claims adjusting company.

While attending a community college in the Atlanta area, Ms. Sawdey, 46, Crawford's vice president of human resources, took a part-time job as a payroll clerk in Crawford's catastrophe division.

“I needed to work to help pay for my educational and living expenses. I had been working in a retail environment for a few years and was ready to try a role in a business environment,” she said. “I knew someone who worked for Crawford and was told about an opportunity for part-time work in the company's catastrophe department.”

One of Ms. Sawdey's first assignments coincided with the massive oil spill in Valdez, Alaska, when an Exxon Corp., now Exxon Mobil Corp., tanker struck a reef. Her job: processing payroll checks for the hundreds of Crawford adjusters working in the area.

While her position as personnel coordinator in the company's catastrophe division was challenging, Ms. Sawdey decided at the time her first child was born in 1991 to look for a new position at Crawford, which she liked for “its family-oriented culture, quality focus and emphasis on employee training and development.”

“Although a challenging and interesting job, I didn't see a true career path for myself in that department. It always was my desire to advance into a management role. After my son was born, I felt that I needed ... to find a position that would lead to a career versus just a job,” she said.

She did just that in 1991 when she transferred into an entry-level job in Crawford's human resources department, processing benefit enrollment forms, handling insurance claims and helping new employees understand Crawford's benefits programs. In 1993, she was promoted to a supervisory role, responsible for all of Crawford's health and welfare plans.

And in 1998, when Crawford's vice president of employee benefits retired, Ms. Sawdey was approached by William L. Beach, the company's human resources senior vice president, to take on the position. His message to Ms. Sawdey was clear, she recalled: He said he could “hire from the outside, but I really think you are the one who can do this job.”

In her new position as director of employee benefits, she was given responsibility for the administration of not only the company's health and welfare plans, but also for its pension plans.

In these last 17 years at Crawford, Ms. Sawdey has directed or been involved in many employee benefit issues and changes, including the launch of its wellness program, the freezing of Crawford's defined benefit pension plan and a 2014 offer to former employees who had vested but had not reached retirement age to convert their future monthly annuity benefit into a cash lump sum.

She also secured Crawford's participation in a prescription drug buying program that has slashed costs for the company. Most recently, she directed Crawford's shift from traditional health care plans to consumer-driven plans, a move that dramatically reversed years of steady cost increases.

Twenty-six years after joining Crawford, Ms. Sawdey's enthusiasm for her job and employer have not waned. “There are great leaders here from whom I have had the opportunity to learn,” she said.

“Employee benefits are complex. The average person has no idea what they mean. I find it very rewarding when I and my staff can help employees understand how to use their benefits and what benefits can do for them. It is about helping people,” she said.

Off the job, Ms. Sawdey enjoys cooking, reading, walking and making jewelry.

Ms. Sawdey's husband, Jeff, whom she has known since elementary school and married in 1990, is an information technology director for Rock-Tenn Co., a Norcross, Georgia-based manufacturer of corrugated and consumer packaging.

The Sawdeys have two children: Christopher, 23, who is studying to be a mining engineer at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City; and Ashley, 21, a student at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, where she is pursuing a degree in chemical engineering.