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Philia Swam responds quickly when asked why she has spent most of her professional career working for one company — building materials manufacturer Lafarge North America Inc., once a unit of Paris-based Lafarge S.A. and now LafargeHolcim Ltd. following its 2015 merger with Swiss-based Holcim Ltd.
“There is no greater satisfaction than getting an email or phone call or being stopped by someone who says, 'Thank you for saving my life or my spouse's life,' “ says Ms. Swam, manager of health, wellness and group benefits at LafargeHolcim U.S. in Chicago.
“Being part of the team that creates the programs and opportunities for our people to get healthy and change their lives for the better is what makes me get through some of the most challenging days,” said Ms. Swam, in charge of LafargeHolcim's U.S. medical, life, disability, wellness and employee assistance plans.
Ms. Swam's first experience with employee benefits came in graduate school. After graduating in 1994 from Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, where she majored in business administration and English, she attended Towson University in Maryland, where she got her master's degree in human resources and organizational development in 1996.
Then, Ms. Swam began working in HR for a small perfume and cosmetic bottle manufacturer in Baltimore.
Two years later, she heard of an opening for an HR manager at Lafarge's construction materials division in the eastern U.S. She was hired and has been there since.
In 2002, she was promoted to manager of strategic staffing. In 2004, she was named director of health, wellness and group benefits. Following last year's merger, her title was changed to manager of health, wellness and group benefits for the U.S. unit though her responsibilities remain the same.
In those 18 years, Ms. Swam, 43, has been involved in several U.S. employee benefits projects, including developing an aggressive wellness incentive program, case management for costly claims, moving retirees to private health insurance exchanges and implementing full replacement high-deductible health plans.
“This is where the fun really began: implementing our on-site health screening program, physical activity challenges, education and marketing campaigns to create awareness of personal health, prevention and early detection,” said the 2016 Business Insurance Benefit Manager of the Year®.
The results are major. For one, the percentage at which health plan costs had been rising annually has been halved, saving the company millions.
Colleagues praise her drive and commitment.
“She is a very fast-paced person. She has a lot of energy. She has a commitment to the field. She is great at articulating and promoting her ideas,” said John Stull, CEO of LafargeHolcim's U.S. cement unit in Chicago.
Off the job, Ms. Swam, who in 2011 was named to Business Insurance's Benefit Management Honor Roll®, enjoys cooking, fitness and exercise, spinning, running, strength training and reading.
Ms. Swam lives in Jefferson, Maryland, with her 10-year-daughter, Alexandra, and travels to Chicago as necessary.
She says her favorite place is the beach at St. Augustine, Florida, where one day she hopes to retire.
Giving employees powerful financial incentives — substantial employer contributions to employees' health savings accounts — to take better care of themselves is just one way LafargeHolcim U.S. is trying to control health costs.