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Growing up in middle America, James McMillan, 32, thought he’d jet to one of the coasts when he got older. But when he became a benefits adviser and father, those thoughts disappeared.

“Where I wanted to be and where I wanted to raise my family was actually where I’ve been all along,” McMillan says.

McMillan grew up in Arkansas with dreams of becoming a football coach. But when he enrolled in the University of Arkansas, those plans changed.

“I figured out that I did not love football as much as I just like watching it on TV,” McMillan says. “I moved over to the business sector and studied business after that.”

McMillan worked in retail management but grew tired of the role because of the travel it entailed. After marrying his highschool sweetheart in 2009, he wanted to work at a place that would give him the flexibility to spend time with his family and community, he says.

Some community leaders recommended he look into working with BHC Insurance, a benefits firm that’s been serving the area for more than century. He started there as a voluntary benefits adviser about six years ago.

He’s played an instrumental role in selling voluntary benefits, says Shannon Schmidly, vice president of BHC Insurance.

“From a standpoint of voluntary benefits, we've pretty much put that in James' lap to maximize,” Schmidly says. McMillan excels at putting together a benefits package and determining which providers are best to work with, Schmidly adds.

McMillan says he draws parallels between football coaching and benefits advising, particularly in benefit preparation and industry competition.

“No matter what you do in life, you're going to have to compete,” he says. “If you don't want to win, you're not going to push yourself as much.”

A key skill for success in the benefits space is empathy, McMillan adds. It’s important to understand what people are going through—their medical, financial and family history, he says.

“Knowing how they feel about things allows you to advise them on what's best for them, not just what's best for their paycheck,” he says.

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McMillan has benefited from the emergence of new technology. “If you're not playing in some sort of technology game, you're way behind,” he says. Technology has allowed McMillan to create channels of communication with employees who have questions about their benefits.

“Everybody has a smartphone, everybody checks it and we find text messaging is reaching people more accurately than just plain emails,” McMillan says.

McMillan is especially good at using technology to get in front of clients, Schmidly adds.

“He's real big on understanding [technology] and maximizing its use,” Schmidly says. “We've never had anyone in our company understand the technology side of it on the level that James has from the voluntary benefits side.”

While McMillan has embraced technology, he also admits that the space is experiencing a “technology overload.”

“There’s so many different forms of technology that consumers are actually overwhelmed,” he says. “Our motto here is embrace technology, don’t push it.”

But nothing beats a personalized touch, he adds. “The best form of explanation is always direct one on one contact,” McMillan says.

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