TUPELO — With her warm personality, Kim Browning seems well suited for a career in employee benefits. When the 33 year old started college at Ole Miss, she wanted to be a court reporter, but a part-time summer job with BancorpSouth led her into banking and from there into human resources with the bank.
She continued to work summers at the bank and became a finance and banking major, thinking she would become a lender. The bank’s human resources senior vice president, W.O. Jones, interviewed Browning when she was in college at Ole Miss and liked her personality.
“When the benefits lady retired, he remembered me and wanted me to learn from the ground up,” she said. “I stepped out on a limb. All I had done was on the branch side with customer contact.”
Saying that she has to learn by doing, Browning set about reading all the legal plan documents of employee benefits. Always a good student, she wanted to learn as much as she could about the subject. She even spent two weeks with the insurance company that provided health benefits for bank employees at that time and another two weeks with the legal firm that draws up the bank’s legal documents.
“I learned a lot in a short time,” she said. “I had to hit the ground running. I spent time with every vendor we have because I wanted to understand. I have to experience things hands on.”
With the bank since 1996, Browning has worked in human resources for eight years and is now vice president of employee benefits. She still spends time with any new vendor they’re considering. “I want to see them face to face and see their operation,” she says. “I want them to come here. That personalizes it.”
She also likes to meet face to face with employees but that’s getting harder as the corporation grows. In Browning’s time there, they’ve grown from 1,200 employees to 4,000.
Dealing with people is the thing she likes most about her job. “It’s most gratifying when I can help someone, especially when an employee or a family member is sick,” she said. “Sometimes I’m seen as the bad guy, too, if I have to tell them something they don’t want to hear. I do care and I always wish that I could help.”
If she could change anything about what she does, Browning would make it easier for employees to understand benefits.
“I would take out some of the legalese language. I spend a lot of time explaining it,” she said. “If there was some way to better communicate, I would like that.”
She notes that everyone learns in different ways and these days younger employees are using technology to learn about benefits. Privacy statements are also making a difference in the way she and other professionals work with employee benefits.
“The Enron scandal changed things, especially going into new markets,” she said. “People don’t know this company coming out of Mississippi. There are more compliance and audits, a lot more things we have to do.”
Browning worries that a lot of employees think she doesn’t care, but she does even if they’re six states away and she’s never met them in person.
She is active in the State Human Resources Managers organization and will co-chair the state conference to be held in Tupelo next April. She feels more young people should take a look at careers in HR.
“They can work in any kind of setting. All types of organizations have HR. I don’t remember anyone telling me about it,” she says. “I would have never thought about working in HR. It was not on my radar screen.”
She credits Jones with bringing her into the HR field. “I couldn’t work for anyone better,” she said. “I feel like I have a second father in him. He hired me right out of college and took a chance on me.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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