Benefits guru Kozar enjoys the latest perk — retirement | University time

By MARTY LEVINE

“Most people don’t think about benefits until they need them,” says John Kozar. But perks have been Kozar’s life at Pitt since October 2003, when he joined the staff. Now Deputy Vice Chancellor for University Benefits, Kozar is retiring on July 8, after nearly 19 years.

He had a long career in human resources even before coming to Pitt. After growing up in Ligonier and earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees at West Virginia University (“I tell people I always go for the blue and the gold,” he jokes, since Pitt and WVU share these colors), he spent 17 years in all aspects of HR at US Steel/USX. Then he moved to manage the profits of a spin-off known as Aristech Chemical Corp.

When Aristech was bought out after just a year and a half and its local headquarters closed, “I was literally the last person out,” Kozar recalls. “I literally turned off the lights” – and moved to Chicago in 2002 with his young family to manage benefits for United Airlines’ 85,000 employees and 25,000 retirees.

But his family wanted to be in Pittsburgh, and when his wife and children returned, he resigned himself to commuting. It wasn’t unusual in the airline industry, he says, but it wasn’t always fun: “My kids were young and I needed to be with them. My daughter, who was 3 or 4 at the time, would pull out her calendar and say when I would be home.

When he heard about Pitt’s work, after five months of living in two cities, he was happy to have an interview and get it.

He found the work different here, compared to benefits management for private industry, where change was strictly top-down. The concept of shared governance, with faculty, staff, retirees and students all having a say, has been a big change: “I admire Pitt and any institution that will do that,” he says. “It was a change, but for me it was a welcome change.”

He also worked early on to change the University’s attitude towards its benefits offerings, he recalls – not just administering them, but managing them by controlling costs and developing efficiency. He led the University into what the insurance industry calls “self-insurance,” which helped Pitt contain costs and prevent larger premium increases, he notes.

Bidding contracts for this and other benefits “increased competitiveness,” Kozar says, and allowed the University to take a closer look: “Are they giving us a good rate? Are we paying too much? Are we getting our money’s worth? »

Kozar is proud to have worked from the beginning to deliver new benefits, starting with a wellness program now called Wellness for Life. “Because what can you do to help control costs?” He asked. One response is to encourage people to adopt healthier habits and offer incentives for employees to undergo biometric screenings, health risk reviews and other preventative measures.

“Today, the University has the highest participation rates for flu vaccinations outside of the health sector,” he reports, thanks to partnerships with UPMC, Falk Pharmacy and the School of Pharmacy. “We basically brought the flu shot clinics to faculty and staff.”

His department also added the annual Weight Run and Home Run for Health programs, as well as the popular on-campus [email protected] Wellness Center. “We’ve always had the support to give positive incentives,” he says of Pitt’s administration.

And he even appreciates the effort it’s taken to publicize these and other new benefits over the years: “It’s a big workforce. It’s kind of scattered, and even if you communicate, it’s hard to reach people. I’ve always enjoyed showing up in front of faculty and staff…and trying to get all of these great benefits out there. Although COVID-19 has hampered these efforts for the past two years, in-person benefit events are beginning to return. “We will do whatever it takes to reach everyone,” he said.

At times, Kozar seems to be everywhere, giving presentations on new benefits and discussing upcoming changes to the Staff Council, the Senate Benefits and Welfare Committee and its Mental Wellness Task Force, during webinars and health fairs.

Students have also benefited from improved offers over the years. Shortly after starting at Pitt, Kozar consulted with the Student Health Service and UPMC about health care protections that might be available to students (at a time before the Affordable Care Act allowed students to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26).

“We actually created the benefit with Student Health Services and UPMC around 2004,” he says. “They created it for us and ended up marketing it to other schools in the area. It’s just good to know that you offer the protection.

He’s also very happy to have made changes to Pitt’s retirement savings program over his years, moving from a single records manager and streamlining the investment fund portfolio to creating a committee. supervising retirement, keeping administrative costs low and offering a 457b program to employees to put more money aside before taxes.

More recent additions include a parental leave policy for those with new children; the Pitt Perks employee service discount program; access to Care.com for caregivers of children and the elderly; comprehensive international travel protections for everything from medical needs to protection and evacuation of passports and lost luggage; the Savi program offering refinancing and loan forgiveness assistance; new health coverage programs for athletes and for students on regional campuses; and a new financial counseling and debt management program for those who are struggling financially or who may need advice on buying a car or home.

“In general, the University has what would be considered by most to be a very rich benefits package, but on top of that, it’s also very cost effective,” he says. “I have to say I’m proud of it, because there’s a lot of hard work going into it – and because of the great customer service we provide to faculty and staff.”

It takes, Kozar points out, “the dedicated efforts of many people to make this happen. There is a wonderful benefits team behind me that makes this possible – they want to be helpful to faculty, staff, students and retirees.

Although he may work after July 8, under contract to help transition to a new Deputy Vice Chancellor for Benefits and Compensation, he and his family will relocate to North Myrtle Beach, SC.

“We are located one block from the beach, surrounded by numerous golf courses,” Kozar said. “I hope to start playing golf again – something I never had time to do in my career.”

What will be missing? “Without a doubt, first, the whole benefits team,” as well as his colleagues in HR, and the faculty and staff he’s dealt with over the years: “All smart people, very respectful – and I’m going to miss it.”

Marty Levine is an editor for the University Times. Join it at [email protected] or 412-758-4859.

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