Mike Howell is in a good place in his life.
In fact, the 51-year-old benefits consultant and business owner said it’s better than good.
“I have a wonderful life,” he said.
Howell forged a 23-year career as a group health insurance sales executive – most of that at Preferred Health Systems – into Hardman & Howell Benefits, a benefits consulting firm he is a partner in with Gary Hardman.
The company employs 14 and provides employee benefits consulting to companies in areas such as group health insurance, flexible spending accounts, life insurance and short- and long-term disability. It targets companies with between 25 and 2,500 employees.
Howell left Preferred Health in September 2007 to start his own benefits consulting firm. From the start he shared office space, rent and employees with Hardman, who at the time was the sole owner of Hardman Benefit Plans. The two men formalized their partnership earlier this year.
A former middle distance runner at Wichita State University, Howell has two grown children: daughter Allison, a registered nurse, and son Craig, who plays golf for Newman University.
He has been married to Linda for 28 years.
What kind of a career were you thinking about in high school?
“I went to college thinking journalism or sales. I was good at selling ads in high school, putting them together for the school newspaper.”
What motivates you in your job?
“I love people. I like explaining benefits to employees and helping them make good decisions for their families. I get to deal with HR people that have to like people as well or they wouldn’t make it in their job.”
What was the most challenging time in your career?
“It was 2003. I had young children and my wife came down with breast cancer. It was an eye-opener in what’s important in life. I made a point to not miss a doctor’s appointment, to not miss a treatment or a surgery. It probably brought us closer together in our marriage.”
Did that experience change you?
“Our family time became so much more important to us. When that happens you start thinking maybe you don’t want to wait to do things.”
You were one of the first employees of what is now Preferred Health Systems, is that right?
“There was Gary Williams, a secretary and myself. That’s as ground floor (in a start-up company) as someone can be.”
Why do you think Preferred Health Systems grew as much as it did?
“It was relationships and a local entity that people in this town wanted. That’s what made it grow.”
When did you first meet Gary Hardman?
“I met Gary in 1987, around the time HCA Health Plan was merging with Equitable. Gary was an Equitable representative in Wichita. I began working with Gary on his groups as a sales representative.”
Where do you think your company will be five years from now?
“I would see us in five years probably doubling in size — revenue and probably employees. I see us growing significantly.”
What keeps you up at night?
“I sleep only five or six hours a night. Balancing my family life and work schedule to meet the needs of my clients is beyond a 40-hour-a-week job.”
How is your life different as a business owner instead of an employee?
“I work harder now than I worked for other companies. And I worked hard for them. If you don’t get things done when you own your own business, they don’t get done. And that’s what’s different.”