When I was in 3rd grade, my grandmother prepared dinner and told me it was chicken. I said, “Great! I thought it was that squirrel that I do not like.” As I was eating my second helping, I said it was the best chicken she had ever cooked. Everyone burst out laughing when she told me it was actually squirrel and that she knew I would like it if I just tried it.
Jai Bills learned to try new things as a child, later putting that lesson to good use for a company in Pennsylvania. While working there, he took an unpopular position regarding implementation of a new financial-planning application. Although he was the only person willing to voice concerns, senior management heeded his innovative advice, to the benefit of everyone.
“At the end of the day, decisions have to be made — both popular and unpopular,” Bills says. “The leader must have managerial courage to make difficult decisions, live with them, and move the organization forward.”
As WellPoint’s Vice President for InterPlan and National Accounts Planning, Bills has plenty of chances to implement that leadership philosophy. He is currently accountable for managing a group of 42 associates and a budget of $26 million. Among other responsibilities, Bills is in charge of strategic-planning initiatives for the National Accounts Team — WellPoint’s primary growth division for the past six years. He also serves as an executive sponsor of PRIDE, WellPoint’s African-American associate resource group.
“I am motivated by people and teams who expect decisive management,” he says, “and my entire team is driven by an insatiable desire to succeed. They enjoy what they do, demonstrate integrity, and maintain a positive work/life balance.”
John Martie, Senior Vice President for WellPoint, agrees. “Jai brings an infectious energy to the teams he leads and those within which he participates,” he says. “He turns challenges into achievements and delivers results on time and on budget.”
Bills certainly knows what it means to face a tough challenge. Twenty years ago while he was helping a friend who was having car trouble, an assailant viciously attacked him, stabbing him in the neck multiple times. While slowly dying, Bills prayed for a chance to stay in the world and complete his life’s work. Instantly and miraculously, his gushing wounds stopped bleeding.
Doctors confirmed that his injuries had a 99% fatality rate, and Bills emerged from the experience more resolute, determined, focused, and motivated to dig deep when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. When he was released from the hospital, Bills was told by a friend, “You were left here for a reason. Now your mission in life is to find out why.”
Today Bills believes that his purpose is to help people. “I try to be a beacon and light for those who are in darkness,” he says. He encourages high-performing associates within his organization to maximize their potential, for example, and mentors many inner-city kids around the country to pursue their dreams through education.
“I’ve funded college scholarships for students,” Bills explains, “and I’ve coached basketball for inner-city kids, while always providing a good role model and a listening ear.”
Community service has always been an extremely important pillar in his life, and Bills is active in his church. He and his family also regularly volunteer at the local Second Harvest Food Bank.
Bills says that having three children of his own is also an unbelievable and rewarding experience, and that his greatest passions are his family, developing young people, and playing saxophone.
CareerFOCUS Magazine and the National Eagle Leadership Institute® salute 2012 Eagle Award winner Jai Bills.