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  • Writer's pictureNua Team

How a Former Ocean Lifeguard Is Using His Skills to Help Companies Take Care of Their Employees

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

A Southern California native, Kelton McMains used to work as an ocean lifeguard on a busy beach in San Clemente. After initially starting his career working for a company that helped hospitals recover funds, Kelton eventually channeled his people skills and analytical talents to help companies take better care of their employees through comprehensive Employee Benefits programs.

In this interview, Kelton shares insights into his meaningful work, key trends in the Employee Benefits industry, and how his adventurous spirit extends to his love for cooking diverse and unique meals.

You had an interesting start to your career. Can you tell us what it was and how it took you to where you are now?

I started my career in the healthcare industry, “on the other side of the fence” working for a company that helped hospitals recover money from insurance companies. This gave me a solid foundation in how the healthcare industry works, and I learned a lot about claims, insurance plans, and the different types of benefits that are available.

After a few years, I moved into the benefits consulting field. I really enjoy this work because it allows me to use my analytical skills to help clients make informed decisions about their benefits programs. I also enjoy the challenge of working with different companies and understanding their unique needs.

What are some of the things you enjoy most about your work?

I really enjoy the variety of work that I do. I get to work on a wide range of projects, from developing new benefits programs to helping clients manage their existing programs. I also enjoy collaborating with the Nua team who have diverse skillsets and points of view, as well as with the clients who always challenge us with new tasks that we can respond to using both our experience and creativity.

I also particularly enjoy working with data and drawing insights from data sets to tell us a story in order to help clients make business decisions. Because of my background in public health and deep knowledge of the clinical side, I’m fascinated by the actual claims and conditions data and observing what condition prevention versus condition management costs to clients. Using data to navigate the healthcare space and the wellness space can help make the best decisions about a program.

When working with clients, I am laser-focused on asking the right questions and understanding what the client is looking for so that we could then offer solutions most tailored to their needs.

I also enjoy the fact that my work has a positive impact on people's lives. When I help a client choose a benefits program that meets their needs, I know that I'm helping them to improve the health and well-being of their employees.

Early in your career, you worked as a lifeguard. Is there anything about that job that prepared you for the work that you're doing now?

Certainly! My work as a lifeguard taught me the importance of discipline, attention to detail, and clear thinking under pressure. These are all essential skills for my work at Nua, where I help clients solve complex benefits challenges.

Perhaps the most important lesson from my lifeguarding days was the ability to think clearly and remain composed in a crisis. I frequently had to rescue people who were panicking in the water, so I learned to assess situations objectively and intervene decisively.

Now in my current role, this ability helps me react quickly to situations that come up and deliver the best results for my clients.

What is the biggest challenge your clients face?

The biggest issue is that HR leaders are very strapped. They are always running fairly lean teams with limited budgets and operating in environments of scarcity: of people's time, money, and resources. As a consultant, I am often required to be pretty creative in terms of how I can help my clients.

What are some of the trends you're seeing in the benefits industry?

One of the biggest trends I'm seeing is the investment in more progressive wellness programs. Traditionally, wellness was viewed quantitatively as a way to “bend the trend” and reduce healthcare spending by targeting physical metrics such as BMI, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Now, employers are adopting the viewpoint that physical health is only one dimension of a well-rounded well-being strategy which should also focus on emotional, financial, and occupational health. The adoption of a clear strategy to address mental health in the workforce has been where most employers are directing their efforts when starting to expand their wellness offerings.

Another trend I am seeing is the increased prevalence of point solutions for the purpose of healthcare navigation or advocacy services. Recent transparency legislation has allowed for more data to be publically available and therefore leveraged to help employees make smart decisions regarding their healthcare utilization.

Lastly, in many cases, I am seeing challenging financial outlooks on health insurance spending for small- to mid-sized employers. Insurers are beginning to account for utilization increases due to deferred care during COVID, expensive emerging specialty drugs, and inflation's impact on healthcare services/supplies. More than ever before, my clients are looking for ways to aggressively manage their healthcare spend for the next renewal and beyond or find ways to absorb the cost increase without passing a significant portion of that to employee paychecks.

What are your thoughts on the future of the benefits industry?

Several factors may shape its future, most importantly the demands that the younger generation will have for employers to remain competitive in the talent market and also the impact that technological developments such as AI will have on the tools that we use every day.

What do you enjoy most about your work at Nua?

kelton mcmains with his wife Katie and his dog Loden sitting by the water
Kelton with his wife Katie and his dog Loden

What I like about the work that we do at Nua is that it’s highly visible since we work with companies’ HR and business leaders directly, and the programs we implement make a direct positive impact on both the employees’ lives and the companies’ bottom line.

The projects that we work on are typically very complex and strategically focused. And since we have experts in all different segments of HR, we have the ability to give a complete point of view and provide specific recommendations. Often through our work, we uncover deeper issues that an organization is experiencing and rather than addressing the symptom (which would originally be our specific scope or task), we are able to help companies solve much more complex challenges that they are facing.

Last but not least is the flexibility of work at Nua. It helps me have a better quality of life outside of work. At Nua, I'm busy, I'm engaged and working on things that are valuable, but I also have the flexibility to live my life on top of that.

Talking about your life outside of work, can you tell us where your passion for food and cooking comes from?

One of the earliest childhood pictures my parents cherish is one depicting me in a high-chair eating my first solid food, ribs! You could say that is where my adventurous palate and curiosity for tasty things began. Later on, I loved to help my mom in the kitchen. She is a fantastic cook and was always willing to share her techniques and recipes with me.

Now, my passion for food stems from taking care of the people I care about. I like to cook and entertain, whether it is just for my wife on a weeknight or for all my family and friends on a special occasion. Bringing joy to others through great food is the best part.

Is it true that you never make the same meal twice?

two freshly cooked pizzas
Sliced peaches, prosciutto, arugula, and balsamic vinegar pizza (left) and margherita pizza (right) by Kelton

That's right! I truly love cooking, and it's rare for me to prepare the same meal more than once. The world of culinary possibilities is vast, with countless ingredients and diverse culinary experiences to explore. To fuel my passion, I've immersed myself in a wealth of food documentaries like “Mind of a Chef”, drawing inspiration from them. My collection of cookbooks is extensive, which adds to my creativity in the kitchen.

When I cook, I don't like to stick strictly to recipes. I prefer to experiment and add my own twists to dishes. This freestyle approach means that each time I cook a particular meal, it tends to look and taste slightly different. It keeps things exciting and allows me to continually refine and perfect my culinary creations.

Do you have any food pet peeves?

My food pet peeve is really messy food like a burger with its juice and cheese and lots of ingredients falling apart in your hands and making a mess. I know some people love it, but that’s not my thing.

What I do love though is Mexican food. My most favorite restaurant is in Garden Grove, where I spent a lot of summers as a young kid, and it’s called the Azteca. We had lots of big dinners and celebrations of life at this restaurant and I will always treasure those moments.

Kelton McMains' journey from a lifeguard to an Employee Benefits expert showcases the power of combining passion and expertise to create positive impacts. If you're an HR leader looking to enhance your Employee Benefits and people programs or seeking tailored solutions for your employees, don't hesitate to get in touch with Kelton to explore how his insights and creative approaches can benefit your organization and employees.


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