EMBA graduate Williams named CEO of Kennesaw-based business

Christy Williams(Feb. 22, 2017) Christy Williams ’08, a graduate of Kennesaw State University’s Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) program, has taken the reins of Kennesaw-based Elevanta, a dynamic professional services firm.

Williams was named chief executive officer (CEO) of Elevanta in January after serving in the position on an interim basis. Before that, she was chief operating officer (COO) for six years. Williams has been with the company since August 2001.

When she joined the organization, it was known as the National Franchisee Association (NFA), which was founded in 1988 and served the Burger King franchisee community through advocacy, education and training, networking and member-focused programs, services and benefits.

“I started out right after college and at that point in time I was really focused on looking at programs and services for the Burger King franchisees, and one of the very first programs that I worked on was a national health insurance program,” Williams said. “I learned a lot. We developed the first national association healthcare plan for the Burger King franchisees and their employees.”

Eventually, since many Burger King franchisees also owned other businesses, the NFA expanded to include other associations.

"Any other concepts that Burger King franchisees owned, we would let them use our products and services for their other businesses,” Williams said. “So, it really just seemed good for the organization to look toward doing this for other groups, since we were doing it for Burger King and it was very successful for them.”

Williams stated that in 2004, the board of directors and those in leadership with the company got together to establish their first management organization, the National Association Management Group, to serve others besides Burger King. A platform was developed to manage other brands with the Buffalo Wild Wings National Franchisee Association being one of the first new partners.

Shortly after completing the EMBA program at Kennesaw State, Williams took over as executive director of the National Association Management Group in 2008, and the organization has continued to grow. In May 2016, the group was renamed Elevanta, a wholly owned subsidiary of the NFA that provides insurance solutions, employer services, association management, meeting and convention planning, and government relations.

“Managing associations is a large part of what we do, but it’s not all that we do,” Williams said. “Our insurance program has really evolved over the years to a self-funded program that we own. It is our own insurance company and we want to grow that program, especially with everything that’s been going on with the Affordable Care Act that was passed in 2010.”

Williams became somewhat of an expert on the Affordable Care Act to better serve and educate franchisees that she and her organization worked with, and to make sure the insurance company and its plans were compliant with the law.

“Being self-funded, we’ve been able to create some plan designs that the typical insurance company can’t offer,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of talk now with the Trump administration about going across state lines. We’ve been doing that for years since we’re self-funded.

“We’ve actually developed a new plan design that works perfect in the industry that we’re in, with a lot of restaurants, the Planet Fitness Franchisee Association and other franchisee organizations. We typically have pretty high turnover within those industries and a lower-paid workforce, so they can’t afford some of these typical plans that you see on the Obamacare exchanges. So, we’ve developed a plan called a MEC, a Minimal Essential Coverage plan, that’s the only one in the entire country that uses the Blue Cross Blue Shield network of providers. We created it and manage it in-house and it’s actually grown our whole portfolio of business tremendously.”

Providing healthcare options has become a major focus of Elevanta. Williams calls the insurance program “the flagship of our organization” and believes it will continue to be valuable to the employees of the different groups her company represents.

Williams steadily moved up and has played several roles within the organization. Now in charge, she hopes to continue Elevanta’s growth, both locally and nationally.

“We’re a national company, a small organization here in Kennesaw, Georgia, but we do have an office in Washington, D.C.,” Williams said. “We want to get more involved in the local community, but at the same time look nationally for different brands and groups in organizations that would be a good fit.

“We would like to expand our services. Obviously, with any replacement bill (for the Affordable Care Act) from the administration, we need to be nimble and ready to respond to that, and provide solutions that work for our current members and potentially new members as well.”

Williams entered the EMBA program, through the Michael J. Coles College of Business at KSU, with a Master of Public Health from Mercer University and a Bachelor of Science in biology from Georgia College. Already with a strong background in health and human services, she wanted to bolster her business acumen.

“I love this organization and being in the business field, I thought I would go back and get some traditional business classes under my belt,” Williams said. “I certainly enhanced my business skills, but a big focus of that program is on the team environment, how you learn as a team, and there are so many classes focused on the soft skills, like leadership skills and things like that. Probably the best part of the program that I use every single day, day in and day out, are all those leadership skills, how to work with people, how to deal with different personalities.”

Like many alumni, Williams is very pleased with her Kennesaw State education and how the university has grown.

“I’m very proud to tell people that KSU is where I received my master’s program, and I don’t believe I’d be in the position I’m at if it wasn’t for that program.”    

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