July 5, 2011

Phyllis Borzi: Not the Standard Path to Success—Top Women Extended Profile

Head of Labor’s EBSA tells AdvisorOne she followed her father’s advice, to “play by the rules even when others do not.”

Phyllis Borzi, head of the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), says that her greatest achievement over the past year has been “developing and completing” the DOL’s fee disclosure rule that enables participants in 401(k) plans to understand the dramatic effect that fees play in their overall returns.

Borzi told AdvisorOne in an email message that she has built her career on the advice her father gave her: “If I work hard, play by the rules even when others do not, treat people with respect, fairness and honesty, and be patient, I can ultimately achieve my goals.” Ironically, she continues, “that is not the way many people view the route to success in business, including in the financial services area, but it is the path I have chosen to follow in my career and it has worked for me.” Named for a second time as one of AdvisorOne’s top 50 Women in Wealth, Borzi has developed her leadership style, she says, “by observing the traits in other leaders that I want to avoid, not emulate.”

phyllis borziHer impressive resume proves that her father’s advice has served her well. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who’s as well-versed about the Byzantine-like Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) as Borzi. As head of EBSA, Borzi oversees the administration, regulation and enforcement of Title I of ERISA, one of most complicated laws out there. EBSA oversees approximately 708,000 private-sector retirement plans, approximately 2.8 million health plans and a similar number of other welfare benefit plans that provide benefits to approximately 150 million Americans.

Before taking the helm of EBSA in 2009, Borzi was a research professor in the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University MedicalCenter’s School of Public Health and Health Services. And before that post, she was of counsel with the Washington law firm of O’Donoghue & O’Donoghue LLP, specializing in ERISA and other legal issues affecting employee benefit plans, including pensions and retirement savings, health plans, and discrimination based on age or disability.

From 1979 to 1995, Borzi served as pension and employee benefit counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on Labor-Management Relations of the Committee on Education and Labor.

Mentoring is also important to Borzi. While she’s been involved in mentoring activities for many years, in her current position at EBSA, she says she “actively tries to identify and work with junior staffers within my agency to take a leadership role on projects within their offices and then I showcase their work.” She also spends a “considerable” amount of time “meeting with and counseling young lawyers and others who seek me out for career advice.” Most importantly, she says, “I try to lead by example and show younger women that women can compete and succeed even in a male-dominated professional world by acting with authority and integrity and by being fully prepared for any possible substantive or operational contingency.”

See the lead news article on the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.

See the article on the process for choosing the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.

See the 2010 50 Top Women in Wealth.

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