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Hilton retirement director receives Lillywhite Award

Mary Nell Billings
Mary Nell Billings said changing the outlook for even only a handful of people is ‘worth the effort.’

Mary Nell Billings, director of global retirement programs for Hilton Worldwide, was named winner of the 2014 Lillywhite Award. The award, which honors people who have made contributions to Americans' economic security, is sponsored by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, Washington.

Ms. Billings has “had a commitment to employers playing a key role in providing financial information and financial security for employees,” Dallas Salisbury, EBRI's president and CEO, said in an interview.

In addition to her more than 25 years of work in human resources and finance, Ms. Billings “has been very active in public policy as an advocate for individuals that need additional financial security,” Mr. Salisbury said. “She recognizes the diversity of the American population and the diversity of the employment world.”

Mr. Salisbury will present the award to Ms. Billings at Pensions & Investments' East Coast Defined Contribution Conference in Miami on March 3.

Ms. Billings, who is based in Memphis, Tenn., oversees three 401(k) plans with more than $1 billion in combined assets serving about 40,000 participants. She has been at Hilton Worldwide since 2010.

“What we do really matters to people,” she said in an interview. “This is a meaningful profession.”

Ms. Billings said it takes a lot of work to “move the needle” — to get more people to invest more money in their retirement accounts. “Even if you impact a handful of people, that's worth the effort,” said Ms. Billings, who also has been a top retirement plan executive at FedEx Corp. and Harrah's Entertainment Inc. (now Caesars Entertainment Corp.).

She recalled that early in her career, she would listen to participants' phone calls to plan call centers and sit at tables during employee meetings answering questions. One encounter stood out — when a Harrah's employee who came in to ask questions was accompanied by his wife and child. “That makes it more real about what we do,” Ms. Billings said.

The Lillywhite Award is named for Ray Lillywhite, a pioneer in the pension investment field who spent more than 55 years in the industry. EBRI established the award in 1992. n

This article originally appeared in the January 26, 2015 print issue as, "Hilton retirement director receives Lillywhite Award".