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Northwestern Mutual gives its workers the flexibility to find their own path

Scott Butler is a busy man. A managing director at Northwestern Mutual Financial Network-Maryland, he oversees the Columbia, Frederick and Hagerstown branches. In addition to volunteering regularly at the Living Classrooms Foundation, for six years he coached both of his daughters' soccer teams, which meant he had to be on the field at 5:15 p.m. four days a week. How did he get away with that?

He didn't have to: It's company policy. "We encourage our employees to do the exact same thing," Butler said.

The regional Northwestern Mutual network, based in downtown Baltimore, is part of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance and Financial Services, which was founded in 1857. Owned by clients, not stakeholders, the company helps its clients achieve financial security by providing sound guidance on insurance, investments, estate planning, savings and more. Employees reported in the Top Workplaces survey that they love having a positive effect on their clients' lives.

Northwestern Mutual's first-place finish in the small business category in this year's Top Workplaces survey isn't unprecedented: The company has received numerous similar awards and its parent company is on Fortune magazine's list of "World's Most Admired" life insurance companies.

Butler said Northwestern Mutual wants its employees to have the same experience as its clients, whether that means offering professional development opportunities or figuring out a more flexible schedule so that no soccer games go unattended.

"We think about our employees as clients," Butler said. "They are one and the same."

A variety of professional development options are offered, tailored to employees' different experience levels and needs, such as the five-year mentorship program called Keep the Promise that pairs industry newbies with veterans. It's all in keeping with the branch's mission statement: "… to enrich the lives of those we serve."

Managing partner Scott Iodice, the highest-ranking member of the management team in Maryland, has worked at Northwestern Mutual for 26 years and said he's still excited to get out of bed at 4 a.m. every morning. (He succeeded his father, who held the position of managing partner for 19 years.) Butler has worked there for 23 years, and many of the company's financial advisers and staff are longtime employees.

"We very rarely lose our employees," Iodice said. "We try to pay them well and fairly. Beyond that, people want to feel like they're appreciated for what they do, even if it's just something as simple as saying thank you" or rewarding employees in front of their colleagues at the annual honors and awards dinner.

Employees say they feel that Northwestern Mutual isn't just out to make money. "It is rare to work for a company that has a values system beyond making money," one employee commented in the Top Workplaces survey.

They also enjoy the independence to manage their own schedules and formulate their own career paths.

That's intentional, Iodice said. "We try to give people a certain amount of autonomy in the work that they do. And we have a feedback-rich environment, positive and constructive in as real a time as we can, delivered with respect."

Iodice said one of his favorite parts of his job is helping employees advance professionally. "In my role, I get to guide people through a career where they can have a huge impact on people's lives. They get to control their own lives, and they can make a great living. To me, that's a wonderful job to have."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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