Milwaukee businesses have faith in ‘The Quiet Company’

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. has been one of Milwaukee’s largest employers, revenue generators and real estate holders for decades, and the company’s fate is intertwined with that of thousands of local businesses.

“I should say up front that I’m biased – I am a long-term policy holder,” said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “From a policy perspective, they’re just rock solid. They just rack up consistent return year after year. You take that story and expand it to their presence in the city. I would be hard-pressed to find a better anchor or more solid employer in terms of growth or prospects for the future.”

Northwestern Mutual also is a crucial economic and talent producer in the Milwaukee area, Sheehy said.

“They export their business all over the country and import jobs and investments,” he said. Northwestern Mutual’s financial success is all the more remarkable, given the difficulty that many of its peers in the insurance industry are facing now, Sheehy said.

“It’s unbelievable to push that amount of money around in an environment where people would be happy with flat (returns) and to have the consistent year-after-year returns they’ve had,” he said. “Milwaukee has been a huge beneficiary of that success.”

The personal and professional investments, retirement accounts and life insurance policies of thousands of Milwaukee-area business owners are held by Northwestern Mutual.

“They are a much stronger organization, financially, compared to some of the other organizations who took more risk (in their investments),” said Chris Carter, president and chief executive officer of CCI, a Milwaukee-based SAP software consulting firm. “They took the smart course and didn’t get into riskier holdings for their shareholders. I thought it was a smart play on their part, and it’s showed off in the end.”

Carter holds personal life insurance policies with Northwestern Mutual for himself, his wife and their daughters. His company holds both short-term and long-term business policies for its executives and employees.

While CCI has cancelled several policies with other carriers in recent years, it has not changed any of its policies with Northwestern Mutual, Carter said.

“We just felt safer (with them),” he said. “We let it ride because we felt secure.”

Ellen Homb, owner of 2-Story Creative, a Milwaukee marketing and public relations firm, agreed.

“I don’t really affiliate Northwestern Mutual with the AIGs of the world,” she said. “Maybe it’s because I feel so comfortable with the company or my loyalty to the company, but I never once questioned their durability in the market.”

Homb carries personal life insurance with Northwestern Mutual, and her company’s retirement and disability plans are offered through Northwestern Mutual, as well. A large part of her loyalty to the company is because of her business relationship with Mike Fromella of Cornerstone Financial Group, a member of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.

“Maybe it’s cliché, but they say business is about relationships,” Homb said. “(Fromella), the financial person I work with, he’s just helped foster that comfort zone. It’s that relationship as much as working with a really solid company.”

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