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Feeling Stronger Everyday
The "Quiet Company" is making some noise. Is that a good thing?

Courtesy of Northwestern Mutual
Knowing that you would have wanted it this way.

I do believe I’m feelin’ stronger everyday.

                  -Chicago, "Feeling Stronger Everyday" from the album Chicago VI

The US Cellular Arena was jammed with over 9,000 people for a concert from one of the world’s most popular bands. Chicago was performing, and the audience was alive with excitement. The iconic rock stars didn’t disappoint.

You most likely didn’t know about this concert. That’s understandable. First, it occurred more than 10 years ago. And second, it wasn’t open to the public.

It was concert put on by Northwestern Mutual for its annual agent meeting. No external promotion for this one. I was there – invited by a good friend who worked for the company, who implored me not to tell anyone. Which to say the least drove me a bit nuts. So in effect, I was there incognito. 

Now that’s quiet.

Fade to 2013. Northwestern Mutual unveiled plans in September for a spectacular new office tower that would grace the Downtown Milwaukee skyline. The building would replace one of their key office locations on Wisconsin Avenue overlooking the Calatrava and the lake.

Not so quiet.

And the company is now even prominent in the sports world, sponsoring a fall event on the PGA Tour with Tiger Woods outside Los Angeles called the “Northwestern Mutual World Challenge” as well as unveiling a new if less than spectacular TV commercial during the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Not quiet at all.

So let’s talk about the building. My first impression was, "Hey, that’s really cool for Milwaukee." Something new for Downtown where its been desperately needed, as I opined (I just love that word!) in this space last February (“Illusions of Grandeur”).

But I also began to wonder how all this noise out of the purported “Quiet Company” influenced the employees. Is this a good thing? Or would they prefer to say behind the scenes, under the radar?

Luckily, I have a friend who works there, so I could act like a real reporter, which I’ve been dying to do. 

Allison Lipscomb, a Field Engagement Consultant with the company, paints a picture of a quiet superstar in the corporate world.

“I work for one of the best companies in the country. It would be great if more people knew that.”

Hmm. This not being quiet might just be a good thing.

Lipscomb, who has been with the company for 13years, thinks that the company and its values should get much more notoriety. “Northwestern Mutual’s buildings have been a visual reflection of our reputation. The new building is bringing the outside metaphorically in, changing the image of the company. We’ve been secure and very private, not conducive to letting people in, but the new building will change that.”

The building, according to Mary Louise Schumacher in the Sep. 29 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “is the largest office tower to be built in Milwaukee in 40 years,” and “is the most significant architectural event to take place in Milwaukee in a generation, excepting Santiago Calatrava’s Milwaukee Art Museum.” Pretty heady company for sure.

“We’re not really the quiet company anymore,” president, chairman and CEO John Schlifske, who is keeping his office in the old building, told employees recently. “We’re still rooted in our values, but we’re getting a chance to grow and evolve with these new times.”

Milwaukeeans should rejoice. Although the new building won’t be completed until 2017, this news is like a breath of spring. Bottom line is that Downtown really needs this.

Renderings show a gleaming, glistening skyscraper that, according to the Milwaukee Business Journal, will have quite a bit of public space, a café with outdoor dining and a water feature around the outside of the building.” It looks and sounds fantastic, as does Northwestern Mutual’s new attitude.

“The quiet company is speaking a bit louder these days,” Schlifske says. “New products and services, advertising, the new building makes it the trifecta. This represents a significant shift in how we do business. Watch out for us. We got the goods. Now we got the building.”

Maybe they’ll even bring Chicago back. Now that would make me smile.

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