Josh Waite, managing director of Northwestern Mutual Financial Network-The Wright Financial Group, found his niche in college and never looked back. "I began my career with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network as a college intern in May 2002, the summer before my senior year at Bradley University. It was an incredible experience that led me to a full-time position as a financial representative upon graduation. I was appointed managing director of the Peoria office in January at age 24, which made me the youngest managing director in the system," he said.

The Wright Financial Group of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network-the marketing name for the sales and distribution channel of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company-was established in 1981 in Champaign, Waite said. "Originally established as a life insurance agency, the office has grown and transformed over the years. It now includes my District Network Office in Peoria, as well as others in Springfield, Kankakee, and Normal. In addition to adding locations, the scope of the business also has changed to include not only life, but disability income, long-term care insurance, estate planning, employee benefits, and investment products and services."

Northwestern's list of products and services includes asset and income protection, personal planning, education funding, business planning, investment services, estate planning, trust services, employee and executive benefits, and retirement planning solutions.

Waite said the mission of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network is to develop enduring relationships with clients by providing expert guidance to help them achieve a lifetime of financial security. "With the help of a network of specialists, financial representatives provide innovative solutions using world-class insurance products and investments. This mission encompasses what we do and how we do it. It reflects the transformation of our industry from purely life insurance into the more broad-reaching financial services arena; however, the core of our business remains founded on the relationships we have with our clients throughout their lifetime."

Guided by that mission, he said the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network has grown to include more than 7,900 financial representatives and 350 offices nationwide. "This growth reflects the demand of our customers for products and services ranging from risk management to wealth accumulation and distribution. The Wright Financial Group includes more than 100 financial representatives and staff and, as of the end of 2004, represents more than $8 billion of life insurance in force. In our office in Peoria, we currently have eight full-time financial representatives."

In the bustling field of financial services, he said Northwestern stands out from that crowd. "Our research indicates people don't believe one person can provide all of their financial solutions, yet they're comfortable with a concept where one person-with whom they have a good deal of confidence and trust-coordinates a network of specialists. This is the unique model of the Northwestern Mutual Financial Network; our financial representatives serve as 'quarterbacks,' coordinating a network of specialists to help clients fulfill insurance and other investment-related needs."

The company's products also set Northwestern apart, Waite said. "Financial representatives provide clients access to world-class products from Northwestern Mutual's family of companies. Northwestern Mutual has the best possible insurance financial strength ratings from the four major financial rating agencies: Moody's, Standard & Poor's, Fitch, and A.M. Best Company. It's also been name America's most admired life insurance company 22 times by FORTUNE magazine."

Protecting the interests of policyowners and other clients requires a purposeful fairness, he said, which not everyone can offer. "This ensures policyowners and beneficiaries receive their benefits timely and accordingly. This tradition has been carefully bred in our tradition. Long before they were popularly defined in the business press, such terms as 'high ethical standards' and 'integrity' were ingrained in the spirit of Northwestern Mutual. Sixty percent of new life insurance business comes from existing customers, clearly an indication of strong loyalty. An impressive 40 percent of premium revenue is returned to participating policyowners as dividends, and 96 percent of policyowners stay with us each year."

Despite the company's demonstrated success, Waite said many people still see Northwestern Mutual as simply a life insurance company. "What they don't realize is that we now offer a full array of financial security products and services and that we work with our clients to help provide guidance over an entire lifetime-from helping them protect their family should they die too soon or become disabled, to helping them plan for a child's education fund or their own retirement fund."

Marketing the company has always consisted of satisfied clients passing the word to friends, he said. "Time has shown that developing relationships with individuals through referral is a successful practice. We also benefit locally from a national advertising campaign: print, television, and online. The recent rise in online technology has opened many doors for marketing our products and services within our community as well."

The most challenging aspect of his career in this industry, Waite said, has been attracting, selecting, and developing new financial representatives. "Our opportunity is extremely rewarding both personally and professionally, but it isn't for everyone. Therefore, finding those 'right' individuals is constantly a challenge. This is also the most rewarding thing because having the opportunity to impact individuals and families by opening the door to an incredible career, helping the financial representatives develop, and watching them succeed is a blessing." IBI