Having worked his way up from intern, Jim Meeks has had plenty of time to familiarize himself with the inner workings of Northwestern Mutual. Now the managing partner at his own Memphis branch, one of the key tenets of his personal office space is accessibility. “I feel like there’s a barrier, meaning this desk,” he says. “I have trophies, plaques by the box-loads. I’m not the guy who wants to plaster his walls full of ‘Hey, look at me, look at how great I am.’ That’s not me at all. When I meet someone new for the very first time, I have one goal: I want to spend time asking questions about you.”
That overwhelming accessibility displays itself in trust, one of Meeks’ core values in the workplace. His aim for accessibility was quickly realized when I walked in and noticed a coffeemaker and a package of organic wine in the corner: an instant connection with someone at the peak of his career powers.
The value of trust extends to his employees, as well. When Northwestern Mutual moved to their new office space on Kirby Parkway back in 2011, one of the first goals was to put his own spin on the office. “When I walk out of here, I want the office to be in the exact same condition as when I first renovated it,” he says. “Every year, I have the walls repainted. The carpet is installed in square strips, so it’s very easy to relace if one of the sections is damaged or burned.”
While the constant renovations maintain a high-quality work environment, there are various items around the office that provide a splash of color. A large, inflatable, pink flamingo perches on top of a cubicle, and a second rests on a desk outside Meeks’ office.
“It represents our vacation sweepstakes, so this guy travels around the office — some days he’s here, some days there,” he explains. “He’s kind of like ‘Elf on the Shelf,’ he moves all the time.”
Combining the aesthetic appeal and community outreach of the company are the paintings hung on the wall, all purchased from local artists. The first, a painting by Jeri Ledbetter, is one of Meeks’ favorites.
“I won’t point at a random painting and say, ‘I’ll take that one,’ it has to mean something to me,” he says.
Needless to say, under Meeks’ stewardship, Northwestern Mutual has achieved a goal of cultivating a trusting, hardworking, and fun workplace culture.