One decade after move, Sammons credits culture for ongoing growth

Feb. 25, 2019

It can be easy to lose track of a company when you’re not driving by it daily.

Such could be the case with Sammons Financial Group, which has grown with a relatively low profile locally in the 10 years since it moved from the iconic gold glass building it had occupied downtown since the late 1970s.

At that time, it was known by its Midland National Life Insurance brand name. In 2007, the Sioux Falls office transitioned to the parent company name, Sammons Financial Group.

The company marked the decade-long anniversary of its office at 5400 S. Solberg Ave. this month, and the changes in its industry have been striking.

“The work has become more complex,” said Rachelle Tieszen, associate vice president and human resources business partner. “It requires more of an ability to work with data, complex thinking and critical thinking.”

Some positions that didn’t exist a decade ago illustrate that – roles such as data architects, continuous improvement consultants, agile project management roles and e-marketing consultants.

“You will find we have a wide variety of positions that you would find in any insurance company, including actuarial, administration, IT, marketing, underwriting, legal, corporate accounting and HR, among many others,” Tieszen said.

Remote work didn’t really exist in the company when it moved 450 employees to its new 122,000-square-foot building 10 years ago. The office has held as many as 650 employees. Now, there are about 500 there with 117 teleworkers in the Sioux Falls area.

“Part of the reason we like telework is it takes pressure off the space,” Tieszen said.

“Our telework employees have a virtual experience with our office team through the use of the technology tools we provide them.”

Technology also has been integrated into hiring, with online application and on-boarding processes, extensive use of social media and a text recruiting tool that allows for quick access to candidates.

“Consumers today expect convenience when conducting business, and that includes insurance transactions,” Tieszen added. “Internally, technology investments allow us to operate more efficiently; externally, we invest in automation and digital solutions to improve the experience of our distributors and policy owners, including self-service capabilities.”

Assets at parent company Sammons have grown organically from $35.6 billion in 2009 to $82.1 billion at the end of 2017.

The West Des Moines-based insurance holding company has 1,500 total employees. Midland National Insurance Co., which began in 1906 as Dakota Mutual Life Insurance Co., continues to provide annuities and life insurance products under that name.

It opened an office in Watertown in 1951.

The company moved to Sioux Falls in 1977, and into the “gold building,” as it was known, two years later. The gold-toned glass was meant to reduce heating and cooling costs and optimize daylight illumination.

“We continue to grow our traditional lines of business,” said John Myers, associate vice president of corporate communications. “It’s longtime organic growth, and we have several lines of business – life, annuity and retirement products – as well as a corporate markets division. We’re looking for opportunities to continue to grow in those markets as well as any new distribution alternatives.”

Distinct culture

Myers credits the company’s growth to its employees, “who are very vested in the success of the company,” and its structure as a privately held company.

“We don’t act in the short term,” he said. “We grow our company with long-term results. You might see a lot of public companies that respond to quarterly earnings and make changes, but we’re steady.”

The company puts a strong emphasis on cultivating its culture, Tieszen said.

“Our culture is what sets us apart, and it really is unique,” she said. “From senior leadership all the way down, culture is intentional.”

For instance, all new employees spend a day and a half off site learning about the organization and its shared values of accountability, openness, respect and integrity. There’s also an employee-led Culture Counsel, which helps drive communication and engagement initiatives.

Events on the Sammons property have included a car show, picnics, a recess day put on by its healthy living committee, sidewalk chalk painting contests, holiday decorating contests and wellness-related activities.

There’s also a Sammons Leadership Series, which is a series of courses dedicated to organizational development through culture shaping. Every employee participates, with a focus on individual growth, team effectiveness and growing organization capacities.

Other benefits include an on-site micro-market staffed by LifeScape for convenient dining. Employees end the day at 12:30 p.m. Friday to allow for a little longer weekend.

They’re also encouraged to give back. Since moving to the new office, the Sioux Falls operation has given more than $7 million to the community and more than 18,000 hours of volunteering.

“We’re always hiring,” Tieszen said. “Our turnover is really low, less than 7 percent, so generally when we’re attracting talent, it’s for new roles that are supporting our growth. It can be challenging because we’re really looking for niche talent, but we’ve been successful in recruiting and hiring the talent that we need.”

The company also was named one of the 2019 best places to work on Glassdoor, a website where employees and former employees anonymously rate companies. It came in No. 22, with a 4.8 out of 5 average score.

“We were quite surprised to land at 22, but that’s all done by employee reviews, so I think that speaks volumes in terms of what sets us apart,” Tieszen said. “The culture speaks to being open and coaching. So if there’s a concern or something that needs to be fixed, employees are encouraged and empowered to raise those issues and help us solve them so they don’t slow us down.”

One decade after move, Sammons credits culture for ongoing growth

It has been 10 years since Sammons Financial moved from the well-known gold building downtown to a new office in southwest Sioux Falls. Here’s a look at what’s changed and how the company is positioning for its future.

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