Lake views from the Milwaukee innovation labs

John Schlifske

Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer

Jun. 26, 20185 min read

Topics: tech advancement.

“All Hands on Deck” to Bring and Keep Tech Talent

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Every company needs a strategy to recruit tech talent for years to come – and at Northwestern Mutual, we compete vigorously for tech talent nationwide. For us, tech talent is critical because we’re transforming our client experience. Our clients expect a rich, digital experience – and  we’re boldly transforming to deliver it.

My colleague  Christian Mitchell eloquently summarized our efforts: “Northwestern Mutual is weaving together its time-tested expertise, the strength of our advisors and incredible talent to create the client experience of the future.”

Today, virtually every company is a tech company in some way. In my view, that means that every company needs to make a commitment to developing, recruiting and retaining strong tech talent.

Engineers working at our New York City office.

At Northwestern Mutual, we have a holistic strategy to address this need for digital talent.  As I’ve shared beforeour bold agenda included acquiring a company in New York City’s “Silicon Alley” called LearnVest – a start-up with tremendous talent. Today, that office is a significant hub of digital activity for our company. We also added employees nationwide with advanced technical capabilities – software engineers, cybersecurity analysts, data scientists, enterprise architects and more – to advance our strategy.

But in this post, I’d like to share another key part of our strategy - we are making a significant investment in our hometown of Milwaukee to help our region become an even more robust technology hub.

Every city has the potential to take the tech mantle from the Silicon Valley – at least that’s what AOL co-founder billionaire Steve Case believes. In his book, “ The Rise of the Rest,” he explains why all American cities have the same opportunity as the west coast to disrupt digitally.

As the CEO of a company driving its own tech transformation, and a vocal proponent of Milwaukee’s future in tech, I’m frequently asked, “How can we build Greater Milwaukee into a tech hub?”

We need all hands on deck to recruit, retain, prepare and inspire tech talent in Greater Milwaukee. Leaders in business, higher education and workforce development need to make investing in tech talent their number one priority.

Milwaukee is the home of tech-savvy FORTUNE 500 companies, tech startups, professional sports teams and more that employ thousands of technologists and digital engineers. Tech talent is working to solve big challenges here and create exceptional experiences in financial services, health care, engineering, retail, professional sports and more.

Communities that center their economies around entrepreneurs and innovation enjoy a greater economic impact, a time-tested truth that our country is just beginning to realize.  A new study proves that technology represents a significant and increasingly influential part of Greater Milwaukee’s economy.

But we must do more. To meet the needs of our clients, strengthen our company and build our community, Northwestern Mutual and our partners are engaged in a community-wide effort with many facets:

Investments in universities. Last week, leaders from Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee joined me to  launch the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute, a nearly $40 million partnership funding endowed professorships, new data science faculty, data research projects and expanded student programming.

Investments in tech startups. We recently launched  Cream City Venture Capital, a $5 million venture capital fund supporting local entrepreneurs who are leveraging technology to address significant problems and launch successful businesses. And we’re partnering with Rockwell Automation, Kohl’s, Baird and Milwaukee Institute to support gBETA, a seven-week program for early-stage Milwaukee startups run by gener8tor. All of this activity is in addition to a  $50 million venture fund launched last year by Northwestern Mutual.

Bringing tech talent together. Dozens of companies in the region have  come together in the last 12 months to super-charge our ecosystem through the support of relevant programming, educational events, and robust networking and user group events and meetups to optimize collisions, strengthen our network and showcase what we know and love about our community.

Helping the next generation. Our regional school system is also doubling down to invest in computer science and STEM education. We’ve ramped up industry partnerships with K-12, too, knowing how important it is to give kids an early glimpse into their future career path.

For us, these activities aren’t simply an effort to help our local community. They are also an investment in building the tech ecosystem that will be needed for Northwestern Mutual in the years ahead – a win for everyone involved.

We’re not alone in thinking this way. According to the  Conference Board, the top concern globally among all CEOs is “attracting and retaining talent.” Second on the list is, “creating new business models because of disruptive technologies.”

That further underscores why an all-the-above approach is critical – to take a broad strategic focus across geographic boundaries to address talent needs while also leading change in your own backyard.