A Talk with Long-Term Corporate Support Services VP Dennis Blue
By Ann Kammerer / 02.23.22 / 3 min read
Jackson Reflects on Quality Partnerships, Leadership in Changing Times
Jackson believes it can drive better outcomes for tomorrow by providing clarity today.
Ever since company founder A.J. (Tony) Pasant sold the financial institution’s first policy in 1961, Jackson has committed to the prosperity and well-being of the clients, employees and communities they serve. In just 60 years, the company has grown into a leading retirement financial institution with more than $353 billion in total assets (as of December 31, 2020) and 3,600 U.S. associates working within corporate hubs nationwide.
Headquartered in Lansing since 1975, Jackson provides innovative investment products to fit the needs of an ever-changing financial landscape. Award-winning service, a nurturing corporate culture, and a robust program of corporate giving reflect Jackson’s belief in investing in people, partnerships and the greater good. Contributions to local communities are driven by associates with the total community impact reaching $6.6 million.
“Jackson has always been an innovator and adaptor,” said Dennis Blue, Vice President of Corporate Support Services at Jackson. “But at the end of the day, we’re a retirement and financial solutions company focused on ensuring our people and communities continue to thrive.”
Blue is among Jackson leaders and associates who have built careers within the family of Jackson companies. He joined Jackson in April 2003 as the Director of Facilities Management. Equipped with a bachelor’s from Eastern Michigan, an MBA from Lawrence Technological University, and professional management experience, Blue sought to leverage his passion for managing facilities and construction, and his acumen for business. Jackson provided a path.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” he said. “My boss took early retirement and recommended I assume responsibility of the entire department.”
Throughout the years, Blue has taken on and delegated responsibilities for the betterment of the company. When he started as Director of Corporate Support Services, his team numbered 13 associates. Today he manages 162 associates and six direct reports. He oversees the general areas of corporate security, business continuity management, document control, print services, purchasing, environmental, health and safety, facilities management, food service, and transient travel.
Although he said he used to lead by getting “down in the weeds,” he’s shifted his focus to strategy and the big picture. He can do that, he said, because of the skills, talents, and collective trust shared by his team.
“From a mission standpoint, my department follows the same general lines as Jackson as a whole,” he said. “I want my people to end each day more educated or a better person than when they started. Although I have high expectations, I treat everyone as an individual with the greatest of respect. The old saying is to lead by example. I fall back on that, and as a result, we have very low turnover and an exceptional team.”
Shortly before Blue came on board, Jackson restructured from a traditional corporate footprint of nearly 20 regional offices and 45 locations to one comprised of a leaner portfolio with approximately 25 locations. Over the years, the portfolio has continued to be right-sized to include a corporate office, two regional hubs in Chicago and Nashville and two primary data centers. Blue oversees facilities and property management of the hubs, as well as one career-focused satellite office: The Zone near Michigan State University in East Lansing.
Martin Commercial Properties spearheaded the consolidation nearly 20 years ago under the direction of Eric F. Rosekrans, CCIM, CPM, Senior Vice President and Office Advisor. Martin continues to advise and serve Jackson’s needs as their exclusive commercial real estate agent.
“Over the years, we’ve built a really solid personal and professional relationship with Eric and with Martin,” said Blue. “We value the partnership and know we can trust them to handle ongoing or time-sensitive needs in a competent manner.”
Rosekrans mirrored the sentiment. “We’re honored to serve Jackson and to have their confidence,” he said. “They do so much for the communities where they do business, and are exceptionally committed to their employees who live and make their homes here. It’s a privilege to be entrusted to help carry out the vision of such a mission-driven organization.”
Jackson’s corporate headquarters resides in Lansing through annexation from Alaiedon Township and stands as a symbol of the value the company places in people and communities. Built in 2000, the facility was designed to meet the needs of the growing Lansing office, originally located on the city’s Southside. In 2015, the headquarters was expanded to a total of 600,000 square feet, further representing the confidence Jackson places in the vitality of Greater Lansing and its workforce.
About 2,000 people currently work through the corporate headquarters campus, with space for more talent as needs evolve. Buffered by a green zone, the 400-acre campus features natural habitats and artfully-landscaped areas.
“We’re a quality place to work with quality spaces and landscapes you wouldn’t expect to see on a corporate campus,” Blue said. “We’re small enough to have that family atmosphere, but big enough to give people opportunities who want to work hard and build a career here.”
Jackson adapted swiftly to ensure the health and safety of its associates as COVID-19 affected the way people lived and worked. In March 2020, about 150 employees stayed on site at headquarters to perform essential functions—with about half of those working in areas managed by Blue. The remainder of Jackson associates shifted to remote work. Deep cleaning protocols and social distancing were implemented as well as mask mandates and state-of-the-art health screening.
Currently, Jackson employs a hybrid model, with associates coming into the office an average of three days a week. Robust contact tracing protocols are in place, with 100% remote work triggered for 14 days from the date of any known exposure. All protocols implemented in early 2020 remain, with CDC guidelines followed for masks and room capacity depending on transmission levels.
“If I had to look into a crystal ball, I see the hybrid workplace becoming more of the norm,” Blue reflected. “But I do believe that companies that have moved to a fully remote business model may struggle from a cultural standpoint in years to come.”
Blue believes that corporate culture and environment provided by in-office work plays a huge role in attracting and retaining talent. Because of that, he said, commercial real estate will continue to be a key component of most companies. While current trends indicate corporate real estate may shrink, Blue contends the need for “we” space to drive goals and maintain culture will re-ignite growth.
For Jackson, Blue said the key rests in offering spaces where people feel comfortable and valued, with smaller spaces designed for collaboration and interaction.
“Now more than ever, it’s important to treat anyone who you come across—be it in your personal or professional life—as an individual,” Blue said. “Everyone is different and that can teach you something. Be humble in your workspace, and opportunities will find you.”