Lead by example. It is a simple concept that is incredibly complex in practice. Laura Prieskorn, President and CEO of Jackson Financial Inc., sets the bar in this category of leadership. A 30+-year veteran of Jackson, Ms. Prieskorn draws inspiration from the exemplary leadership that came before her while simultaneously establishing her own brand of visionary, inclusive, and collaborative management. By making these qualities cornerstones of her own executive approach, they are sure to be strengths that the Jackson culture exudes and capitalizes on far into the future.
Read on to learn more about the critical organizational milestones Ms. Prieskorn led Jackson to accomplish across her first two years as CEO as well as the mentor who served as a role model for change management leadership in her career.
You took the helm as CEO of Jackson at a critical time in February 2021, just months before the company’s separation from Prudential plc and subsequent public listing on the NYSE in September 2021. What did you do to prepare yourself and your executive leadership team for leading the company through this significant period of change?
I have been part of the Jackson team for more than 30 years in various capacities, and in that time, I have come to understand the annuity industry and Jackson’s strengths exceptionally well. When I became CEO, I was inspired by the strategy and values that led to our prior success when developing my vision for the company’s future. This helped me feel ready during a period of considerable change.
This is also the attitude I tried to instill within our leadership team and among Jackson associates. While the separation from Prudential plc was a transformative milestone, we remained focused on our central ambition: to help Americans build financial freedom for life. I assured everyone the values and momentum we had all worked so hard to cultivate over the years would not only continue following the separation but would thrive. I also reminded people of the structural industry changes that are driving a continuously growing need in the market for the reliable sources of retirement income Jackson provides. I think the combination of those messages helped people stay focused and view the unknowns of the transition as an exciting opportunity.
Looking back on Jackson’s first 16 months as an independent, publicly listed company, what are you most proud of? What has been a unique challenge you’ve experienced? What most excites you about the future of Jackson?
I am immensely proud of how the Jackson team has come together to navigate a challenging macroeconomic environment with significant volatility in the financial markets. Since becoming a public company, we have demonstrated the resiliency of our business by generating strong sales, including through our new registered index-linked annuity (RILA) business, and maintaining a strong capital position.
Beyond our financial results, the progress in other areas of our business has been inspiring. The team developed and published Jackson’s first-ever environmental, social, and governance (ESG) report, which highlighted the important work we do to benefit the environment and our communities. While ESG has been a focus at Jackson for many years, the report allowed us to more clearly articulate how this priority has been and will continue to be embedded within our daily business activities.
I am also proud that Jackson is the only U.S. public company on the Fortune 500 list (as of May 26, 2022) with females serving in the CEO, CFO and General Counsel roles. Beyond that, our gender diversity in leadership includes females serving in the roles of Chief Human Resource Officer, Chief Audit Officer, Distribution COO, Head of Investor Relations, and Head of Marketing. This leadership diversity is a direct result of Jackson’s culture, policies, and practices around supporting the career development arc of women at the company.
Additionally, our collaborative and supportive culture has led to numerous awards and third-party recognition opportunities for members of our team, such as Dev Ganguly, Executive Vice President and COO, who was named the ORBIE CIO of the Year by the Michigan Chapter of the InspireCIO Leadership Network; Danielle Robinson, Assistant Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy, who won the ThinkAdvisor LUMINARIES 2022 Community Impact Award; and Marlōn Hall, Regional Vice President and External Wholesaler Team Lead, who was named a See it Be it Role Model at the 2022 InvestmentNews Excellence in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awards.
Our strong momentum leaves me optimistic about the road ahead. I am excited by the significant opportunity to educate the aging U.S. population about the attractive benefits annuities can offer. I believe Jackson is well-positioned to increase access to our solutions and make a real difference in helping people achieve financial freedom.
Jackson recently announced a new career development program called Ignite by Jackson. Can you talk about this program and any other steps Jackson is taking to address the growing need to attract young, more diverse talent to the financial services industry?
Jackson is committed to finding new and innovative ways to drive awareness for the exciting and attractive positions that exist across financial services. We launched Igniteby Jackson in 2018 to help young professionals learn about opportunities in our industry by providing hands-on experience in multiple financial disciplines such as banking, insurance, and asset management – and even recently expanded the program to include information technology (IT) specialties. Ignite offers broad exposure to the industry and has resulted in more than half of the participants entering into full-time roles at Jackson or within the industry.
Ignite is one of several Jackson initiatives to attract, develop, and retain diverse talent. We have partnered with numerous organizations, such as Odyssey Media, The Coalition for Equity in Wholesaling, The Association for Wholesaling Diversity, The Financial Pipeline Initiative, and 9 Paths, to cultivate a strong and diverse talent pipeline.
What is one piece of professional advice that you find yourself continually applying in your career, and why has it been so critical to your success?
One piece of career advice I have always taken to heart is to not be afraid to embrace lateral moves to learn as much as possible, as opposed to always pursuing vertical growth in one area. Moving laterally can unlock significant growth opportunities by providing exposure to a number of different functions in the same industry or organization.
In my 32 years at Jackson, I have been lucky enough to serve in several different “careers” across the company’s IT and operations divisions. This wide array of experiences and responsibilities has proven valuable in my new capacity as CEO, as I can understand how each team and business unit contributes to the success of the whole enterprise.
Again and again in your career, you’ve been called upon to lead teams and organizations through change. Who have been the role models for strong change management leadership in your career? And what lessons do you hope your teams take from you during times of change?
George Napoles, the first CIO in Jackson’s history, permanently shaped my career trajectory. I was drawn to George when he first started at Jackson because of his creative thinking and problem-solving, which resonated with my engineering mindset. George was an amazing mentor and role model, who was always willing to include me in cross-functional brainstorms and introduce me to key leaders within Jackson’s organization. I found these sessions inspiring and appreciated the exposure to how these industry experts worked together to tackle issues.
I have also learned the importance of including others when working through change, encouraging more diverse thoughts, ideas, and perspectives. I am a firm believer in organizing teams across multiple disciplines, without titles in mind, as long as each team member feels like they can play an active part in the change being discussed. When others chose to include me earlier in my career, I had a voice and was able to learn from others who had different backgrounds.
Since I have been in a leadership position, I have aimed to take a similar approach. One of the most rewarding parts of my job is visiting the various departments at Jackson and working with associates across the organization. I try to invest the same amount of time and effort into mentoring and fostering the interests of my colleagues today that George showed to me.