Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

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Former College Athlete Scores Points in Sales Job

As the old axiom goes, sports are a metaphor for life. For Zach Scribner and other financial representatives with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, that
statement could be switched around a little. For them, sports are a metaphor for business.

Coming from a sports background – including a stint as a varsity defenseman at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) – Scribner fits in perfectly with his company’s intense, sport-like work style.

For a few years now, Scribner has put in 60-hour workweeks and endured the frenetic schedule that comes with the position, which essentially amounts to self-employment.

Financial representatives with Northwestern Mutual are responsible for generating and maintaining their own clientele of individuals, professionals, corporate executives and business owners and serving their financial planning needs.

While such an environment of collared shirts and spreadsheets may seem far removed from soccer fields, basketball courts and ice hockey rinks, Scribner said it compares readily with an athletic environment.

"It’s set up like a team," he said. "Everybody helps each other. Everybody is competitive, but it’s a very positive competitive. People push each other to be more competitive."

Byron McFarland, Scribner’s managing director, said support for younger employees is an important aspect of what Northwestern Mutual does.

"We’re more like a family, but it feels like a team to the young guys," McFarland said. "The environment is pretty familiar. They look to me as the head coach."

In addition to having a team-like support system, McFarland said the athletic comparison runs deeper. He explained that financial representation is a physically and mentally demanding profession.

"It’s not for the weak at heart," he said. "I’ve found athletes are pretty good prospects."

McFarland said athletes are better able to handle the high-pressure situations that come with self-employment, and their superior physical conditioning enables them to handle the 60-hour workweeks.

"I brought over the work ethic [from sports]," Scribner said.

McFarland keeps an eye out for athletes as potential employees. Scribner said several of his coworkers have similar athletic experience.

A supporter of the UNO hockey program, McFarland first met his future employee on a road trip to Notre Dame, where Scribner and the Mavericks were playing.

Scribner, a finance major at UNO, asked McFarland about Northwestern Mutual’s internship program. McFarland invited the young athlete in to interview for the internship.

Scribner impressed McFarland and others in the interview, and also by showing them his training record he kept through college.

"We agreed he was a good fit for our culture," McFarland said. "He was also a fairly recognizable figure in the hockey community. That was a market we were trying to tap into."

Taking on the internship and finishing classes at UNO at the same time, Scribner immediately enjoyed his position with Northwestern Mutual. The Princeton Review has rated the internship among the 10 best in the nation seven consecutive times since 1996.

Scribner said the most positive aspect of the internship was that interns were given the same workload as full-fledged financial representatives.

"It shows you exactly what you will do day-to-day," he said. "It’s hard, but it really taught me the value of starting a business from scratch. I would recommend it to anyone. So many internships you end up being someone’s gopher."

McFarland said it is necessary for the internship to fully illustrate how challenging a full-time career with Northwestern Mutual can be. That way, interns can go in another direction if they don’t think they can handle it.

"We consider the internship as wading in," McFarland said. "This is self-employment, it’s like riding a roller coaster with a loose seat belt. [Interns] can make sure they know if it’s right. They can get used to their parents and friends questioning their sanity."

While it might not fit for some, the internship showed Scribner that he was on the right path. And while he confronts challenges on a daily basis, the Nebraska grad said his experience as a hockey player and the company’s support gets him through.

McFarland sees in his protégé the ability to work through the continual gut checks of being a full-time financial representative. He believes Scribner has the discipline, perseverance, enthusiasm, goal orientation and competitive nature that it takes to succeed in this career field.

"He’s willing to develop the characteristics to do this," McFarland said. "It’s a challenge every day. Sometimes they pass, sometimes they fail. He’s still here; he’s persevered."

"He’s willing to develop the characteristics to do this," McFarland said. "It’s a challenge every day. Sometimes they pass, sometimes they fail. He’s still here; he’s persevered."

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