College supporter loves his work

March 28, 2013
Jim Dobbs

By rights, Jim Dobbs should have been a dentist or veterinarian.

In fact, he might well have gone to Ohio State's veterinarian school and not been this year's recipient of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.'s Southern Region Managing Partner Leader Award.

When he received a pre-medicine degree from West Virginia University in 1972, Dobbs had decided against being a dentist, although one of his mentors during his youth was his family dentist and had heavily influenced young Jim's career inclinations.  He was accepted into dental school, but being a vet had more appeal, since he liked animals, and he set his heart on attending Ohio State. But no applicants from West Virginia were accepted that year.

So, back in Charleston, W.Va., Dobbs worked in a bank as a management trainee. That's when he began to meet successful community leaders in the insurance business.  Many of them were with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, and soon he joined them. He's never regretted it.

"Northwestern Mutual is the most family-oriented company today," Dobbs said. "It is run based on 100 percent integrity, and the fact is, you don't find this very much in business anymore."

Dobbs would have been a business minor, if there had been such a thing in the early 1970s when he attended WVU.  He took enough business courses that he was well-prepared for a job with Northwestern. Today, some 40 years later, he is managing partner of The Dobbs Group, which, if it were an independent life insurance company, would rank in the top 19 percent of life insurance companies nationally, with nearly $9 billion of in-force business.

The fact is, Dobbs was interested in becoming a dentist early on because he wanted a lifestyle that would allow him leeway in his life. He was always amazed at how his dentist was able to take days off to go fishing and hunting.

Working with Northwestern Mutual has offered the same lifestyle, he said, and he advises students to consider careers in the industry. "The business I'm in offers flexibility," he said. "As my kids were growing up, I didn't miss their ball games, plays and other activities. Also, there is unlimited income potential."

Students have a great opportunity for getting acquainted with Northwestern Mutual through a highly acclaimed internship program that was ranked among the nation's top 10 programs, selected from among more than 200,000 reviewed. "These internships are not ‘gopher' jobs," Dobbs said. "The students do what we do, with mentors, in the real world of insurance sales."

Working for Northwestern Mutual means never having to say you are sorry, he said.  "We always do the right thing by our clients. We stand by them and take care of them. We're very client oriented."

Insurance is a people business, and Dobbs is glad he decided on that career path, although his medical background is often useful.  "I can talk the same language as medical professionals; so that's been helpful," he said.

Dobbs has served as chairman of the West Virginia Business Hall of Fame Committee, which was established by the College of Business and Economics, and he is a member of the College's Visiting Committee, a group that offers the College's dean advice on goals and direction.  

Meeting recipients of the Hall of Fame awards is inspiring, Dobbs said. He believes all students, and certainly business students, should hear their stories. "It's inspiring to hear them tell of their struggles and successes," he said. "If I were an instructor, I'd have my students hear these stories. I've served for years on the Hall of Fame Committee, and I've loved doing it."

He is also a supporter of the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, hosted by the College. "The simple fact is that entrepreneurship is the answer to many issues in West Virginia business," Dobbs said. "The competition brings attention to this and is a positive force for economic development. We need all parts of West Virginia business working together to make our state stronger, and the College of Business and Economics can, I believe, play a central role in the effort."

He has earned a Chartered Life Underwriter designation, a Chartered Financial Consultant designation, and the Southern Region Managing Partner Leader Award recognized Dobbs for an outstanding year of performance with Northwestern Mutual. This is an award he has received every year since 1999. In 2011 and 2012 he received the award for the entire company.

Dobbs isn't alone in his praise for Northwestern Mutual. In 2012 it was named by Fortune magazine among the world's most admired life insurance companies. As a "mutual" company with $1.4 trillion of life insurance protection in force, it has no shareholders.

A WVU sports fan and supporter, he can often be seen in his box on the 50-yard line, where he is frequently host to WVU officials and University donors. "I'm proud to live in West Virginia, and I'm proud of our University," he said. "It's a great place to live. It's a safe place to live and has a perfect down-home feeling. It's a special place, and that's what I believe."

Dobbs and his wife, Kim, have three children: Lisa Dobbs Bizzell, a 2003 WVU graduate; Tori, a WVU multidisciplinary studies and English double major senior; and James, a WVU freshman in advertising.