Being singled out for recognition – for instance, being named a 2013 Woman of Influence – tends to make Laura Jackson a bit uncomfortable. She much prefers being a team player at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
“I found out at a pretty early age that the more I have on my plate, the better I do,” said Jackson, who in January assumed the additional responsibility of overseeing the company’s sales and marketing division as executive vice president. “I think I’m motivated by responsibility, when other people are counting on me.”
Her community roles are closely aligned with her passion for improving people’s health. She currently chairs the Wellness Council of Iowa and co-chairs the Capital Crossroads Wellness Capital working group. She also serves on the boards of the Iowa Healthcare Collaborative, the Healthiest State Initiative and the YMCA of Greater Des Moines.
Jackson joined Wellmark 11 years ago as senior vice president of human resources, after rising through the ranks of the human resources department at Principal Financial Group Inc. Her career choice stems in part from a deeply personal loss: the passing of her father when she was just 17.
“I had a lot of people who helped me see my way through that,” she recalled. “So I became pretty interested in understanding how people make decisions, because I was trying to process something myself at a very young age.” Majoring in psychology at Iowa State University, she studied under an industrial psychologist and researched how human behavior was linked to decision-making in the business world.
At each stage of her career, Jackson can think of key advice from mentors that guided her own decisions. “So when I was in HR, I’ve always remembered that and tried to be supportive and lay out a balance sheet, if you will, for people to help them think through their choices,” she said.
Though she spent much of her working life in human resources, Jackson said she’s never been a goal-setter in respect to her own career, other than just doing the best job that she can in each role she’s given.
In her current position, Jackson is responsible for the management of Wellmark’s provider network in Iowa and South Dakota, a task that is rapidly evolving as the industry rethinks how health care benefits are delivered. For instance, Wellmark has recently combined its provider relations and health management divisions with its sales and marketing function to provide a more comprehensive view of its health insurance customers, she said.
“It’s a tremendous amount of accountability and work, but it’s been really, really fun to watch people see the possibilities,” she said.
If there is any volunteer position that represents the best of being involved, it was when Jackson agreed to serve on the YMCA board.
“It was every sweet spot I could imagine,” she said. “It’s about the kids and giving them a safe environment in which to learn and grow and develop, and it’s about taking care of their bodies. ... Everybody deserves a chance at living a good life.”