Larry Jansen one of a kind

One of a kind

People who knew Larry Jansen, no matter from what part of his life, use many phrases to describe him, but “one of a kind” is the most common. Jansen, who served as Grinnell Mutual’s president from 2012 to 2017, died Oct. 3, 2022.

When used in connection with Jansen, “one of a kind” works as a multi-purpose descriptor and is expressed in many tones of voice — from admiring and respectful to rueful and mildly exasperated. But always tinged with affection. (See also: restless, mercurial, impatient, decisive, community minded.) Jansen was also devoted to his wife of 51 years, Echo, and son Justin, and cared deeply about Grinnell Mutual’s customers and employees.

No matter what words were used to describe him, there’s no doubt that Jansen led from the front — a shine on his shoes, a crease in his khakis, and one of his signature bow ties, advertising his intention to do things his way and with style.

“It all fit together for him,” said Jeff Menary, Grinnell Mutual’s current president and CEO. “Family, business, shepherding the company, and taking care of employees. If there was a way to impact things positively for his family, his town, his employees, or his policyholders, he was going to be an activator.”


Menary worked closely with Jansen for over 25 years through several professional incarnations, including during Jansen’s tenure as Grinnell Mutual’s president. Jansen stepped into the position at a time when a then-unprecedented series of weather events and company leadership changes combined to create “some pretty tough years.”

“The company’s president resigned unexpectedly,” Menary recalled, “and we had an executive committee that was keeping things going until the board chose a new president. Larry, then head of Underwriting, was one of two final candidates.

“Later the board added other candidates to the interview process. And Larry, being Larry, was upset about that and told me that he wasn’t even sure he wanted to interview for the job.

“But I told him, ‘You’ve got to interview for the position and inform the board of the changes that must be made even if you don’t get it.’ So, he interviewed, and he was the perfect choice. At the time, Larry was at a typical retirement age, but he agreed to take the role for five years.”

Despite any reluctance Jansen might have felt, once he was appointed, he leapt into his new role with characteristic verve. He had a plan for restoring the company to profitability and — as everyone would soon learn — he was going to do what it took to make things happen.

Reflecting on that time, Executive Vice President and COO Dave Wingert said that when Jansen took the company’s wheel, “He was the right guy, at the right time, in the right job, for the right company. His philosophy was ‘Think big, have fun, and get sh*t done.’ ”

Jansen was on the scene at a critical juncture for Grinnell Mutual, and well-equipped to right the ship and captain it through the growth and change that were so much a feature of his tenure as the company’s leader.


The key to Jansen’s success seemed to stem in equal parts from his energy, his decisiveness, and his impatience. As a result, working with him was seldom dull, but could at times be vexing.

“He was ‘Fire, ready, aim’ Larry,” recalls Menary with a laugh. “I remember when we were modifying our billing system, Larry just waded in and started making decisions, and the people involved in the project came to me and said ‘We need to slow him down! We need to think about this!’

“I went to him with their concerns, and he just said, ‘Nope. I don’t care. I know this new system is better than what we’ve got, so that’s what we’re going to do.’ And he was right. He was very positive and very charismatic. He had this way of simplifying plans, then executing.”

And he usually carried it off. “Larry was the kind of person who, if he dropped his toast, it would land jelly side up,” Menary said. “I don’t know whether you’d call it intuition or just blind luck. He just had that knack. But he also had to be in control!”

Tammy Vos, assistant vice president for Facilities and Administrative Services at Grinnell Mutual, knows first-hand Jansen’s reluctance to let others steer the ship, even in minor ways. Immediately after he was named president, at 2 p.m. on a Thursday, he called Vos, then the facility services manager, into his office.

“When I got there, he said he wanted all new furniture for his office and to have it set up by the following Tuesday. So, I went shopping with [Jansen’s executive assistant] Kim Pickett on Monday,” Vos recalled.

“On Tuesday, he’s due back at 4 p.m. and Kim and I are in his office, getting everything put together, Vos said. “He walks in at one o’clock and says, ‘Why aren’t you done yet?’ That should have given me an inkling of what working with him was going to be like.”

Larry Jansen elevated impatience to an art form, and woe betide the person, place, or thing that got on the wrong side of it.


Jansen’s impatience extended to technology, which was a constant source of frustration for him, and he kept the company’s tech support team on speed-dial. Cell phones were a particular antagonist.

According to a tale Wingert heard, this sometimes led to dramatic results.

“Once, Larry was on the road somewhere and he couldn’t get good reception and he couldn’t get it figured out. So, he called the IT help desk back at the home office. He was on the phone with them for what seemed like forever, and finally he got so frustrated he said, 'If you want this damned phone, you can pick it up at mile marker whatever,’ and he threw it out the car window!”

Nevertheless, Jansen didn’t allow technophobia to derail his effort to steer Grinnell Mutual through a time of dramatic change in the industry and to keep modernizing. It was under Jansen's watch that the ball got rolling on Grinnell Mutual’s biggest enterprise-wide undertaking in its history: a complete transformation of the company’s business platform, industry leader Guidewire. The new platform is now live in all of Grinnell Mutual’s direct business states and the company continues to work toward moving all lines of business to the platform.

Jansen also oversaw a large update to the company’s headquarters.

“In 2013, Larry and (then-board chairman) Dale Bartelt decided that we needed to build a training and conference center,” said Tammy Vos. “So, we got a committee together and did a whole lot of touring of other facilities. We ended up with a contractor who gave us preliminary designs and we presented them at the December board meeting.”

The plan called for a spacious, technologically advanced redo of a significant percentage of the home office. The board approved the plan, but Jansen still wasn’t satisfied.

He came up with an addendum to the plan that specified a 250-seat auditorium, nine conference rooms, and a 250-seat cafeteria. And so it was.

“We broke ground March 2014, and by June 2015 we were scheduled to have our annual meeting [in the new facility],” Vos recalled.


The bright, roomy new cafeteria was not only a welcome change from the dim warren in the basement, its previous home, it featured a custom table just for playing Pitch, a card game Jansen had been playing with a dedicated group of employees in the company dining room for years.

Dave Wingert remembers Pitch being part of his introduction to the company.

“I was on a tour of the building” he said. “And we went down to the basement cafeteria. There was one well-lit corner where there was a lot of whooping and hollering going on. Come to find out it was Larry’s regular Pitch game. They’d meet without fail — people from all levels of the company. Larry ran it like clockwork, and if you were a regular at the game and you didn’t show up, they’d call you on the intercom. That was my first indication that Grinnell Mutual might be a good place to work.”

But it was Jansen’s ambition to make the company much more than a “good” place to work. He wanted it to be one of the best. He knew the company’s success depended on its employees and their families staying mentally and physically healthy, so he made sure they enjoyed a generous benefits package, a liberal leave policy, a relaxed dress code, educational benefits, and affordable health insurance options.

Jansen also worked with a local Grinnell medical practice to establish the Health Matters Clinic, an onsite facility where medical services — including urgent care, counseling, routine immunizations, health education, stress management, and preventive screenings — were offered free to employees and their family members.

He also believed worker satisfaction was more likely if employees had a clear path to take their concerns straight to the top. So, he advertised an open-door policy and encouraged employees to use it.


Brielle Beck, now on Grinnell Mutual’s Talent Development team, was an early beneficiary of this access.

In 2016, when she was a high school senior, she took part in an internship program that was another of Jansen’s pet projects.

“I did a mini-internship at the company with a group of five other Grinnell High School students,” she said. “The first day we met Larry, he told us ‘Come up and see me any time,’ and I thought, ‘Here we are, a group of 17-year-olds and we get to talk to the president whenever we want!'”

It wasn’t long before Beck’s group had a good reason to take Jansen up on his invitation. They learned that the school district was going to cut the high school business program they were all enrolled in.

“We remembered what Larry had said about coming to see him, so on day two of our internship, we all walked into his office,” she said.

Jansen heard them out, then arranged for them to talk with the company’s senior leadership team.

“Company leaders provided resources that allowed us to put together a public forum and invite local businesses to hear why we thought the business program was important, and Larry also provided us with the resources to go to the board meeting, where we all spoke.”

Jansen ultimately committed funding from the Grinnell Mutual Group Foundation to keep the program going. But his commitment to the interns didn’t stop there.

“Larry told us all that when we graduated from college, we could have full-time jobs at Grinnell Mutual,” Beck says. “Three of us ended up taking advantage of the offer and are full-time employees still today.”


Lori Smith, Grinnell Mutual's event planner, worked closely with Jansen on many occasions.

“He was the most generous person, once you got to know him,” Smith said, “though he was very competitive.” Golf was one area where Jansen allowed his baser impulses free rein.

“When we’d participate in tournaments, Larry always knew who he wanted on his side,” Smith said. “And he would always stack his teams. One year, we played a trick on Larry and told my husband Lennie — a great guy but a mediocre golfer — to go and sit on Larry’s team’s golf cart.

“Larry sees this, and he comes over and says to me ‘Um…Lori? Why is Lennie with my team, over on my golf cart?’ I said, ‘Well, Larry, to be honest, I’ve had some complaints. People are tired of the stacked teams, so I had to switch things up.’ Larry was clearly not happy.

At the look on Jansen’s face, a mutual manager who was supposed to be on Larry's team started laughing, giving the game away.

“Some people would have fired me for pulling a stunt like that,” Smith said, “But not Larry. He could dish it out and he could take it.”


Over and over, when they reflected on their relationships with Jansen, people’s stories came tumbling out. No one didn’t have a “Larry story” to share.

But the full story of any life exists between and beyond the images these stories provide, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. And the one person who knows that full story, and who most understands the whole of Larry Jansen, is Echo Jansen.

“We met at Hawkeye Security Insurance Company in Des Moines in 1971,” she said. “He was an underwriter, and I was secretary to the president. We got married and we got to celebrate our 51st wedding anniversary. Not too many people get to say that anymore!

“Through the years he got different promotions and we moved to a number of places, and then he got contacted by a headhunter and we ended up at Grinnell Mutual.

“That turned out to have been the best thing he ever did. After he was named president, Grinnell Mutual was named one of the top ten places to work in Iowa and he was so proud about that. For him it was all about the employees,” Echo said.

“If I had to identify one thing that he was most proud of, though, I’d say that was the Health Matters Clinic for all the employees and their families, so they would be well taken care of. When the board renamed it for him [at his retirement], he was very excited and happy.

“He was a very good husband and father, and he was proud of our son Justin. He also had 76 bow ties, and at first when he started wearing them, I was really embarrassed. I said, ‘Only old men wear those, Larry.’ But they did grow on me.”

Echo Jansen misses many things about Larry, but the thing she misses the most is the simplest. “Every morning he told me he loved me,” she said. “I do miss that so much.”