The year is 1972, and a young man named Jim Flagg has just started his career with Blue Shield. Nixon is President, the country is at war, but Flagg is focused on other things. He is focused on the new chapter in his life: a new job, and the child he and his wife are expecting.
By 1972, Flagg is already a lucky man. He has a young son, born during his tour with the Navy in Hawaii. His captain offers him a choice: two years with his wife at Pearl Harbor, or his original assignment, in Da Nang. Flagg chooses Hawaii … and life.
If he could have named that baby girl Kevin, in honor of his captain, Jim would have.
Jim Flagg’s years of service to Blue Shield outnumber his years in the Navy: he put in only 20 there. In his 36 years at Blue Shield, Flagg has moved a few times – from one building to another, between offices in San Francisco – but he held his favorite job, as Forms Analyst, for 27 years.
“I liked doing it,” he says simply. “Helping people, giving them what they wanted. Designing a paper form to satisfy the needs of the user and the company allowed me to be creative.”
Flagg remembers a time when Blue Shield was young: growing rapidly and geographically dispersed. There were fewer people spread out across more land, and those who worked here had to work differently.
“I remember going out to do fieldwork in the late 70’s. This made it easier to understand the whole department and what they were doing.”
But the offices themselves? You could keep them. “Dreary,” Flagg says, of 1970’s office culture. “Unwelcoming.”
He finds today’s work conditions much improved. “You just look at HR, how much it’s changed, how much it’s really trying to do,” he says. “People are more engaged now. And the HR:Connect website – in those days, who even thought of something like that?”
Flagg has struggled with his health over the years. In October 2004, the Forms department was eliminated, and Flagg lost his job. That was before Marianne Jackson, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, stepped in to bring him back.
“I said, ‘I can still do a lot for you guys,’” he recalls, of the discussion that preceded his return to Blue Shield. “And Marianne [Jackson] believed me.”
Jackson remembers agreeing to rehire him.
“Believing that each employee has a contribution to make and mutually benefiting from the experience is what this company is all about,” she says.
“Listening to Jim and creatively thinking through an alternative for him was just the right thing to do, in my opinion. We can not always make the win/wins happen, but when they do – glorious!”
Flagg appreciates the work he has been able to do since his return. “What I do is necessary and helpful. I perform tasks that need to be accomplished. But it’s less creative,” than the Analyst role he held earlier on, he admits.
Lately, he says it’s been more challenging to physically navigate the office. “I’m finding it more difficult to get around,” he says lightly. “It’s probably time to go.”
Few are ready to agree with him, though.
“Jim’s terrific,” laughs his carpooling buddy Francine Behar, of Facilities and Security Services. Behar met Flagg a couple of years ago, when they carpooled to work together. He loved to drive, and she loved riding with him.
“When traffic was bad,” she says, “he’d try to give us a scenic route. We’d go on these joyrides: Jim would find any road that wasn’t full of cars, just to get home. I wasn’t one of the regulars in that carpool – they called me the ‘extra head’ – and Jim would leave notes at my desk when there was room for me.
“I have such respect for him,” Behar continues. “I use Jim as an illustration of determination for my son. He’s so positive.
“Once Jim told me that he was going camping. I said, ‘That’s great! Who are you going with? He said he was going by himself. ‘I just like camping,’ he said.”
Why leave now? Even Flagg has mixed feelings.
“At my Navy Reserve retirement gathering, it just hit me – and hit me wrong – that people would say, ‘this guy’s retiring’.”
Still, he has good reasons to make the move.
“I’ve sold my house to my son,” Flagg says. “I’ve paid off my RV. And I’ve always wanted to travel and live in my RV. This has always been my dream.”
Where would he go?
“Anywhere it’s warm,” he says with a smile.