Best Places to Work Winner: Principal

Des Moines, Iowa | Founded in 1879 | 12,900 employees | Ranks 1st among companies with more than 1,000 employees

Principal Trash Bash
Principal employees participating in an Earth Day event

An art-filled campus in Des Moines, Iowa, and a global perspective have helped Principal Financial Group attract and retain a diverse workforce.

Larry Zimpleman is president and CEO and a 40-plus-year veteran of the company. He describes himself as also having the role of company historian, and said the art collection does more than provide an attractive workplace.

The philosophy behind it is “to challenge you and challenge your thinking.”

“Art increases engagement and collaboration,” Mr. Zimpleman said.

Principal, which began acquiring the collection in the 1970s, displays nearly 740 works of art in its buildings. Artists include Maya Lin, John Buck, Deborah Butterfield, Keith Haring, Robert Arneson and Roy Lichtenstein.

Employees completing a Pensions & Investments' Best Places to Work

survey cited the work culture, the location and — most frequently — the ability to have a good work-life balance as the best things about the 133-year-old company. The asset management group, Principal Global Investors, is 11 years old and had $276.2 billion in assets under management as of Sept. 30.

As a company at which 65% of the workforce is women, Mary O'Keefe, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Principal Financial Group, said the whole company sees workplace “flexibility as a common-sense answer to a lot of complex problems.”

In addition to accommodating working parents, Ms. O'Keefe said the company's flexible culture has helped it adjust to having a large number of deployed military personnel among its workforce.

The flexibility “allows us to be a more diverse organization,” she added.

This attitude was echoed by employees, who cited “the ability to have a flexible schedule,” “the flexibility of hours” and that “management is very flexible in allowing people to determine how they can work in such a way to minimize the disruption to their personal lives.”

Jim McCaughan, CEO of Principal Global Investors, said the flexibility was core to the asset management business from the start. “Even 10 years ago ... it was clear we needed to be global and that meant building out the infrastructure for collaboration ... which meant we could be quite open about where people could live” and work.

He and others said the Des Moines location, where Principal is the largest private employer, is good for retention. But they added that having a global footprint is also important because it gives employees opportunities to advance and travel within the organization, which Mr. McCaughan said can help with recruitment.

Beyond work-life balance, Mr. McCaughan said, the core values and structure of the organization help create a good work environment.

“Principal has a lot of resources, as a diversity of firms do, but one of my main reasons I joined was the alignment with client interest,” said Mr. McCaughan who joined the company in 2002 from Credit Suisse Asset Management.

“When we trade equities for a client, we are not trading for our own account and we are not selling them,” he said. “That makes us like an independent investment manager with limited conflict and lots of resources.”

That attitude also came through in the employee survey responses.

“Our client-first culture creates an ethically and morally sound working environment,” one employee wrote.