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Insights from Dan Houston, Chairman, President & CEO of Principal Financial Group®, at the Inaugural Visionary Leaders Forum

Katherine Harrington

From Katherine Harrington, President & CEO | West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce

The West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce recently hosted its inaugural Visionary Leaders Forum, featuring Dan Houston, the Chairman, President, and CEO of Principal Financial Group. This special new series is in collaboration with the Principal® Financial Network of Central Iowa.  

Several of the Chamber’s Presidents Council Members, investors, and select CEOs had the opportunity to gain valuable insights into innovation, growth, leadership, and personal experiences from one of the region’s most influential business leaders. Here is a summary of the key takeaways from Dan Houston’s enlightening address. 

Equity and Inclusion: Dan emphasized the importance of equity and inclusion, pointing out that it is crucial to ensure there are no hidden biases within an organization. He said that leaders need to be more intentional on these issues. Principal Financial Group hires each year, thousands of employees worldwide, emphasizing the need for equity in the hiring process and within the workplace.  

The Power of Leadership: Throughout his 40-year tenure at Principal, Dan Houston stressed the significance of loving what you do, believing in the cause, and giving back to the community, values that have kept him committed to the company.  

Community Engagement: Dan encouraged leaders to actively engage with their communities. He mentioned active partnerships with organizations including the Principal Charity Classic, United Way, Icon Water Trails, Habitat for Humanity, Greater Des Moines Partnership, and an arboretum project effort he is spearheading in West Des Moines called Legacy Woods, illustrating Principal Financial Group’s commitment to community service. Houston shared his excitement for Principal Financial Group’s support of the John R. Wooden award. This sponsorship reflects the dedication of Principal® to celebrate expertise, excellence, and equality in sports.   

Visionary Leadership: Dan shared the idea that leaders should be visionaries, not just managers. He cited Henry Ford, highlighting the importance of thinking differently and embracing a visionary mindset. This approach has played a role in West Des Moines being recognized as one of the best-planned cities of its size. Dan talked about using new, advanced technologies (like GenAI) and leveraging them to your advantage. He also placed a spotlight on a new, proprietary platform Principal developed to help small businesses called Elevate which is a concierge support service. He hired a senior executive from a different industry to lead this effort and leverage a unique perspective to solving small business problems.   

Investing in Infrastructure: Dan pointed out that West Des Moines benefits from its strategic location, with highways 35/80, access to power and water, making it attractive to companies like Microsoft and Apple. He emphasized the city’s low cost of land and the passionate community service culture. 

The Impact of Principal Financial Group: Principal’s global reach was showcased, with operations in 80 different countries and strong relationships with top institutions worldwide, including joint ventures in major markets around the globe.   

Leadership Qualities: Dan underscored the importance of critical thinking skills and diversity in leadership teams. Principal Financial Group is committed to bringing people from diverse backgrounds into the organization to foster innovation and adaptability.  

Collaboration and Adaptability: In today’s dynamic business landscape, collaboration and open-mindedness are essential. Dan emphasized the need for CEOs to work with different generations and adapt to changing times. 

Commitment to Equality: Dan discussed Principal’s efforts to ensure gender equality within the organization and emphasized the importance of supporting DEI initiatives with greater intentionality. Half of Dan’s direct reports are female. 

Lifelong Learning: Dan Houston is an avid reader and emphasized the importance of staying informed through various sources, including a variety of newspapers like the China Daily, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. Dan travels extensively and encourages leaders to learn from other cultures, industries and interact with people to broaden their horizons.  

Dan Houston’s address at the Visionary Leaders Forum provided valuable insights into leadership, community engagement, and the role of visionary thinking in business success. His experiences and wisdom serve as an inspiration for CEOs and business leaders in the region and beyond.  

If you are interested in learning more about the Visionary Leaders Forum, contact Katherine Harrington – President & CEO of the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerce at katherine@wdmchamber.org or 515-689-4447 mobile. Thank you for your support!  

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