For Mandi McReynolds, shifting from higher education to the corporate climate of a Fortune 250  company was a key pivot in her career that has enabled her to benefit people across the globe.  

Three years ago, Principal Financial Group hired McReynolds as manager of global community relations, after she had worked as director of community engagement and service learning at Drake University for four years.  

A discussion with Shannon Cofield, at the time senior counsel to Drake’s president, helped convince McReynolds that she measured up to the career jump to Principal.  

Last year, McReynolds was promoted to her present roles as director of Principal Foundation and director of community relations. The opportunity to lead the foundation came after she had expressed her thoughts on improving the organization. Beth Brady, Principal’s chief marketing officer, challenged her to formalize those ideas to her in a memo. 

“I wrote to [Brady], ‘I think we’re very big, but we act pretty small,’” McReynolds recalled. 

McReynolds envisions a much larger role for the 30-year-old foundation, which is among the 30 largest corporate foundations by assets under management. “So that gives us the opportunity to help the world ‘learn more, earn more, save more,’ ” she said. 

This fall, the foundation will announce a major initiative that will expand its reach beyond the dozen countries in which it now operates, including a five-year youth literacy program to benefit 50,000 people in 10 locations globally. 

There were several steps along her career path before. McReynolds worked in various roles at Iowa State University, Cornell College and Coe College before being hired by Drake to lead its community engagement efforts. “The theme throughout my entire career has been being a builder, and I think community relations is a really good way of doing that,” she said. 

Principal’s corporate culture encourages individuals to grow their skills, she said. For instance, during her initial six months with the foundation she led the extensive task of reviewing the organization’s corporate governance structure with outside counsel, with the assistance of numerous knowledgeable and experienced board and staff members.  

“Principal is really good about rotating your experiences so you can gain knowledge and understand how different parts of the business work,” she said. “You can always grow your skills; people will take the time to teach you. You’re not an amateur — you’re an efficient learner.” 

Last year, McReynolds took on a significant personal challenge by completing a half-Ironman competition. “The whole reason I did it was to teach myself to cover a distance, to be OK with things taking time, being a process.” 

Although the heat index on race day was in the 100s, she endured all three portions of the competition but was one of the last people to finish the race after a grueling 8 ½ hours. Her perseverance placed her first in her age division, however, as she was the only one in her bracket who showed up and completed the race despite the heat advisory. 

“Sometimes it takes that quiet reflectiveness to take you through,” she said.

Areas of Influence:

  • She is a national thought leader on community engagement and philanthropy and is the face of Principal’s community outreach and philanthropic initiatives. 
  • She serves as a leader of United Way of Central Iowa’s Women’s Leadership Connection, which is dedicated to improving the quality of early care and learning for young children. 
  • She has provided leadership and service on the boards of the Polk County Housing Trust and the Des Moines Social Club, and the Des Moines Downtown Chamber’s LEAP [Leadership Education and Advancement Pipeline] Advisory Board.