Best Life Insurance Provider Principal  Financial Group Inc. From left, Principal’s Deanna Strable, Greg Linde, Amy Friedrich and Nick Cecere. Photo by Duane Tinkey
Best Life Insurance Provider Principal Financial Group Inc. From left, Principal’s Deanna Strable, Greg Linde, Amy Friedrich and Nick Cecere. Photo by Duane Tinkey

Best Life Insurance Provider

Principal Financial Group Inc.

Though life insurance is part of a broad range of products offered by Principal Financial Group Inc., the company's life policies are still top of mind for Business Record readers. The Des Moines-based financial services company has again been named "best life insurance provider" in the annual reader poll.

"We're honored to be part of the Des Moines Business Record best list this year," said Deanna Strable, senior vice president of individual life for Principal. "As the eighth-largest life insurer in the United States, the Principal Financial Group focuses on providing financial protection for individuals and their families. I share this recognition with our hard-working employees as well as the financial professionals across the country who help our customers protect their financial future."

A member of the Fortune 500, Principal has $257.7 billion in assets under management and serves some 18.8 million customers worldwide. Its life insurance subsidiary is the largest Iowa-domiciled life insurance company, with plans that address estate planning, business continuation, executive benefits, financial planning and retirement income.

Principal earlier this year was named one of the "World's Most Ethical Companies" by the Ethisphere Institute, an international research organization that advances best practices in ethics. Principal was one of only three companies in the financial services industry to make the prestigious list this year.

Runners-up: Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.; State Farm Life Insurance Co.



Best Health Insurance Provider

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa

"It's always gratifying" to be named the best health insurance provider, said John Forsyth, chairman and CEO of Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Iowa. For the 13th consecutive year, Wellmark has received that honor, "and I think it's warranted," Forsyth said.

"We have an outstanding group of employees that make it possible," he said. "We're really focused on improving the health of our members, and hopefully reducing the rate of increase in health insurance costs." As it has each year, the health insurance company will grant its employees a casual day for winning the designation, Forsyth said.

Wellmark employs more than 1,700 Iowans and provides coverage to more than 1.7 million customers in the state. The Des Moines-based company will move next year into a new 500,000-square-foot headquarters building that's under construction adjacent to Western Gateway Park.

The company provides a number of wellness-focused initiatives, among them Whole Health Dimensions, a suite of health management programs and services that address health-benefits costs by helping employees stay healthy and prevent or delay chronic illnesses. Wellmark's BlueConnection online self-service tools enable members to look up personalized health plan information and claims data.

Runners-up: Principal Financial Group Inc.; United HealthCare Services Inc.



Best Business Consulting Firm

RSM McGladrey Inc.

Companies haven't been looking to hire a lot of people during the past few months, but they have been looking for ways to operate more efficiently. With its diversity of consulting services, RSM McGladrey Inc. has been able to adapt to the shifting landscape and keep busy.

"Our consultants are getting asked to do a lot more things now," said Rod Foster, now completing his first 12 months as the far-flung company's "location leader" in Des Moines. As examples, he listed "the search for bank financing or other sources of financing - there's a lot of that - operation reviews, where they're looking for areas that could be leaner. Clearly, the economic downturn feeds into that."

The local office has about 170 employees. Lee Voigt, the managing director in consulting practice, said McGladrey operates under four "umbrellas" of consulting services: technology-oriented business solutions, information technology (IT) network solutions, a risk-management group and a financial forensics group.

Within those categories, Voigt said, the recession has created demand for services such as replacing older "legacy" technology, remote management of IT systems, internal auditing and compensation studies.

In the financial forensics area, "the strategy operations team has gone gangbusters with the downturn," Voigt said. "Everyone is looking to get leaner and meaner."

Foster said the staff size has increased during the past two or three years and "held pretty solid through last year. When things are good in the economy, the things we get to work on are much more fun. But in times like these, there's the same amount of work for the staff to do."

Runners-up: Jensen Consulting; BCC Advisers



Best Executive Search Firm

Palmer Group

Central Iowa has seen its share of large layoffs in the past few months, and many of the affected companies have called upon Palmer Group to help departing employees start the next phase of their careers.

"Toward the end of last year and in the first part of this year, outplacement or career transition services have really taken off," said Greg Thomas, Palmer's director of recruiting services. "In the last eight months, we have helped hundreds of people in their career search. We're not known as much for that, but it's something we have provided for the last six or seven years."

When hired by a company to work with laid-off employees, it's Palmer's job to "help candidates get ready to do their search, overcome the emotional challenge, get their head on straight and practice interviewing," Thomas said. "Some are still looking, but many of them are in new jobs. I'm really proud of how well our outplacement group has done."

Palmer Group, a perennial winner in the "Best Executive Search Firm" category, also has started to see increased activity in its more traditional services, Thomas said. "The market is rebounding," he said. "There aren't as many openings as two or three years ago, but we are seeing more opportunities for people. We feel like it's going continue to improve."

Next up for the company: "We have been working on a new Web site, which we'll roll out later this year," Thomas said. "It's a huge undertaking, and I think it will really set the bar for the industry. It will be cleaner, more video-enabled and easier for candidates and clients to work with."

Runners-up: Executive Resources Ltd.; Porticohr



Best Temporary Employment Service

Manpower Inc.

Mike Lynch has found one silver lining in the nation's economic struggle: "I don't recall a time when I've had more meaningful, heartfelt conversations with people," said the president of Manpower Inc.'s Central Iowa franchise. "Everybody is in the same boat, and whether the conversation is personal or about business, it gets to the depth of what's good and bad."

Lynch's mother, Helen, opened the Manpower office here in 1953, and his father was one of the first customers. Lynch, with 27 years of experience in the business, said the past few months have been "a bizarre and interesting kind of a ride," but foresees smoother sailing in the near future. At Manpower, "I think we're going to see a gradual increase during the rest of the year," he said.

The office handles temporary employment services as far north as Fort Dodge and as far south as Creston. "Technology and the professions are a growth area for us," Lynch said. "Clerical and administrative support are kind of a specialty, and there's a fairly robust light industrial division. We're not highly involved in health care and the heavy industrial stuff."

Revenues have been basically flat for the year, he said. "We're seeing new customers every day," he said, 'but the flip side is that things are going out the back door as new business comes in the front door, as we see large layoffs from the larger companies in town.

"It's the old saw - it's all about relationships," Lynch said. "As we have the opportunity to connect with people during hard times, my belief is that it will make better times that much richer for everybody."

Runners-up: Palmer Group; PorticoHR



Best Sales Training/Executive Development Company

Tero International INC.

Tero International Inc. President Rowena Crosbie said her company was tired of coming in second in the Business Record's annual reader poll and she's excited about the recognition as the best corporate training company in Des Moines.

"This is important, because our clients are recognizing us as something good, something that enhances their businesses," Crosbie said.

And there is plenty to acknowledge. The 16-year-old company has seen a significant amount of growth in the last few years. Tero has delivered training in 10 countries, something Crosbie said she wasn't sure was possible five years ago. To top it all off, the company experienced 22 percent growth in the past year.

Crosbie said follow-up and extensive research help Tero deliver the best product. "Up to 75 percent of training can be lost in the first 24 hours," Crosbie said. "That is why follow-up assessment is so important to us and our clients."

Tero is currently developing projects specific to intercultural sensitivity and making the succession of CEOs more seamless. As with all of Tero's programs, Crosbie said each program will require 50 hours of research for every hour of instruction.

"Those are the kinds of things that reassure CEOs that their money is well spent," she said.

Runners-up: Dale Carnegie Training; Dardis Communications Inc.



Best Place to Buy Office Furniture

Storey Kenworthy

In its 70 years of operation, Storey Kenworthy has seen a wide range of popular styles and trends when it comes to outfitting office spaces.

Anticipating trends and providing the best-quality furniture is what sets Storey Kenworthy apart, said Stacy Rose, the company's marketing coordinator. The newest fad in office furniture appears to be "green," and Rose said the employees are well-versed in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

"We've been able to focus some of our efforts on green initiatives," said Rose. "As people become more conscientious, the need for eco-friendly products will continue to rise."

Rose said Storey Kenworthy has also been a leader in Central Iowa because it helps businesses become more efficient. As the price of real estate continues to rise, consultants at Storey Kenworthy can help businesses rearrange floor plans and select furniture that will allow the most people to work in one area without interfering with productivity.

"Our company is equipped to help people from start to finish," Rose said. "We hope to be the company people think of first."

Runners-up: WorkSpace Inc.; Triplett Cos.



Best Place to Buy Office Supplies

Staples Inc.

Convenience is Staples Inc.'s largest selling point, with speedy mail delivery and late-night store hours.

Bob Hingtgen, general manager of Staples' Merle Hay Road store in Des Moines, said the company prides itself on supplying everything businesses and individuals need. From rubber bands to technology services, Hingtgen said, Staples does it all.

"It's not just pens and paper anymore," Hingtgen said.

Staples' sales representatives help local businesses keep well stocked, or items can be purchased online at Staples.com and be delivered within one or two business days.

Or, Hingtgen said, Staples can also satisfy immediate needs because it's open until 9 p.m. most nights.

"You never seem to run out of ink until you're in the middle of a project," he said.

Staples opened its newest location in the Des Moines area at 3800 Merle Hay Road on March 12. Hingtgen said the company hopes to open two more stores soon, but the economy has hampered those plans.

"Staples has been able to grow across the nation, however, and opened 40 new stores in the first half of this year," Hingtgen said.

Runners-up: Office Depot Inc.; Storey Kenworthy



Best Bank

Wells Fargo Bank N.A.

Iowa's largest financial institution is also considered to be the best bank in Greater Des Moines.

Wells Fargo Bank N.A.'s strength, security, conservative financial discipline and commitment to doing what's right enable it to satisfy customers and meet their financial needs, according to Scott Johnson, regional banking president for Wells Fargo Iowa and Illinois.

"We keep our focus on providing sound financial advice and outstanding service to our customers," Johnson said. "That focus helps our customers and our company succeed financially."

Wells Fargo operates in 45 Iowa communities, with 78 retail banking stores, six Wells Fargo Home Mortgage offices and 13 Wells Fargo Financial stores.

The bank's commitment to the local community is an important part of its focus. Last year, Wells Fargo donated $3.5 million to educational institutions and nonprofit organizations across Iowa.

"In this challenging environment, we know there are many needs in the community," said David Mackaman, regional banking president for Wells Fargo Des Moines. "We work hard to give back because we want this community to be successful. Our success depends on it."

Runners-up: Bankers Trust Co.; West Bank



Best Travel Agency

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL ASSOCIATES

Economic adversity might be suppressing the amount of business travel, but it's also increasing the need of companies for travel agencies like International Travel Associates (ITA).

Mary Phillips, ITA's supervisor of international travel, said because companies are looking to save money on travel, they are seeing value in contracting with ITA to find ways to lower costs and handle their travel.

"Although in some aspects travel is down a little bit because companies are being very conscious of their expenses, it's even more important now for them to manage those expenses and do everything they can to save money wherever they can, and get the best value with their travel budget," Phillips said.

Some of the ways ITA tries to keep costs low for its clients, Phillips said, are by looking for flights that aren't direct but rather have a connection, possibly leaving a day early, or more rarely even looking at leaving out of a city other than Des Moines.

Phillips said the biggest change she has seen during the economic slump of the past year is that companies are scrutinizing "not so much the cost of the travel, but the necessity of the travel." She said companies are questioning whether they really need to have the meeting, whether the meeting has to be face to face, and how many people actually need to travel. Phillips said the company, which underwent a change in CEO to Tom Mahoney from Steve Chapman, who is now the chairman of the board, has fared relatively well during the recession. Even better, Phillips said, is the position the company will be in if the economy turns around.

"We are in a position that companies that maybe weren't sure or hadn't been shown the value in travel management in the past, now see that," she said. "So when the economy turns around, and they've now been proven that travel management is important and can be of help to them, they will continue to expect that and want that service."

Runners-up: Travel and Transport; AAA Travel Agency



Best Commercial Printer

Acme Printing Co. Inc.

Jerry Miller has spent his working life in the printing business, and since 1976 has been the owner of Acme Printing Co. Inc. When he bought the company, it was a three-person operation with about $100,000 in annual sales. Now he has about 80 employees and does $11 million in business annually.

"We do a wide variety of jobs," he said, "but the bulk is multicolor marketing materials." Located at 66 Washington Ave., north of downtown Des Moines, Acme serves clients within a 50-mile radius.

"Business is down a little, but we're surviving," Miller said of the recession. "I think things have stabilized."

Runners-up: Christian Printers Inc.; Beeline and Blue