In 2013 Principal Financial Group Inc. completed the  Principal Riverwalk in downtown Des Moines and had a record-breaking year for its Principal Charity Classic golf tournament.

Which made 2014 a good time for Mary O’Keefe, Principal’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, to end her own chapter with the company. O’Keefe announced in February that she will retire in June after 24 years with the company. 

“I think it just came together at a really good time,” O’Keefe said. “I’ve been fortunate in the long time I’ve had here and the things I’ve gotten to do.”

O’Keefe, 57, joined Principal in 1990 and was named to her current position in 2004. She is responsible for corporate marketing, branding, communications and corporate giving and has held several senior leadership roles in human resources and corporate strategic development.

Before joining Principal, O’Keefe was a social worker for the state of Iowa. She was given some marketing responsibilities in that job and also staffed an oversight committee before she was offered a job at Principal. 

“It wasn’t what I envisioned for my career,” said O’Keefe, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, “but to have that opportunity and to work for a company with such great integrity and such a great tradition was great for me.”

After becoming chief marketing officer, she  led the company’s rebranding effort and implemented a new marketing campaign for Principal called The Edge, which launched in 2005. At the heart of that campaign was an animated character named Eddie, who represented all the people Principal could help with the company’s services. Eddie was a metaphor for how Principal could help both people and businesses.

O’Keefe said that set the bar and really differentiated Principal from the competition. 

“It was pretty controversial when we launched it because financial services has tended to be a more traditional industry,” she said. “That campaign was such a joy to launch and to convince our management group it was the right thing to do.”

O’Keefe said the work she has done  for  Principal in the community is something she also values. O’Keefe led the development and construction of the Principal Riverwalk and chaired The Principal Charity Classic. She was inducted into the Iowa Volunteer Hall of Fame in 2012 and honored for her work to increase employment opportunities for veterans with the Seven Seals Award, the highest civilian recognition awarded jointly by all seven U.S. military branches. She has served on the boards of and led fundraising efforts for numerous community and state organizations.

“Principal has given me the opportunity to be part of a lot of things,” O’Keefe said. “In turn, I was able to be part of some really great efforts and work with great teams. It was never about one person. It was always about a team.”

After she retires, O’Keefe plans to take some time before deciding what she wants to do next. O’Keefe shows horses in her spare time, and she said she has no plans to stop doing that. She also plans to stay involved in philanthropic ventures through Habitat for Humanity and serving on the UnityPoint Health board of directors. She will also see through this year’s Principal Charity Classic, which takes place May 27 through June 1 at Wakonda Club.

O’Keefe said she’s grateful for the support she’s received through Principal, through leadership and mentoring, as well as for so many people she’s met along the way. 

“It’s a little bittersweet and a little scary,” O’Keefe said, “but it’s a lot of fun to think I have another chapter ahead of me to find something else I’m really passionate about.”