A couple of years ago during the Christmas season, Barbara Crowley sent a “significant” additional contribution to Des Moines Performing Arts. When the organization’s development officer called to thank her and inquire about the additional gift, Crowley’s response was short and sweet, recalled Jeff Chelesvig, president and CEO of Des Moines Performing Arts: “It’s been a good year for our company,” Crowley had said, “and I wanted to share that success.”
Sharing in her success has been a consistent theme for Crowley, who joined her late father, Bob Hoefer, in the insurance brokerage business in 1978. At that time, Brokers Clearing House Ltd. had two or three employees, including Crowley, in an office in the Fleming Building downtown.
“When I first came in this industry, there were very few women,” Crowley recalled. “I don’t have as many negative stories as some people do. My father was a bigger-than-life individual in our industry, and I came in as his daughter. So there was a certain protection in that early on.”
Thirty-five years later, as president and CEO, Crowley leads a team of about 25 employees. Her West Des Moines-based brokerage company represents about 70 insurance carriers’ life, long-term care, disability and annuity products to insurance agencies, banks, investment advisers and other organizations that sell them to the public.
A Midwestern work ethic inherited from her father, along with honesty, has taken her far, she said. “And I am very passionate about not only my business but most things that I’m involved with and support,” she said.
The Great Recession tested her mettle as a business leader. Within a year of taking on full responsibilities for the firm’s operations in 2007, Crowley found herself having to weigh laying off employees as record-low interest rates began taking a toll on the entire industry. “I was fortunate that some people left and I didn’t have to replace them,” she said. “And we took long, hard looks at reducing expenses.”
As an industry leader, she has served on the board of the National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies for the past four years, and in November will become chairperson of that board. She is also a founding partner of LifeMark Partners Inc., one of the largest and most prestigious marketing groups in the insurance industry.
In the community, Crowley is involved in supporting “just about anything” that Des Moines Performing Arts promotes. Other organizations she supports financially are Hope Ministries, Embrace Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Iowa, John Stoddard Cancer Center and the Iowa State Fair Foundation. “I’m all about local charities; anything that is local in the Des Moines area or the state, I feel better about,” she said.
At the same time, “I have to be careful,” she noted. “About midyear, my chief financial officer will come in and say, ‘We’re almost where we were (at the end of) last year for charitable contributions,’” she said with a laugh.
At 62, Crowley said she’s not ready to retire, but looks forward to some added flexibility. “I am actually looking forward to having more community time to be involved in different interests,” she said. She’d also like to travel more and spend more time in Scottsdale, Ariz., where she owns a town house.