Influential Leaders

J. Barry Griswell

Barry Griswell

Berry College, Campbell School of Business

Financial Services

J. Barry Griswell’s career and life impact can best be found at the intersection of business achievement and community/social change with emphasis on how ethical leadership and hard work cultivate and benefit both. He overcame great adversity to achieve success and carries with him the belief that life’s real rewards can be found in making better the lives of others.

Griswell grew up in a single-parent home, moving 16 times. Despite this instability, he became the first in his family to graduate from college and has long followed a guiding principle of giving his best effort, “and then some.” This admirable work ethic has led to business success that can be assessed by his many accomplishments and accolades. Under Griswell’s leadership, Principal Financial Group (PFG) grew to be one of the largest corporations in the world and also was named one of the Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere Magazine, one of America’s Most Admired Companies by Fortune magazine, one of the 100 Best Companies by Working Mother magazine, and one of America’s Best Big Companies to Work For by Forbes.

Griswell’s career is replete with examples of uniquely deploying change and innovation to create value for all stakeholders. After years of innovation with MetLife, Griswell reached the pinnacle of business success as chair, president, and CEO of PFG. He led the company’s demutualization and conversion to a publicly traded company. Among many successes, he helped craft strategies that led PFG to a leadership position in the 401K market for small to medium businesses in the U.S., in addition to developing global retirement services and asset management platforms.

Griswell’s service leadership is even more notable. Upon retiring from PFG, Griswell spent five years as president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines on a pro-bono basis. In addition to exceptional service to Berry College as a trustee and philanthropist, and trustee emeritus at Central College, he serves or has served on the national boards of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, United Way of America, Scholarship America, and Americans for the Arts, among others.

Griswell also has served the industry in major leadership roles including chair of LIMRA International, the Life Underwriter Council, and the American Council of Life Insurers, all during times of significant industry change. He was also a board member of the Business Roundtable, cochairing the health and retirement committee that provided information to Congress that led to the enactment of the landmark Pension Protection Act of 2006, which enhanced the retirement security of American workers.

In Spring 2008, Barry and his wife Michele founded The Harvest Initiative, an endeavor to bring economic development and increased educational opportunities to the people of Crow Creek County in South Dakota.

Griswell is a published author of The Adversity Paradox: An Unconventional Guide to Achieving Uncommon Business Success, which debuted on The Wall Street Journal Best Seller list in April 2009.