Terry Lillis ’77

Terry Lillis came to Simpson to learn to be a teacher and a coach, and though he did not stay in the profession, the skills he learned are still relevant in his role as senior vice president and chief financial officer of the Principal Financial Group.

“The thing I discovered was I have never stopped teaching; I have never stopped coaching,” he said.

Lillis, who is actively involved in Principal’s mentorship program, has also never stopped learning, saying everyone he works with teaches him something — from the company’s previous CFO to the employees he takes under his wing.

“The first time I meet with a new mentee, I tell them I will get more out of it than they will,” said Lillis, whose important mentors at Simpson included former Men’s Basketball Coach Dick Starr; Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Marv Van Wyk; and the late E.G. Booth, professor of education.

Joining Principal in 1982, after receiving a master’s degree from the University of Iowa, Lillis has plenty of experience to share with his mentees. Elected an officer in 1988, Lillis held various senior actuarial and management roles at Principal before he was named CFO of the Retirement and Investors Services Division in 2000.

Lillis has remained at Principal because he enjoys Des Moines and the work environment at the company. He has also continued with the company because his work has remained challenging — especially now. Lillis was named senior vice president and CFO in 2008, when the country was on the verge of a global financial meltdown.

“I became CFO about a few years ago,” he said. “Since then, we’ve had a financial crisis, credit seizing up, companies failing, so I don’t know if I’ve had a typical day yet.”

As CFO, Lillis meets with other members of the company to monitor changes in the organization and to create strategies for Principal’s short-term and long-term health. Since becoming CFO, he has also spent time making presentations to important internal and external audiences.

“Communication right now is really key to avoid confusion,” he said.

Outside of work, Lillis is actively involved in the community and has been since his days of calling Bingo when he was a teacher in a small Iowa town. Now, he serves as a trustee on the State of Iowa Peace Officers Retirement System Board, a member of the Mercy Hospital Finance Committee and a Finance Council member for the Southwest Diocese. He also recently joined the Simpson Board of Trustees and Alumni Board.

Giving back is important, he said, because “everyone needs help in one way or another.”

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