Principal Financial Group was founded in Des Moines, Iowa, to sell life insurance more than 130 years ago.

Principal still sells insurance, but for the past three decades the company has focused on providing retirement savings and investment products to small and midsize businesses, most recently under CEO Larry Zimpleman.

As Institutional Investor Senior Writer Julie Segal reports in a feature-length article on the firm, Principal’s success is very much a reflection of the ethos of its management team. Operating far from the pressures of major money centers like New York or Boston, Principal’s managers have charted their own course, creating a platform of services and products to help smaller companies manage their 401(k) and other retirement programs while most of their competitors were focused on large corporations. Now Principal is exporting that strategy around the world, concentrating on high-growth markets like Brazil and China.

Zimpleman, 60, is the quintessential Principal executive. An actuary by training, the quietly confident, straight-talking Midwesterner has spent his entire career with the firm since joining 39 years ago. In a recent video interview with Segal, Zimpleman, born and raised in eastern Iowa, talked about how a company whose culture was honed in the Midwest became a powerhouse that will soon get 25 percent of its earnings from outside the U.S.