Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of MAJ Kerry M. Studer, USA, Assistant Managing Director, Commercial Real Estate Division, Principal Financial Group, Waterloo, IA
Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Principal Financial Group's commitment to protecting the job rights of veterans and Guard/Reserve members.
1 am Kerry Studer, a recently deployed Anny Major and assistant managing director in the commercial real estate division of the Principal Financial Group. I have been mobilized for deployments three times in my military career and have had the opportunity to see firsthand how two different employers and one university handled my time away from the office or school. My most recent deployment was in 2009-20 I 0 when I was employed with the Principal Financial Group.
The Principal Financial Group, based in Des Moines Iowa, is a FORTUNE 500 company and a retirement and global investment management leader. We have roughly 8,900 employees in Iowa and more than 13,000 worldwide.
The Principal offers businesses, individuals and institutional clients a wide range of financial products and services, including retirement, investment services and insurance.
As an employer with more than 200 veteran and active military employees and the experience of having nine employees on emergency military leave in the last two years, The Principal is committed to protecting the job rights of employees who serve their state and country through the uniformed services.
I am here today to talk with you about that commitment.
We, as employers, have clearly come a long ways in supporting Soldiers and families since my first deployment in 1990 for Desert Shield/Desert Storm. While I have clearly seen improvements over my 22 years of military service, I had the opportunity during my last deployment to command over 300 Soldiers from 19 different states, and I saw firsthand how Soldiers view the ir civilian employer while they are deployed.
Personally, I had the benefit of working for an exceptional company that clearly supported me, my family and my unit. Given this experience, I was asked by our Chairman, President and CEO, Larry Zimpleman, to testify here today to discuss insights on how employers can successfully support their Soldiers whether they are deployed or serving in a peacetime mission.
Recruiting and Retention
The first step in the process is recruitment and retention. The Principal has targeted outreach efforts in order to attract and retain members of the military. We maintain an ai11nnative action plan for covered veterans and actively pursue good faith efforts in recruiting practices to target veterans and individuals with a military background.
- Our recruiting team receives education and awareness through our partnership with Iowa Works, Iowa ESGR and US Department of Veteran's Affairs.
- In return, our recruiting team is available to train Iowa veterans on interview and resume writing skills as they re-enter the workforce.
- We post job opportunities on military-specific websites, and recruitment representatives attend military related job fairs.
- We have a designated HR department that manages military leaves, USERRA requirements, etc. In addition, we provide USERRA information to leaders to raise their awareness.
- We have a very active internship/co-op program, which I personally do a fair amount of recruiting for, with the help of our campus relations group in Human Resources. We have been successful in hiring previously deployed veterans who are currently completing their four-year degrees. These students have already had to delay their education due to the deployment, and we see great benefit in providing an internship or co-op to these young veterans. These internships/co-ops greatly benefit the student/Soldier in providing a corporate experience and give us as an employer an insight as to how we can attract some of the best talent available before they graduate from college.
Benefits for employees who are Service Members
For employees who are service members, our military leave policy ensures full pay for eligible emergency military leave for 30 days. In addition, we pay a differential for the remainder of the first year. This is something we've chosen to do-not only to comply with the letter of the law, but what we believe to be the spirit of the law.
Regarding all other benefits:
- Medical, vision and dental coverage continue for the employee and their dependents for 12 months.
- Regarding our pension plan, military service is counted for vesting and accrual service.
- With our 401(k) plan, military service is counted for vesting service. When you return from leave, you may make up missed elective deferral contributions, and the company will make the corresponding match based on the salary you would have received had you remained active with the company. The time period to make up missed payments is three times the period of military service (up to a maximum of five years).
In addition, reservists who volunteer for active duty are eligible for continued pay, and we cover all service members in any military branch.
Benefits for military family members
The Principal ensures military family members are taken care of. In addition to the community of support I'll discuss later, two specific benefits help this group:
- Military Family Active Duty Leave This program allows up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in a calendar year in the event an eligible family member is called to full-time covered active duty or is on full-time active duty. The program is designed to allow for management of family, child care or financial matters that may arise because of a family member's covered active duty military service.
- Military Family Leave to Care for a Covered Service Member or Veteran Employees are allowed up to 26 work weeks of unpaid leave in a calendar year to care for their spouse, parent, child or next of kin who is a covered service member. This leave applies if the covered service member has a serious illness or injury sustained in the line of military duty and is on active military duty. It also applies if a veteran, for up to five years after he/she leaves the military, has a service related injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated while on covered active duty.
Internal support of our Military and Military Families
In addition to employee benefits, a number of other resources contribute to a supportive environment for employees who are members of the military, as well as their families:
- As a 2011 winner of the Freedom Award from the Employer Support of the Reserve and Guard (ESGR), based upon my personal nomination, our internal support for Soldiers and military families is well documented. But I wanted to highlight just a few examples of what sets The Principal apart from other companies.
Not only did my company support me, my family and my unit, they took the time to understand what deployments do to both the Soldier overseas and also the spouse/children back home. While I-IR guidelines and corporate support are all important to supporting deployed Soldiers, the very best companies take a personal approach to company support and extend assistance at a very personal level. It is this personal touch that solidifies the commitment both to and from the Soldier and his/her family.
Here is a brief list of examples of those personal touches with the Soldier, the family and the unit:
- Occasionally bringing over food to the family just to say hello and ask if anything is needed
- Taking the dependent children to high school and college sporting events
- Offering to assist with lawn care/snow removal
- Raising money 10 purchase unit specific physical fitness uniforms for the unit overseas
- Designing and purchasing unit coins that were distributed to Soldiers overseas
- Sending countless care packages not only to the deployed Soldier but also to other Soldiers within the unit who maybe do not receive as many care packages
- Providing the occasional babysitter for the state-side spouse to enjoy some time away from the everyday grind of being a single parent
- Employees returning from military service receive education and support as they transition back to work.
- Employees may network with other employees via the Military Family Support Special Interest Public Folder in our email system.
- Employees returning from military service and their families receive support from their departments and individual employees. For instance:
- Various departments have honored those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan by promoting Red Shirt Day and creating care packages.
Raising awareness at The Principal The Principal ensures its entire employee population supports its commitment to active military and veteran employees through a number of initiatives.
- Our Chairman, President and CEO Larry Zimpleman annually sends a personal note of thanks to all employees who are veterans, military, guard and reserve.
- During National Veterans Awareness Week, employees who are veterans or Guard/Reserve members are invited to a special event honoring them for their service. A member of senior management provides the keynote address each year. In addition, we seek ways to honor veterans each year-the nature of which vary from year to year. This year we're providing all veterans with a lll1it coin.
- While this may seem like a small token from senior leadership, I can assure you that this one event has a great impact with our currently employed veterans. Not only do you get to hear firsthand from our C-level executives, you clearly leave knowing that your military service is valued within the halls oft he Principal Financial Group. It is also a time for all the veterans to get together and discuss their respective experience and service within the military ranks. Most veterans are generally humble in nature but our senior executives take the time every year to remind each of the veterans of their personal sacrifice and the fact that our company genuinely appreciates our service.
- Human Resources representatives, department leaders and senior leaders have participated in ESGR's Boss Lift. This event familiarizes employers with the National Guard and Reserve's role in our nation's defense by letting them experience some of what their employees in the Guard or Reserve go through. During the 2010 event, one of the participants blogged about her experience for the company's intranet so all employees could gain appreciation for the Guard and Reserve.
- Our internal communications regularly highlight military employees, veterans and military family members for their service and sacrifices and to share their experiences and lessons learned.
Community Outreach and Support
In addition to supporting our own military and veteran employees, we encourage other companies in the communities in which we have locations to develop similar programs which we believe benefit the veterans, their families and the community at large.
Senior leaders at The Principal personally and publicly express support of military employees, family members and veterans through:
- Hosting an Employer Support of Guard and Reserve Statement of Support and workshop event. This past January, our Chairman, President and CEO Larry Zimpleman hosted ill1 event where he encouraged attendance from other local businesses to sign the
ESGR Statement of Support and to learn more about ESGR and the services they offer, including hiring of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
- I was personally invited to this event and witnessed the amount of positive influence that one company can have on other companies within a community. Larry's comments clearly demonstrated his and our company's sincere commitment to the members of the Guard and Reserve. The event provided a venue for companies to discuss and ask what we can do better to support our local military. We would encourage more of these types of events with broader participation. If done correctly with the right participants and support, the awareness of supporting the Guard and Reserve will be increased exponentially.
- Participation in Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's inaugural event saluting the Iowa National Guard. Ralph Eucher, senior vice president of human resources, attended on behalf of The Principal.
- Participation in Gov. Branstad's recent ESGR event to recognize the three Iowa nominees for the National Freedom Award. Dan Houston, president-retirement, insurance and financial services at The Principal, accepted the award on behalf of The Principal.
Our support extends to the community in other ways, including:
- Placing an ad in the Des Moines Register, thanking our veteran and military employees and retirees
- Offering a Military Appreciation Day during The Principal Charity Classic, one of the top golf Champions Tour events
- Encouraging employees to use their eight hours of Volunteer Time Off each year, which they can use to volunteer at an organization of their choosing, including military-related causes
- Providing financial and in-kind contributions to non-profit military-related organizations through our Foundation, including the following:
- Children of Fallen Service Members Scholarship fund (The Principal donated $25,000 as part of the Branstad-Reynolds Scholarship Fund.)
- Iowa National Guard Officers Auxiliary
- Sight for Soldiers
- Iowa Gold Star Museum
- Fort Des Moines Museum and Educational Center
- Veterans of Foreign War
- Disabled American Veterans
- Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.
In recent years, The Principal's commitment to military and veteran employees has been recognized by several organizations, including:
- The Above and Beyond Award: The Principal received the "Above and Beyond" Award from the ESGR in 2010 and 2011. The award recognizes employers at the state and local level that have exceeded the legal requirements for granting leave and providing support for military duty for employees who serve in the Guard & Reserve.
- The Patriotic Employer Award: The Principal received this honor from the ESGR in 2009.
- The 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award: The Principal is one of 15 recipients for 2011 out of a field of 4,049 nominations submitted by Guard and Reserve service members. Freedom award recipients distinguish themselves by going to extraordinary lengths to support their military employees.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been mobilized or deployed three times in my 22+ years of military service. Without question, The Principal has set itself apart from all others in supporting me, my family and my unit.
While all deployments are hard on families and Soldiers, I personally experienced what actions can be taken by a proactive company committed to supporting deployed Soldiers. It is clearly these actions that will be remembered by both the Soldier and his/her family long after the deployment is over and the Soldier is back at work.
Because of the support from The Principal, I was able to focus completely on the critical tasks at hand in Iraq with the knowledge that my family was taken care of, my job was waiting for me when I got back and my co-workers were rooting for me, praying for me and supporting me. It made all the difference,
With this type of support, you are able to be a better Soldier and a better employee when you return.
That's why I felt compelled to nominate The Principal for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. I'm so proud they were selected from thousands of nominations to get the recognition I feel they so richly deserve.
Call to action
The cumulative effect of all of the programs, events and activities I've mentioned today is a work environment where military and veteran employees feel supported in their military leave while they're away and valued for the service they've provided to their state/country once they return. While senior management can lead with their support and encouragement, each employee plays a role in creating that supportive culture.
J can't say enough about the commitment our leaders and employees have shown, personally and publicly, by expressing support of military and veteran employees at The Principal and beyond.
I'm lucky to be a citizen of this great country, a Major in our great Army and an employee of The Principal. I feel I've benefited from a best case scenario in terms of the relationship between my military service and my employment at The Principal.
What we need is for marc companies to step up and create a platform for even more best case scenarios, so they can become the norm, not the exception. I look forward to that happening, and I'm happy to help in any way I can,
I'm honored to be here today, Thank you for your time.