Equities, Equines and Education
After a pressure-filled day as a corporate executive, rather than come home and relax in a chair, Buena Vista University Trustee John Aschenbrenner looked forward to riding his horse.
“I would just forget everything and be completely rejuvenated,” says Aschenbrenner, now retired after a 37-year career with The Principal Financial Group where he was President of Insurance and Financial Services for his last six years with the company. Today, he still rides horses for pleasure and — with his wife, Susan — started a growing business that breeds and trains American Saddlebreds.
Retirement also gives him the freedom to devote more of his time to one of the causes that he believes in — creating higher education opportunities for young people of all cultural and economic backgrounds. In doing so, he has found his interests in higher education parallel much of the mission of Buena Vista University. Aschenbrenner, a trustee since February 2010, previously was a member of BVU’s President’s Advisory Council (PAC) for two years, which he joined at the invitation of President Fred Moore who served with him on the board of the Iowa College Foundation.
“One of the key things about Buena Vista that stood out to me is how many of its students are the first generation in their families to go to college,” he says. “I feel this is a very important role that BVU is filling.”
Aschenbrenner says he has also been impressed by BVU’s innovation in technology and programs, the commitment of faculty and staff to student success, and the opportunities for students to have value-added learning experiences such as internships, international study-travel, and research.
A 1971 graduate of the University of Iowa, Aschenbrenner joined The Principal (which was Bankers Life at that time) after earning his master’s degree in actuarial science in 1972 at the university. During his career at The Principal, he held a variety of executive positions in the company’s pension, individual retail and group life and health businesses with responsibilities for strategic business development, financial oversight and management. In 2003, he was named President of Insurance and Financial Services. He retired on Dec. 31, 2009.
Aschenbrenner — who is a member of the Student Services, Audit and Institutional Advancement committees of the Board of Trustees — enjoys the interaction with students at Board and committee meetings and on his walks around campus. His key interests include addressing the issue of substance abuse among students and meeting the higher education needs of the growing Hispanic population in Iowa and the Storm Lake area. He also hopes to see more opportunities for all BVU students to have internships, international travel and research experiences to help them prepare for careers in a global society.
“We have to develop additional funding resources so students can afford these opportunities and not have to miss out just because they don’t have the money. The globalization of the marketplace is opening some amazing career opportunities for today’s graduates,” he says. “Students have to make sure they are prepared to take advantage of those opportunities, and be confident and comfortable about living and working in some very different environments. Experiencing how other areas of the world do things differently than us can be incredibly valuable in building students’ confidence and abilities.”
As an executive at The Principal, Aschenbrenner looked for graduates who had core values as well as communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. He also sought people who were involved in outside activities to help develop leadership skills. He has been impressed by BVU students.
“I have heard educators at other places express frustration that students today are not as motivated as some prior generations,” he says. “I have not seen that at BVU. Students here are very motivated, excited and enthusiastic about their futures.”