Joan McCallen is keeping order within the pension plans of the city of Alexandria and other local governments.
Ms. McCallen, 51, has been promoted to lead the ICMA Retirement Corp., a Washington nonprofit corporation that administers pension plans for public workers.
She worked with the company for almost seven years, as chief operations officer and executive vice president, before being tapped in June to replace President and Chief Executive Officer Girard Miller.
“I was originally hired as a potential successor, and the day finally came,” Ms. McCallen said.
ICMA, with 529 employees and $110 million in annual sales, sets up pension plans for local and state governments. The company’s largest customer is the state of Washington with 110,000 public workers participating in a savings retirement plan.
While her responsibilities have increased, Ms. McCallen said, the goals remain the same.
“Our organization is striving to be more customer-oriented. We plan to focus on how to best meet the needs of our customers during these tougher economic times,” she said.
Ms. McCallen said her most pressing challenge is encouraging public workers, many of whom are in low income-tax brackets, to participate in savings plans during a sluggish economy.
Many of those workers are feeling pressure from state and local agencies that are slashing budgets and cutting jobs to offset deficits, she said.
Scandals in the financial world, including a hedge-fund fraud case in New York, also have made workers wary about investing.
“But we’re in a good position because we can differentiate ourselves from other companies in the retirement sector,” Ms. McCallen said.
ICMA does not allow any institutional investment from big companies or hedge funds, large investments made by a select group of accredited investors often to insure against downturns in the market.
Peter Braun, chairman of ICMA’s board of directors, said the board considered only Ms. McCallen as a serious replacement.
“She was the best-qualified because she understands the mission and goal of the organization,” Mr. Braun said.
Ms. McCallen’s business plan, which focused on improving customer service issues, “shows her commitment to reinforce our original goals and that takes us in the right direction,” he added.
Ms. McCallen lives in Alexandria with her two golden retrievers.