Securian Financial Group CEO Robert Senkler, a 40-year company veteran, plans to retire at the end of the year after leading St. Paul's largest private downtown employer to record performance, employment and community engagement.

"Now is a good time to get out of the way," Senkler said in an interview Wednesday. "It's been a privilege. And I've had 20 years as CEO. We've had good financial performance, and I am exceedingly proud of our associates and their impact on our community. We've tried to be good neighbors."

Senkler, who will remain chairman of the board, will be succeeded as CEO by Securian President Christopher Hilger, whose ascension was signaled three years ago when he was promoted to the No. 2 job.

"We face the same challenges of any other financial company," Hilger said. "Low economic growth and low interest rates, changing demographics, technology and the changing needs of our customers. But I'm exceedingly optimistic about the future. We have financial strength, a great team of associates and great products."

Securian saw profits rise 7 percent last year to $226 million, thanks largely to growth in its asset-management business. The company employs 3,700 workers nationally, including 2,400 in Minnesota.

Senkler, the son of a St. Paul small-business man and an actuary with a degree from the University of Minnesota Duluth, said his retirement plans are uncertain. He plans to spend more time with his wife, Pam, and will remain active in community affairs.

Bert McKasy, a former Minnesota commissioner of commerce and a St. Paul stalwart, has known Senkler for decades.

"The proof is in the pudding with Bob," McKasy said. "The company has grown dramatically on his watch, and the employees love working there. Additionally, he has found time to be the bigger booster of all things St Paul."

Hilger, 49, a 27-year veteran of the insurance industry, also serves as CEO of Allied Solutions, a Securian subsidiary headquartered in Indianapolis that distributes insurance products and services to financial institutions.

He joined Securian management in 2004 when the company purchased Allied Solutions. Hilger was subsequently named senior vice president of Securian's financial institutions group. In 2010, Hilger was promoted to executive vice president, also in charge of the group insurance business. A year later, he was named president with responsibility for all businesses.