Principal: Going from a startup to corporate

A familiar face in the Des Moines startup community, Tej Dhawan was looking for his next challenge.

What he found qualifies.

Dhawan is the Chief Data Officer at Principal, the Des Moines-based financial services company with 19 million customers and over 14,000 employees worldwide.

“I’m one who likes the big problem, and not even so much as a problem, but a big change you can help impact,” Dhawan says. “And I’ve always had a lot of respect for Principal, they were the first one to take the chance on innovation and help support the GIA (Global Insurance Accelerator) in a meaningful way.”

Dhawan is the third of a three-part series on Iowa professionals who went from a corporate position to a role with a startup. Only in this case, it’s the opposite. He started at Principal in November.

“There is a misnomer within the startup community that corporate employees are not risk takers and not as technically forward thinking as the startup community,” Dhawan says. “And in the last three and a half months that entire idea has been debunked for me.”

Leading a global team

The team that Dhawan leads a team that works on eight or nine initiatives that are considered “enterprise-wide” meaning it touches all aspects of the company, including offices in India, Hong Kong and elsewhere.

“And I say team but there are 3,000 technology people in the company globally so obviously my exposure to the group has been limited to maybe a couple hundred people so far,” Dhawan said.

He said a reporting structure was not a new concept to him but Principal is more formal.

A culture of innovation was attractive

Dhawan started his career at Principal as a programmer and network tech at Principal Commerical Real Estate from 1992-1994. But after a 26-years, places change.

He said what attracted him to come back to Principal was how committed the company has been towards innovation. Innovation at Principal is not just an “innovation lab.”

“If you talk to anybody on the executive team, they are looking for a continuous cycle of innovation,” Dhawan says. “And they are putting their own time and leadership behind it.”

With the title of Chief Data Officer, Dhawan says it’s a shift large companies are making because business is getting more inner-connected.

“Even a decade ago, a company may have had their information, data and technology all encompassed in a person under a CIO role,” Dhawan explained. “Now what’s happening is the CIO has partners in data, analytics, marketing, things that were a single role are becoming larger enterprise-wide. You will see that more and more in corporate landscapes.”

Happy with the switch?

Without hesitation…

“I’m loving it,” Dhawan says. “Ultimately, what gives a tech guy a push is being surrounded by other smart tech people. That’s been the best part for me, I have an incredible team I get to work with.”

Previous coverage

Dhawan: As the community evolves, challenges persist – April, 2, 2018

Hired: Tej Dhawan named Chief Data Officer at Principal – Dec. 18, 2017

Dhawan: Segregation isn’t the solution to lack of diversity – May 31, 2017