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My Life and Work in DSM: Kavi Chawla

Global and Local Collide in DSM USA

May 2, 2017

I am a planner. My wife, somewhat jokingly (at least I hope), says that if I didn’t have it in my calendar I’d forget to give her a kiss every morning before I get out of bed. And as a planner, I am probably more surprised than anyone with our unplanned decision to relocate to Greater Des Moines (DSM) a couple of years ago. For those of you who don’t know me, just a little bit of context: I was born and raised in southern Africa and have since lived, worked and traveled to over 40 countries, and I currently spend over 50 percent of my professional life in New York, London, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and countless other global cities. As someone heavily involved in global finance, strategy and innovation, on the face of it, you can see how DSM was not in the plan. So how did it all change? Simple: I spent time in DSM.

Ties to Drake University

My relationship with DSM started over 23 years ago, when I was a senior in high school and looking for a university. Ultimately, I selected Drake University. Immediately after graduation, I headed to New York City, and while grateful to DSM, I never expected to be back, except for the odd meeting at Drake and the annual Relays celebration. And then in 2014, I was invited to take a sabbatical from my global advisory business to come spend a semester teaching at Drake. And wow, what a semester! The DSM I got to know in 2014, and since, is definitely not the DSM I knew in the mid-'90s. 

To be sure, insurance — which is all about risk mitigation and aversion — is still a central part of the city’s DNA, but so is a public school district that can count over 200 languages and dialects spoken by its students. So is a jazz and blues scene that brings artists who have played at jazz and blues institutions like Buddy Guy’s Legends and the Velvet Lounge in Chicago. (My top pick venues for jazz in DSM include Noce and the Turner Jazz Center at Drake University.) And, an art museum that has is not only spectacular in its collection, but also in its design and location, as it blends into Greenwood Park and hundreds of miles of biking and running trails.

There is an old idiom, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” All the research says that Generation Y, Millennials, and Generation Z want global careers that enable them to change the world, to serve humanity, all while making a good living and building a family along the way. To me, it sounds like they want their cake and they want to eat it too. 

The Decision to Move to DSM

I am a Gen Xer and a planner. My wife is 100 percent Generation Y. She studied three-dimensional art at University of Wisconsin — Madison, and she does not like to plan. She is an entrepreneur, running a specialty food company focused on Indian cuisine, an amazing mother to our two young children and is active in our community. While I certainly think my wife is the most amazing woman in the world, her exceptionalism is more the norm and less the anomaly in DSM.

And that’s why we made the unplanned move to DSM, so we could have our cake and eat it too. DSM business is global, its community is diverse, its culture is increasingly vibrant and it is built on a foundation of solid values. It is a place where I can engage in my consulting business and teach at a nationally-ranked university. For us, DSM is a place where global and local collide. I would be lying if I said it was always harmonious, but even for a planner like me, being part of the tremendous change sweeping the city is glorious.

Kavi’s most-frequented spots in Des Moines:

Find your own go-to spots in Des Moines: learn more about living in DSM here, and learn more about working in DSM here.

Kavi Chawla

Kavi Chawla is a founding partner at Bâton Global, a Des Moines-based research and advisory firm. He also serves as a visiting scholar at the International Business Program in the College of Business and Public Administration at Drake University. He has 17-plus years of experience advising global organizations on their growth and innovation strategies. Previously, Kavi was in the Investment Banking Group with Deutsche Bank in London and with the United Nations in New York. He holds a bachelor's degree from Drake University, a master's degree in International Affairs from Columbia University and a MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In addition, he serves on the Greater Des Moines Partnership's International Trade Council.