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Career Story: Executive At A Health And Drug Abuse Consulting Firm

Executive At A Health And Drug Abuse Consulting Firm

Job Title: Chief Operating Officer

Type of Company: We help colleges and secondary schools address alcohol, substance abuse and mental health challenges within their student populations.

Previous Experience: I rose through the ranks at a think-tank and research firm called The Advisory Board Company in Washington, DC. Following that I worked in the non-profit sector for two years advising social entrepreneurs, and then I spent four years building a custom executive education business for a large consulting firm.

Job Tasks: I am responsible for a wide range of functional areas of our small company, which includes product development, marketing, customer service, technology support and sales. My goals are to coordinate all activities within our business so that we are growing revenue (through new sales and through high levels of customer retention) with products and services that are consistent with our overall mission/strategy.

On any given day I spend roughly half of my time in conversation with the heads of each of the functional areas I mentioned, helping them resolve their challenges -- which might include personnel issues, customer challenges, juggling deadlines/prioritization, competitor issues, budgeting, etc. The other half of my time is spent managing large projects such as identifying a new vendor for our online reporting to customers, developing an agreement with another company that will sell our services as part of a bundle, meeting with a large new customer for whom we might create a highly customized version of our online product, or cultivating a relationship with a company that might be interested in making an investment in our business. These large projects typically take months to come to fruition, and involve lots of relationship and trust-building at the outset. To make these projects successful, I rely heavily on colleagues who very specialized expertise like technology development, curriculum design, financial modeling, etc.

My job feels a lot like the role of a conductor, which is helping the whole orchestra work well together to ensure the music comes to life in a powerful way. The things I worry most about are making sure that our most talented people are happy and learning in their roles, and feel that our company is a great place for them to be. I spend more time on people-related issues than any other area of my job, because I have learned that having the right people in the right roles and feeling challenged and rewarded is the best way to achieve success.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts are when the "orchestra" comes together and I can see talented people working together to resolve challenges for our customers, which adds value to our business.

The worst parts of my job are dealing with employees who are immature, arrogant, overconfident of their abilities, and who don't work well with others.

Job Tips:
1.) Pick jobs based on the quality of the people, especially the people you can learn the most from (your direct manager or a mentor).

2.) If you don't get a good (positive) feeling for the culture of an organization, you are probably right! Don't join them.

3.) Reach out and build relationships with people around you, including fellow alumni and people with similar interests. It's important to have people you can go to for advice who can act as a sounding board when you need input.

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