What’s the key to progressing your career? If you ask Manish Desai, a Sr. Director of Consulting, SAS Asia Pacific, based in India, it’s conquering the fear of failure and embracing opportunity – with a great mentor by your side.
I sat down with Manish to hear more about his 12-year SAS career journey – and how he took charge of his transition into a leadership role.
Q: You’ve held a lot of different roles in your time at SAS. Can you tell me about your career path so far?
Manish: I joined SAS in 2006 as a consultant in pre-sales. While in pre-sales, I held various roles including everything from a practice lead, technical account manager to working on our customer advocacy team.
After a few years in these roles, I started to feel like I was ready for a new challenge. In pre-sales, the focus is mainly on new software sales. I was curious about the renewal side of sales, and wanted to help customers to adopt and maximize usage of SAS products. When I expressed that desire to my manager, it ended up being a great opportunity for me to grow and learn a new side of the business. It allowed me to learn something new, while working to help our customers make the most out of the software they were purchasing. From there, I moved into a business operations and strategy role, and then I accepted my current position as a Senior Director in Consulting. As you can see, that’s the great thing about SAS, there are so many ways you can develop and build skills to move within the company and grow your career.
Q: What a journey! You started as consultant in pre-sales and then progressed to a senior director. What skills do you think were most important as you moved to your senior director role?
M: There are many attributes of leader like having a vision, leading by example, or walking the talk. However, changing your mindset is key. Once you take on a leadership role, your focus shifts. Instead of being ingrained in the day to day work, you have to start thinking larger scale and evaluate the business more holistically. You need to be more strategic and look at how your group fits in to the business overall. I also spend a lot of my time helping my team to be successful and supporting their development. I’ve had a lot of my own team members grow to become leaders themselves. That has been a personal goal of mine since becoming a leader – I want to learn all I can about being a great leader, and then use that knowledge to develop the next generation of leaders for our company. I want to give back by helping others grow and succeed.
One big decision I made when evaluating moving in to a leadership role, was that I decided to go back to school to get a degree in general management. I went part-time for a year. I knew as an individual contributor, I was in a very technical role, and focused on my specific projects. However, to prepare myself to be a leader, there were skills I felt I needed to build to be a strategic leader in the business. I believed a degree in general management would help me learn more about how my group’s work fit in to the business, and learn how to lead people effectively. While working full-time at SAS during the week, I also attended classes on the weekend. It was a lot to balance, but my education was important to me. I knew this degree would help prepare me for the next steps I wanted to take in my career.
Q: Wow! That’s dedication! Once you knew you were ready for a leadership role, you really took charge of your own development. Do you have any advice for someone else who is ready to make the leap into leadership?
M: I think mentorship is the most important aspect. Teach others about your experience and provide what guidance you can based on your own lessons learned. It’s also important to seek out mentorship for yourself. I had two great managers who have served as mentors for me, and I’m grateful that they were willing to invest in me that way. Especially when I moved into my operations role, my mentor was so helpful. I hadn’t worked in that area of the business operations and strategy before, and I had a lot to learn! Having a mentor provide insight into how I could craft a business strategy, or look at a business problem with a new perspective was incredibly valuable. Because the next time I needed to create a strategy, I was able to take what I learned from my mentor, and was able to try it myself. My managers and team members really guided and helped support my career journey, and I learned a lot along the way. Now I try to do the same for my own team, and build that next wave of great leaders.
When you are transferring roles, there are always two things that play in your mind: omission bias and loss aversion. Omission bias is the tendency to worry about doing something than not doing something. I would encourage others looking to get into leadership to worry more about cost of lost opportunities rather than worrying about results of a move gone bad. When you’re already in a job where you know how to be successful and you enjoy what you do, it can be hard to let go of that for the next opportunity. You’ll ask yourself, “what if I don’t end up liking it”, or “what if I fail”? But you can’t think that way – you should look at opportunities with passion and enthusiasm. Which leads me to loss aversion. Loss aversion describes the tendency to “play not to lose” rather than “play to win”. So many people worry about what they’ll lose if they choose to follow that new opportunity. But if you want to grow in your career then you have to think about what you will gain if you choose to follow a new opportunity.
My advice would be don’t let the fear of failure keep you from growing in your career. There is always a chance for failure. But if you recognize that failure is an option, and learn to move past it to look for the opportunity - it will make the transition easier. It will give you the confidence to pursue growth. Rather than worrying about what will happen if you do take on something new, think about what would happen if you don’t!
Q: You’ve stayed at SAS for over a decade, holding a variety of different positions. What do you love about working at SAS?
M: I think the best part about working at SAS is that we really do live out our values: we’re curious, passionate, authentic, and accountable. People here are really real - they’re authentic. The leadership here is very transparent and willing to provide you with work that challenges you. They lead with integrity, trust in your abilities to make things happen, empower you to make a difference, and support you to take the next steps in your career. I like that every role here brings a different challenge – I’ve enjoyed the vast amount learning that I’ve experienced because of my career evolution.
Thanks Manish for sharing your journey with us – we have no doubt you’ll continue to help grow our next generation of leaders!