How 5 Operations Managers Got Their Start
Being in charge of an entire company's "operations" sounds pretty daunting. After all, a lot goes on behind the scenes for any business to run smoothly. From website functionality to the happiness of customers and vendors, there are a lot of moving pieces to take into consideration.
But, that's what Operations Managers do best. They work with multiple departments in various functions, making sure that each part of the company integrates seamlessly with all the others—in the end, creating a well-oiled machine that's not only successful, but a pretty great place to work, too.
To learn more about how to get started on this career path, we talked with five operations managers who showed us that if you're interested in an operations career, there's no one track you have to take. Instead, the key is to be able to adapt easily, create constantly, and be willing to do whatever needs to be done.
Manager of Business Operations, StackSocial
“Actually, I wanted to be an NBA star when I was growing up,” Mark shares. But in case that didn’t work out, he studied in finance and entrepreneurship in college and immediately moved to Chicago to start his own business. His venture, a daily deals company for women, "successfully failed," he admits—but it led him straight to L.A.-based startup StackSocial.
Now, Mark does anything and everything to help the company run smoothly. For him, it's all about creating, whether that means dealing with vendors to build promotions, collaborating with the development team, or writing copy and coordinating graphics for the website. Sure, that sounds like a lot of hats to wear on a daily basis—but he wouldn't have it any other way: "I love working with a small team and just hustling and getting things done.”
Director of Operations, Tasting Table
While most college students consider quite a few paths, it wouldn't have made sense for Kalisa to major in anything except food science. "My whole life, I've been obsessed with food," she shares. And after learning the science behind cooking, she decided to attend culinary school to perfect the art of making food, too.
But in the end, she didn't want to be a food scientist or a chef. It wasn't until she was forwarded a Tasting Table email that she finally figured it out what she really wanted to do with her life—or rather, the company figured it out for her: "This was what I wanted to do with my life, and I didn't even know."
As part of the Tasting Table team, Kalisa works with the company's readers and advertisers to make sure that everything runs seamlessly, from the delivery of emails to the functionality of the website. At the end of the day, she gets to use her passion for food to learn and grow every day—both individually and as a company.
Operations & Logistics Manager, Uber
Swathy always loved math and science in school, so it was a natural fit to study industrial engineering in college. But when she was thrown into a marketing position at a supply chain management company in Asia, she quickly realized that there was a lot more she could learn about understanding customers better. So, she headed back to school for a master's in marketing.
During those years, she fell in love with the tech startup world and realized it was the perfect fit for her career: "I'm high energy, and I wanted a space and a company that would channel that as much as possible." So she moved to San Francisco, where she found herself outside on a foggy day, trying desperately to hail a cab. Discovering car service company Uber (the solution to her dilemma) "was such a magical experience," she recalls. In fact, she jokes that she needed to join the company for financial reasons, because she ended up using the service so often!
Now, Swathy gets to use all aspects of her background, from analyzing data for potential areas of growth to providing for Uber's drivers and partners in any way they need.
Operations Lead, Expensify
"I didn't ever really intended to work a day job," says Christopher, who graduated with a bachelor's degree in music. "I figured there was going to be a magical career as a professional musician that would materialize after school."
But, those post-college plans didn't go quite the way he expected. After working in a few administrative positions, Christopher decided that if he was going to work a day job, it better be something he found interesting—and since he'd had an curiosity for computers and technology as kid, it seemed like the natural route to follow. He came across an open position at startup Expensify, applied, interviewed, and—well, didn't get the job.
But, he didn't give up. He stayed on the company's radar, and when another position (that was an even better fit) became available, he applied again—and got it. As Expensify's Operations Lead, Christopher makes sure that the company's technology functions properly and works with the development team to build new features.
Program Manager, Beauty Insider, Sephora
While Dima was in college studying sociology, she was simultaneously starting her career with Sephora. Initially hired as a seasonal sales associate, she quickly worked her way up to Assistant Manager, then Store Director, and finally landing in a corporate role as part of the Beauty Insider program.
"The most exciting part about my job," Dima explains, "is that I get to make it an even more fun and cool and exciting place to shop." She does that by developing and overseeing Sephora's customer loyalty program. Dima works with stores to make sure they have everything they need (like training and promotion information), as well as helping Sephora's other departments—like marketing and visual merchandising—promote the program effectively.
"It's an exciting place to work," she says. "You never know what you're going to get."
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