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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

Meet a Customer Success Manager Who Advocates for Employees With Disabilities

Wilson Parnell, a senior customer success manager at Palo Alto Networks
Wilson Parnell, a senior customer success manager at Palo Alto Networks.
| Courtesy of Wilson Parnell

Wilson Parnell was worried about his job security when he first found out the cybersecurity startup he worked for had been acquired by Palo Alto Networks. But a candid conversation with the company’s president changed everything.

“He was honest about what he did and didn’t know and I felt that he took the time to learn about my role,” says Parnell, who is now a senior customer success manager at Palo Alto Networks. “This really made me feel at ease and got me excited about being at the organization.”

Today, Parnell gets the best of both workplace worlds: He enjoys the perks of a large organization while still experiencing the rush of a startup-like environment. He has also stepped up as a leader and advocate for employees with disabilities as part of the company’s ADAPT employee network group.

Here, Parnell talks about his pivot to customer success, his desire to make the cybersecurity industry more inclusive for those with disabilities, and why he never misses a morning run.

Tell us about your career journey, and what inspired you to work in customer success.

My career journey has been quite peculiar. I’ve had a variety of different jobs because I’m naturally curious and get excited about trying new things, especially when it comes to my career. I’ve also been extremely fortunate to have worked with amazing people who have guided me to new roles and put me in the right position to be successful.

The opportunity to work in customer success was actually brought to me. Despite being part of Palo Alto Networks, the company I worked for previously—now called Unit 42—still operates with a startup mentality. About seven months ago, Unit 42 was building a brand-new customer success team to support our growing retainer business. The work really intrigued me and I was excited for the opportunity to change roles and collaborate with some amazing leaders to help build this new function. We’ve made tremendous strides together and it’s been amazing to have the opportunity to affect positive change at the organization.

What are you responsible for in your current role?

I currently work with a small-but-mighty two-person team to craft the vision of Unit 42 customer success and help manage a large client base. I am responsible for building the programs and processes that aid in the organization’s efforts. I find value for all of our retainer clients and run the onboarding and activation, ensuring they have a successful time with Unit 42.

In what ways has Palo Alto Networks helped you grow in your career?

On top of being supported to become the global lead for our employee network group ADAPT, I was able to get a project management certificate through UCLA and the cost of that was completely covered by the company’s FLEXWORK benefit.

You recently became the global Lead for the company’s ADAPT employee network group. What are some of the group’s recent achievements and short- and long-term goals?

We are all working toward providing services to our employees and ensuring Palo Alto Networks is an even more open space for people with disabilities.

I’m extremely proud that we were recently able to hold a first-of-its-kind speaking engagement on suicide prevention during National Suicide Prevention Week. The feedback we received from this event was amazing. It was impactful to hold a discussion on a tough subject and create positive solutions and affect positive change.

One short-term goal is ensuring the success of several events for National Disability Employment Awareness Month this October. In the long-term, I would love to create an alliance between major cybersecurity organizations focused on disability. It’s such a necessary function within the industry and I think Palo Alto Networks should be leading this effort given our standing in the industry.

Being part of this group has fed my desire to make a positive impact and change things for the better at the organization.

In what other ways does Palo Alto Networks foster inclusion and belonging?

I have to commend our people team for their receptiveness to our requests for greater disability awareness in their hiring practices. We have received nothing but support from them and I think we can work together to make some enormously beneficial changes.

What have been the keys to your success throughout your career?

I try to keep it simple: Have a positive attitude, work my butt off, and build real, meaningful relationships with my colleagues and clients.

You have a background in coaching, training, and employee development. What are some skills you’ve learned from those experiences that you still apply to your career?

To be a successful coach, trainer, or developer, it’s less about being a subject-matter expert and more about asking the right questions. While it seems rather simple, it’s really hard to ask the right questions in the moment. This has been an invaluable skill for me as I work with clients to understand how I can best provide them value.

What’s one positive change you’ve made to your workday routine since COVID?

I try to run every single day. Even if I’m just running for five or 10 minutes, it sets my day up for success. More than anything, finding a routine that works for me has made the biggest difference in my performance at work.

What are you currently reading, watching, and listening to?

I love the Global News Podcast by the BBC and I listen to that almost every morning. I appreciate the reporting style and the fact that stories are extremely varied. 

In terms of reading, a family member recently recommendedHow to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It has a lot of good reminders in it and I’ve enjoyed the book. I also started watching House of the Dragon on HBO. I really enjoyed Game of Thrones and I do like the extension of the series, but I’m waiting to see how this new season pans out.