Here is a bit about my experience and credentials. I take time to share these things because without them you might think the information I provide was successful for me because of good fortune. It wasn’t. It was a series of strategic decisions and intuition. It took many years of personal and professional development to get to the level of competence and confidence I have now. I don’t consider myself old, but it is fascinating to look back on one’s life and pick out the moments that mattered most. So here is my story.
I have about 14 years of experience in Information Technology and Professional Services. I have my BS in Biology, my MBA with a focus in Technology Management. I also recently obtained my Certified Business Consultant (CBC) designation and I’m working on my Certified Business Coaching Specialist (CBCS) designation from The Business Training Institute. How did I get to this point? Here is my (hopefully) concise answer.
Starting Out in the Workforce
My story starts back in Englewood, New Jersey where my first job was as a stock boy at Drug Fair. As a matter of professional growth, this tenure was largely uneventful. I was told what to do and I did it. I also volunteered at Englewood hospital on the weekends; a more rewarding experience. I think I was 18 when I met the Lamboys and landed a job at Aylward’s II Health Foods. I would work my way up to manager in my 7+ year tenure there, learning the first great professional lesson of my life – how to interact with different personalities when sales depend totally on my information and care for my clients. The Lamboys are still great family friends, relaxing in some beautiful country estate in Puerto Rico. Sal, Leonor, Nick, Luis, and Frank, I want to take this moment to publicly thank you for giving me the first opportunity to express myself professionally and to have responsibility over important things.
My #1 Mentor
I soon met Susan Venditti (“Russo” now) and we began dating in 2000. We were married in 2004 and it’s been incredible ever since. I had reached the top of what I would be able to contribute at the health food store, but I had no belief that I could learn something new well enough to advance into a new career. Luckily for me Susan had plenty of belief for both of us. She’s the ultimate combination of determination and intelligence. She is the kind of person who is so dependable that most people take it for granted and forget to be thankful. Susan was the driving force for my making a move into the unknown of Information Technology (IT). She has a knack for seeing potential and nurturing it. That is the one idea that now binds us closer than any other – that there can be no better pursuit than helping people become the best version of themselves. Thank you Sue for all these things and the countless others you’ve done to improve my life.
I Found IT (Rather, IT Found Me) in the Strangest Place
So in 2001 I landed the kind of IT position that most people with no experience might expect – one that included no IT at all. It was a customer service position for Paradigm Direct, which would later become Mosaic Performance Solutions during an acquisition. Then one day, the right day/right time phenomenon actually happened to me. I went to work early one day so I coincidentally found myself in an elevator with Peter Seymour. He introduced me to the world of Quality Assurance (QA), and the rest is history. I need to doubly thank Peter, not only for all the skills he taught me, but for extending himself a second time to get me a job at Beverage Data Network (BDN) in 2003. Without Peter, I would not have the career I have today, for multiple reasons.
The Beverage Alcohol Industry
It was at BDN that I continued my work as a Sr. QA Analyst and made a big enough impression to Manny Liwanag that he lobbied on my behalf to have me promoted into a hybrid Business Analyst/Project Manager position once we were acquired by The Nielsen Company. Manny had an eye for talent, I must say! All jokes aside, thank you Manny for seeing my potential and getting me into that position. It was a turning point in my career. Joe Giordano, I’d also like to thank you for taking over where Manny left off and teaching me all the foundational skills of business analysis and project management. These are still skills I use today and will always remember. I will never find another person with even a fraction of the wine and spirits industry knowledge that you have. You are a gentleman and a true example of what it means to dedicate yourself to truly mastering a discipline.
Seeing Both Sides of a Coin
After Nielsen, I worked at Archive Systems where I began my foray into internal process improvement. I worked directly with the QA, software development, sales, and marketing teams. The people from whom I learned there are too many to count, but I’d like to thank some of you for your contributions to my ongoing professional development. Thank you to Don Cohen, Felicia Rella, Jerry Gaudet, Deni Llambiri, Andrew Antoneypillai, Heath Blount, BJ Johnson, Paul Dimmig, and Peeter Tootsov.
I then moved into a very interesting position at GAB Robins, North America. I say it was interesting because they were a client of Archive Systems. I was able to understand the impact of our product from the perspective of a client. This has given me a unique perspective that I still use today. I am able to help my clients believe that I care about the things they care about because I experienced those things first hand. It absolutely helps me forge stronger more fruitful professional relationships. I’d like to than Hilke Puzo, Ed Grabowiecki, Barbara Bielawski, and Alejandro Meseguer for teaching me the intricacies of accounts payable and for giving me the chance to experience a product life cycle from both sides.
Development into a Thought Leader with Valuable Ideas
GAB was a temporary project, so I moved into a position at Merced Systems, which would later be acquired by NICE Systems, the company where I work today. My current position includes consulting in the area of service performance management. Via acquisition of my former company, I’ve been with the company a total of 5 years and very much enjoy the experience of providing value for my clients. I help clients develop strategies for employee coaching, recognition, and improving specific behaviors that lead to better performance. Although the end result of my projects is the implementation of a product that automates these processes, I especially enjoy the interaction process. That is – talking with people to learn what things motivate them to perform better and learning why they value certain strategies.
I’ve grown quite a bit professionally during my time at NICE. John Rusconi, Carl Rustic, and Peter Sellar deserve thanks for helping transform me from the person who thought being agreeable to everything was being a great employee, to the guy who is now confident enough to stand up for innovation and defend the integrity of everyone’s opinions and motivations. I’m proud of all my accomplishments in adding massive value for my clients, but I’m also proud of all the internal value I’ve been able to give back to my organization with this new found confidence. I run a business analyst round table. I started a Gamification center of excellence. I’ve worked with a colleague to create an Onboarding program from scratch. Thank you all for having confidence in my contributions. A special thanks to Amer Abbas and Dev Mohanty who mentored me along the way and continue to do so. All of the great mentoring skills and care for others during professional interactions that I use today are simply my way of flattering Amer and Dev by using their style.
I’d like to acknowledge Latimer Luis, a bright and talented senior technical trainer. We’ve worked together to generate exceptional Onboarding packages that have vastly improved the level of comfort new employees have in coming aboard into our organization. His ability to see alternate solutions and his care for the opinions and feedback of our new hire classes is truly exemplary. I hope to work together with him many times in the future.
Acknowledging a Dog?
No acknowledgement section would be complete without including Pastina the Dog. She always seems to know when I’m having writer’s block, and her gentle nuzzling is always the best medicine. I’ve done my best work sitting in my recliner with Pastina lying next to me. Not to mention, she just so friggin’ adorable!
More About my very Supportive Wife
Most importantly, I’d like to add a few acknowledgements for my wife, Susan Russo, without whom this book would not be possible. She has guided me over the years from being someone content with his current situation to someone thirsting to innovate and provide thought leadership. I literally would not have become any sort of business professional without her support and guidance. She vehemently supports all my blog posts and has done all the editing for everything I’ve ever written, including this book.
To that end, I decided to start this blog to share anecdotes and insights I’ve gleaned through my project experience, and to emphasize the human element in business consulting engagements rather than focusing solely on the technical solution. I look forward to posting more soon and to all your comments!