Name: Bill Mann
Company: Chief Product Officer
Job Title: Centrify
Location: California, US
What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?
The best advice I’ve ever received was from a friend who is a Valley entrepreneur and now an executive at Yahoo. I know it’s a cliché, but I have taken it to heart – “the risk of not taking a risk”. Honestly, throughout my career I have not always taken this advice, but every time I have, things have turned out better. This is not about taking risks with your career, it’s about understanding that life is a set of experiences and each door we open means a new set of possibilities. I look at life and my career like an adventure; it has worked for me, this could certainly work for you. Nothing ever goes according to plan, and our failures are an important part of our success.
What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
I was 10 years in my previous job, and every 2 to 3 years, I changed positions internally. The worst advice I was given was to leave, and the best advice I was given was to find a better job to meet my career goals. It seems like everyone has advice to give you. Most of the time, people mean well. I think it’s important to listen, but to embrace advice that you’re passionate about or that hits you somewhere inside. Seek advice from people who can be objective and unbiased in their advice.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
Try as many aspects of the business as you can in your early years. When I started my career I was fortunate to have joined a Graduate Engineering Programme. Every six months or so, I would be moved from coding, to QA, then to support. When I moved to the US, I did consulting, product management, business development. Although there was no overarching career strategy at the time, I have always been a ‘big picture’ person, so it was important to try different aspects of the business to see what I was really passionate about.
When you are starting out, it’s easy to be pigeonholed. I recall stating my career goal in a FiloFax personal organiser during one of those time management courses for new graduates. I wrote that I wanted to be a Senior Software Engineer. I only knew engineering, so it was a reasonable but a very limited view of the possibilities.
What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?
We all have our sweet spots and we truly need to understand our sweet spot and be passionate and really good at it. At the same time, aiming for the c-level position means that you need to understand about other areas of a business, so for me as a product guy, understanding sales, finance and marketing. Get experience running as many operational functions as you can as you move up the ladder, and if you can’t run the function, have a general manager position or product management role – in these roles you interface heavily with these functions.
Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or of the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
When giving career advice, it goes without saying that you need to be honest. I did not know this, but I’ve been complimented on delivering news to employees that sometimes results in them leaving the organisation. Since I like adventure, I’ve coached people to move locations and countries. It’s amazing what you learn by picking up and moving to a new city or country, your family develops and meeting new people and cultures helps you grow your organisational competencies.
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