C-suite career advice: Yassine Zaied, Nexthink

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? “Take on management responsibility as soon as you can, even if it’s just to manage one person.”

c suite career advice yassine zaied nexthink

Name: Yassine Zaied

Company: Nexthink

Job Title: Chief Strategy Officer

Location: Lausanne, Switzerland

Yassine Zaied is Chief Strategy Officer at Nexthink, a position he has occupied for 16 months, having been with the company for 12 years. After securing his MBA at the IMD Business School in Lausanne in 2005, Zaied started out with the marketing team at Henkel, went on to spend time in a business development role at Setcore before making the switch to Nexthink in a sales capacity. Those 11 years have seen him take on responsibility as Executive VP for the Middle East and emerging countries before becoming Executive VP of Global Alliances.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Undoubtedly, the best piece of advice I have received is to spend time in a sales role. This experience gives you a better understanding of your market, and insight into what drives decisions to invest. It’s incredibly valuable to have that commercial eye and holistic understanding of the company as you climb the ladder.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? One piece of advice I was given early on was to always join the leader or the number two company in the industry. Not terrible advice at face value (if you can manage it) but actually it means you miss out on valuable lessons early on in your career. It’s far more beneficial to join a company that is redefining the market and allows you to make decisions for yourself.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Take the time to find a company that matches your ambitions. For me, doing something innovative that re-defines the market is important. That’s why I feel so well-suited to my current role at Nexthink. It’s exciting to be part of a team that is trailblazing.

Did you always want to work in IT/ tech? Honestly? No. But I think that’s given me a different perspective that I’ve been able to bring into the IT world. I started out working in FMCG and strategy consulting, which couldn’t be further from IT. But I could see that the tech industry was one that was growing exponentially and was at the forefront of interesting ideas. That was why I made the switch.

What was your first job in IT/ tech? Sales management at Nexthink, the company I’m at now. I joined in 2008 and since then I’ve made my way up to Chief Strategy Officer. But that first role in sales was instrumental in providing that initial understanding of IT. You have to really understand the tech and its benefits to customers in order to sell it.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/ tech? The biggest misconception is that you’ll be surrounded by data scientists. It’s simply not the case. For an IT company to be successful, it’s important to have a real mix of skillsets and experience. You need tech experts but you need corporate thinking, too.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Take on management responsibility as soon as you can, even if it’s just to manage one person. You need to learn how to coach and motivate people. The skill of building teams is also invaluable. So, take accountability where you can and learn more about what drives people.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’ve been very lucky, in that my ambition has always been to be in a leading position in a company that is part of the new wave – and at Nexthink I’m doing exactly that. But within my day-to-day work, my ambition is to champion Nexthink’s ‘Digital Experience Score’. The tool measures employee satisfaction with IT performance within a company. I’d love for candidates to ask about a company’s Digital Experience Score in a job interview, in the same way they might ask about the culture, benefits and other things that are important to experiences as an employee.

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? Frankly, yes. Like everyone in a c-suite role, I am kept busy during working hours and the position carries a certain level of pressure. But I’ve learned how to prioritise the decisions that will make the biggest impact.

When I’m out the office, I’m able to spend time with family, go on holidays, exercise – all the things that mean I am physically and mentally healthy when I am at work. Nexthink is all about making the most of people’s time, so it’s part of the culture.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I’d have joined a sales role earlier. Other than that, it’s always useful to shadow people in all areas of the business and to take the time to learn from others in the company. It’ll give you a fuller understanding of your industry.

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? From a c-level perspective, whatever you do – it’s important to be curious and to have a good commercial brain. Both routes can work, but what’s important is being inquisitive and having a good work ethic. That goes a long way.

How important are specific certifications? Certifications may open certain doors but it’s passion that will take you where you want to get to in your career. A good knowledge of tech is useful for a career in IT but specific qualifications are unlikely to be a deal-breaker outside of a data science role.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? It varies from position to position but my focus is on building efficient teams. For me, I like to have a team that has different skillsets that complement each other. But three skills every team member needs to have would be: curiosity, ambition, and a drive to delight customers.

What would put you off a candidate? People who are only focused on the past. Having a good background with relevant experience is useful but I want to know what your goals are going forward. Show ambition and aim for something worth pursuing.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided?  I think it’s as basic as not asking enough questions. They should want to know about the company’s goals, their culture and how they can fit into that.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? You definitely need both and I’d add people skills to that. There’s no point in being tech-savvy or having a good corporate brain if you can’t manage people well.