A Day in the Life of an Extreme Learner: Cornerstone SVP Chirag Shah
September 4, 2018
It's no secret that the career ladder is outdated, but many companies and their employees still struggle to create an internal framework for the career "lattice" that's replacing it. In fact, research suggests 70 percent of employees today aren't satisfied with the career opportunities at their companies.
For Chirag Shah, Cornerstone's senior vice president and general manager of growth markets, creating opportunities for employee development and growth starts with learning. Shah started out as a manager of corporate strategy at Cornerstone, and has since held seven different positions throughout his decade-long tenure at Cornerstone, and he has followed a career path that has been anything but linear.
He has moved from finance, to operations, to his current senior leadership role not by adhering to any guidelines, but instead by following his own interests—and, most importantly, constantly seeking out learning opportunities, whether through his MBA coursework, interactions with peers or online materials."I'm fortunate to be a part of a company that has allowed me to expand my horizons and do the things I'm interested in," he says. "Most companies wouldn't necessarily say, 'Okay, we've got a finance guy, let's make him an operator and have him run this business.'"
Here Shah shares how he managed to balance an MBA program with a new role at Cornerstone, why he sought out learning opportunities beyond work and how following his interests has enabled him to find the career path that was right for him.
When you first started in the SMB team manager role, you weren't necessarily as qualified as other operations candidates might have been. How did you feel when you stepped into that role on day one?
I had a knowledge of the business and enthusiasm for that business. I felt like I could add value to the team in ways that maybe a person who had been in that role previously at another place couldn't.
You pursued an MBA while you were making this transition. How did you balance work and your course load?
I worked toward my MBA on the weekends. I had to really understand the value of the things that I was doing and how it was going to help me achieve my career goals. It wasn't easy, especially because I had a lot to learn adapt to the new SMB role on the job. In my MBA classes, I learned about topics that I wasn't necessarily exposed to at Cornerstone. I was also in class with a lot of people who worked in industries that I hadn't had a lot of exposure to, so I was able to learn from them.
Where else do you go to find learning opportunities that you're not encountering day-to-day at work?
Online learning has been a huge part of my learning program ever since I joined Cornerstone. I can't tell you the number of times that I've wanted to learn about something and Googled it, or went to YouTube and watched a video about how to do something. When I have specific things that I want to learn about, online is my go-to format because I know that I can quickly find relevant content that is easily accessible in under an hour.
How has online learning helped you in the course of your career?
When I took on my initial general manager role as the GM of the SMB team, I actually took some online courses on marketing to teach me the basics so that I could enter into a conversation and not sound like a complete idiot.
It doesn't matter how smart you are, everybody has to invest time in learning. I wanted to make sure I had that basic level of knowledge and that I was making the most of the people I was working with—and not using their time to teach me what an MQL is, or any other basic marketing concept.
What advice do you have for people trying to balance their own learning pursuits with their daily work and life?
Everyone has to recognize that when they think about their careers, learning is part of getting to the next step. If you want to get to a certain place in your career, it's not going to just happen on its own. You've got to make sure that you make the investment in yourself to help you get to that point. Some of what you need to learn is going to happen on the job, but you also need to recognize what you're not learning and proactively seek it out.
For those looking to become extreme learners and strengthen their business skills, Chirag has curated a new learning playlist that you can access for free during #OnlineLearningWeek.