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Employee Spotlight: Debbie Durham

 

From helping employees onboard to managing payroll and benefits, Debbie Durham plays a huge role in coordinating the administrative functions of Akili, keeping everything in order! This week, we had the opportunity to learn more about this seasoned Akilian.

What’s your role at Akili and the most satisfying aspect about it?

I handle payroll and benefits here at Akili. I also set up our projects, so I have insight on who our clients are and what team members are on which projects. The best part is that I get to meet and interact with each and every employee that comes to Akili.

How did you become interested in your line of work?

I became interested in payroll and benefits kind of by accident. I was working for a small construction company while going to school, when the bookkeeper retired and I received on-the-job training while studying accounting. After school, I worked in accounting at a health club and then moved to payroll and benefits for a small cellular company that eventually grew into AT&T Wireless Services (yes, I was a proud owner of a brick phone). I left there and eventually followed our former accounting manager to Akili.

What about Akili made you decide to join?

I joined Akili because I loved the culture and they actually operated by and believed in their core values. And it hasn’t changed in over 20 years.

What’s a memory that stood out to you at Akili?’

The best memories of Akili are from the fun activities we have had since the beginning. Whether it’s community service activities, Stars games, paintball, Ranger games, chili cook-offs, Halloween contests, happy hours, or lake parties, there is always something to participate in! It gives everyone an opportunity to spend time both in and outside of the office to get to know one another and their families, which strengthens our bond at work!

In your opinion, what makes Akili different?

Here at Akili, employees have the freedom to do the job that they were hired to do. No one looks over your shoulder, but if you need help or guidance, someone is always there to help.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family. My husband and I have three kids and three granddaughters. We like to travel, attend sporting events and make memories with the grandbabies!

What keeps you motivated?

I come from a family of educators, so what motivates me is that there is always something new to learn. Whether it’s work-related or personal, if you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing.

Tell us about some of the greatest advice you’ve ever received.

The best advice I’ve been given is to always be kind and do the right thing!

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Employee Spotlight: Michael Steen

 

Technical Services Manager Michael Steen has been an Akilian for almost a decade now, admiring our culture and camaraderie. This week, we pulled Michael aside from his busy work schedule to learn more about him and his role!

What’s your role at Akili and the most satisfying aspect about it?

I’ve had several roles at Akili since joining in October of 2009. My current role is the Center of Excellence Leader for Platform and Support Services.

The most satisfying aspect about what I do is when a client expresses how pleased they are with the results of the solution I have helped to create. From the IT side, it can be particularly difficult to obtain kudos for a job completed to a client’s satisfaction. When a client is willing to go out of their way, either verbally or in an email to say how well you have done, you know you have exceeded their expectations.

How did you become interested in your line of work?

As a young boy, my older brother brought home a computer to help manage his business, and I was fascinated by the fact that this square contraption could do things with minimal physical gears or mechanical movement. That computer was an IBM XT 5160. Needless to say, I was hooked the first day I saw it. Much to my family’s dismay, I began taking things apart, including that IBM computer which was working perfectly, inspecting the internal components trying to understand what they could do, and putting it all back together again.

Later, I would receive my BBA in 1998 from the University of North Texas in Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management and in 2004, my MBA from the University of Phoenix. I had learned early on that technology changes very quickly and that getting a business degree fit well into my area of knowledge. This also helped me merge the two distinct paths into what I saw as how businesses would run in the future. After graduation from UNT, I began working full time and continued full time work throughout my MBA. Over the years, I worked my way up through the IT department of several companies and into senior management.

What about Akili made you decide to join?

Being from a small town in West Texas and growing up in a farming family, I was drawn to the small family atmosphere of Akili. Additionally, the values I learned as an Eagle Scout made me appreciate and admire Akili’s foresight and commitment to their core values, working hard to establish the culture of teamwork and camaraderie.

What’s a memory that stood out to you at Akili?

My wife, Mary, and I have always enjoyed the Akili summer and Christmas parties as it gives us a chance to step away from all of the hard work and enjoy spending time with our friends. One year, I remember we brought all three of our boys to the summer lake party where they loved to hit the golf balls over the edge of ‘Mr. Dan’s’ yard and into the lake. The lake was particularly low that year and after several rounds of the boys cheering each other on when they made it ‘into the lake’, Mary would walk them down the stairs to the rocks below to gather up the golf balls and start the process all over again! The boys are quite a bit older now, but they still love those memories; laughing every time we tell that tale.

In your opinion, what makes Akili different?

This has been said many times, but Akili really does stand out with regard to the culture we’ve established and the commitment we have to living our core values every day. I have had the opportunity to work for several highly regarded companies and employers over the years. Though many have tried, few have been able to effectively maintain the culture, values, and professional competencies needed to stay relevant and at the top of their game like Akili has. Anyone in business will tell you that it takes considerable effort and discipline to not take your hands off the wheel and let things coast. Coasting is just not what we are about. Pushing our boundaries and being the best is what we want for our clients.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

While I enjoy tinkering with engines and electronics, tackling home improvement projects, and spending time with the family; my biggest enjoyment is scouting adventures we have as a family and with our troop. I know firsthand what scouting has given me and that is something I want my boys to have, as well. Late this summer, one of the twins, William, and I will attend the 2018 National Order of the Arrow is Boy Scouts’ National Honor Society and I can tell you it is a great honor to be chosen by your peers to be part of this awesome group of future leaders in our country.

Outside of scouting, you can find me taking in local attractions with the family when I am not at one of my boys’ band concerts, athletic events, or with the Dallas Shooting Stars. Mary and I also volunteer as teachers for the adult special needs class at Prestonwood Baptist Church, and serve on the M.E.N.D. (Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death) Walk to Remember committee and event setup team since 2000.

What keeps you motivated?

I enjoy helping others learn and grow, both personally and professionally. Seeing that you have helped someone accomplish something or achieve a higher level is such a rewarding feeling. I am of the firm belief that as leaders, it is our responsibility to reach out to help others rise up to our level and propel them to achieve even greater things in their own futures. Take a look at history and you will find that many of the great leaders of our past have inspired others to go on and do even greater things.

Tell us about some of the greatest advice you’ve ever received.

While there is a lot of professional “advice” that people tend to gravitate toward when asked this question, something my father taught me during my years of working out on the farm is that there is a season to everything. In life, you may be in the growth of spring, dead of winter, or somewhere in between, but rest assured that change is coming and things around you will not stay the same. What I take from that lesson is this; don’t get too comfortable where you are. Be willing to adapt and remember that how you handle each season can prepare you for those that follow.

Anything else you’d like everyone to know?

One evening at the dinner table, we were talking and our youngest son dove into a long dialogue about how he believes I work too hard and that after a few years of higher-level education, he plans to perform a hostile takeover of Akili to fix that issue.

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My First 90 Days at Akili: Kevin Boardman

 

By Kevin Boardman | Business Planning Consultant

On my first day with Akili, I immediately picked up on a theme: dedication. Every member of the Akili family is dedicated to their work, their clients, and personal development in betterment of the team.

During my first week in training, everyone from my colleagues to our CEO was asking if I had questions, and extended their time to help me overcome any hurdles I encountered. Akili is full of dedicated people that continue to ensure everyone is set up for success.

It is amazing to be a part of a team knowing that everyone is dedicated to being their absolute best and constantly raising the bar. I’ve noticed it’s not unusual for someone to work well past “normal business hours” to finish a work stream, then immediately share their findings with the team.

The phrase “open-door” policy would imply that sometimes that figurative door is shut. At Akili, there is no door because every door is open and every person is willing to jump in and help the team. That said, there is no “I” in team and that couldn’t be more evident here. Everyone is incredibly dedicated to perform at the maximum level and celebrate together in success.

Our managers are constantly pushing the team to advance their skillset by providing the platform to perform, learn, and then perform again. In my second week on a client project, I was presenting to a senior leader and our client director was right there with me. It was a great learning experience, proving that Akili invests in each of its employees and trusts them to perform.

One thing I’ve learned, is to not be afraid to take a calculated risk. One of the many exciting things about working at Akili is that every day is a new adventure. There will come a time when an idea or potential solution is mentioned in a meeting or casual conversation and then a few hours/days later, we have the opportunity to present our ideas and proceed further down the path. Just know the Akili team fully supports this kind of initiative, even if it doesn’t become implemented on the current work stream (but could be presented in other areas).

I’m excited for future projects with existing and new clients because although it will be challenging, us Akilians thrive and are excited for those challenges.

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Akili Core Values Series: People

 

By Shiek Shah | CEO

People – Our people are our strength. We will hire only the best and work with them to ensure they continue to improve.

In a professional services organization like Akili, people are our assets, differentiators, and strength. Our business does not scale without people and our reputation depends entirely on the quality of our people. So, at Akili, we pay special attention to our people – who we hire, how we work with them to be the best they can be, and how we ensure that their professional aspirations and goals are being fulfilled.

It starts with our hiring process. We understand that Akili is not everyone’s cup of tea. We are a flat, informal organization that thrives on individuality, freedom, and irreverence. We are casual about everything except our work. Some people thrive in an environment like that, others detest it. We get that. The people we hire do not need external motivation, look to better themselves every day, challenge the status quo, aren’t afraid to get out of their comfort zone, and truly believe in our guiding principles both in and out of the office.

We always say, “Hire character, teach skills.” Just like the Special Forces, we do not need a lot of people to accomplish a mission or complete a project. Small, skilled teams that work well together can accomplish a lot and typically in a much shorter time frame with a lot less risk. We are constantly training, learning, and visioning. We have a diverse group of people that come from various backgrounds: College football players, musicians, mountain climbers, cyclists, ultra-marathoners, crossfitters, grandparents, single, married, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Athiests, Americans, Foreigners, etc. Hell, if we found a Yeti with the character that we are looking for, we’d hire it! But we ALL have at least one thing in common – we believe in the mission of Akili to help our clients move their KPI’s in the right direction, and have fun while doing it.

We also believe that people are better focused on our mission when we don’t burden them with unnecessary rules that govern most companies. We don’t really care what you wear at the office as long as it is decent, we don’t have a vacation policy that limits the amount of time you can take off, we have Wine and Whiskey Wednesdays, Office Olympics, Ping Pong Tournaments, burpee contests – all to get to know each other better, have fun, and gel as a team. Our guiding principles are our governing structure.

Our people are our culture. Our culture is our brand and we are damn proud of our brand!

 

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Akili PHD: The Musician

 

By Joel Middleton | Business Planning Consultant

Who hears music, feels his solitude peopled at once.”

– Robert Browning

Music. What a powerful force in this world. What else has done the following so successfully?

  • Incited riots
  • Inspired repressed people to infect themselves with a deadly virus
  • Sparked more than one revolution
  • Changed how people get down the wedding aisle

Or, the fact that music also gets us to sing, dance, grieve, laugh, and experience a moment either alone or with others?

As a species we’ve had music before structured and written language. It’s in each of us, like E. Coli or that piece of gum you accidentally swallowed a few years ago.

For me, music has always been a big part of my life. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are about hearing my favorite childhood songs for the first time and repetitiously listening to them to get the rhythm and melody of each one. The swing, jazz, rock, and blues songs were always my favorite. I’m fairly certain my parents might still have PTSD from how many times I watched Jungle Book, Brave Little Toaster, and Aristocats simply because of the jazz, blues, and rock leanings in those movies.

My parents have always had their own love of music, too. My dad plays piano and my mom’s a natural-born dancer. We also attended church every Sunday where music was a big part of the service.

With all of that musical exposure, you’d think I would’ve naturally gravitated towards actually learning music early on, but didn’t find my way into it until I was given a guitar and a set of lessons at the local rec center for my 16th birthday. I didn’t know it then, but this was where a lifelong passion for music would begin. The “not knowing” part is important, but I’ll come back to that in a moment.

By the time college was on my horizon, I decided that I wanted to study music in school and enrolled as a music performance major at the University of Memphis, focusing on Jazz & Studio Music. I showed up in Memphis full of enthusiasm and excitement. Not even two weeks later, I was ready to throw in the towel and change majors.

I had seriously overestimated my level of ability at the time and was in way over my head. Unlike many of the other students in the music program, I never did anything like band, choir, or theatre in middle or high school. I didn’t know how to read sheet music or how to communicate with other musicians in an effective way. I was, musically speaking, illiterate.

Faced with the decision of quitting the music program, I decided instead to lean into the discomfort and resolved to not quit without putting up a fight.

And man, did I hate the slog.

The daily routine of honest self-criticism and evaluation that I had to make myself face. Fumbling through sight-reading exercises at a pithy 60 beats per minute. Guessing almost every interval except the right one in-ear training exercises. Slowly transcribing solos and tunes from famed jazz records only to read it back and be wrong in large swathes of the song. Not to mention, wrestling with the heedless voice of self-doubt providing the tempting belief that ability and talent are fixed attributes.

I wish I could say it was passion that pushed me through this time. That it was some kind of supreme love for the craft that fit well with the narrative that anyone with enough heart and passion can succeed despite the obstacles before them. But it wasn’t. If anything, halfway through that first semester, I was less passionate about music and guitar than I’d ever been.

But I kept working and as my first semester came to a close, I wasn’t dramatically better than when I’d began but I was starting to show growth. More importantly, the gains I had made in my musical competency over those 15 weeks had ignited a deeper and broader love for music. The kind of love that I would qualify as genuine passion. The kind of passion that you can only develop from struggle, strife, and honesty. Where the slog transforms from drudgery to something you legitimately get excited for.

Fast forward more than a few years and I found myself in new career at Akili where I’m thankful that we have a culture that embraces passion, heart, and desire. Learning new technologies and creating solutions for our clients’ many business needs is ripe for opportunities to struggle, grow, and deepen the passion I have for what we do!

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Employee Spotlight: Meet Mark Butler

 

Director of Business Process & Organizational Change Management Mark Butler knows Akili all too well, as he’s been with us from the very beginning! This week, we discovered more about this seasoned Akilian and his role.

What’s your role at Akili and the most satisfying aspect about it?

I serve as the Director of the BPM/OCM Center of Excellence. My responsibility in this role is to establish all of the IP, methodology, and discipline necessary to provide a best in-class level service for clients who need help with business process optimization and leading organizational change.

I have told people for years that one of the best parts of my job is that no two days are ever alike. I may provide the same type of service to our clients, or collaborate with my fellow employees around common activities, nevertheless, every case is unique, every outcome is unique, and every project brings new opportunities to learn, adapt, and grow.

How did you become interested in your line of work?

I was working in our data modeling group at American Airlines in 1991 when I received an invitation from the VP of our Division to participate in a special project. It was the first Business Process Reengineering effort at AA. BPR was a hot topic of the day with the recent publication of Hammer and Champy’s wildly successful book, “Reengineering the Corporation”.

For the next nine months, I was blessed to work with nine other peers who also received this invitation. It was a huge project, with major game-changing outcomes for the Saber Computer Services, the Division in which I worked. But more importantly, it was a new path for me. We were coached extensively by four experts in the new field and it was an awesome experience. It was stressful every day for sure, but an amazing opportunity.

By the time we reached the conclusion of the project, it had become apparent to me that a process-centric approach to solving business problems was the best way to make a real difference in the world. I went to our mentor consultants and asked if there was any way I could join them in this work. I could not imagine going back to my former role and ever being satisfied knowing what I now knew.

Long story short, the answer was yes, and the rest is history.

What about Akili made you decide to join?

When I joined in July 1996, Akili was still in its infancy. The “culture” of Akili that is now a hallmark was barely forming, so I had no perspective on that, and Akili had no big reputation of success to speak of. I made the decision based primarily on my brief interactions with Shiek and Andrew and I have never regretted the decision we made that week. Everything good that has happened to me in my career since 1996 has been a direct result of the relationships I have formed at Akili.

What’s a memory that stood out to you at Akili?

Wow… that is a tough question. How do you pick one from among so many? Given the two decades of water that have passed under the Akili bridge, you can imagine those waters have carried an uncountable quantity of memories. On the fun side of the coin, the Cancun trip was no doubt the very best memory. On the work side of the coin, I have to say that my work on the ERP implementation at Samson Resources will always be a highlight of my career.

In your opinion, what makes Akili different?

Every company wants to say how “different” they are in their marketing materials. I give it as my opinion that the real difference is based on two factors. First, our CEO has a very clear and unmatched expectation of excellence in terms of our performance in client engagements. Failure is NOT an option. Secondly, this same expectation of excellence flows right into the character of the people whom we attract, prepare, and deploy to those client engagements; and the same standard of performance for us all is the number one priority. We hire very smart people with a strong work ethic, and we teach and guide them towards the standard of excellence that must prevail in our work.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

If you had asked me that question two decades ago, the answer would be different. We all experience changes in the focus of our lives over time. Gratefully, today my understanding of what is important in life is for more refined. I love being with, and working on whatever project you can imagine with my wife, the center and soul of my life.

We enjoy serving others in our church work—we teach, mentor, and guide others we love toward lives of richness and joy. We love our 10 grandchildren beyond words and enjoy supporting them in all of their fun growing-up activities. We love the mountains. As a family, we went camping every year. Holiday traditions are important family foundation building work that we are committed to doing. Christmas together is our favorite time of year.

Left: Mark’s yard – they did all of the work! Right: Christmas – their favorite time of year.
Left: Butler family (minus 2). Right: Christmas dinner with the Butler’s.

What keeps you motivated?

Motivating me has never been something anyone else has had to do. My intense internal competitive nature drove me for years. Today, the driver is more based in the search for knowledge about my specific professional focus. BPM and OCM are all about relentless, continuous improvement and about purposeful adaptation to the factors in a dynamic and constantly evolving business environment. I love to learn. The joy of learning drives me.

Tell us about some of the greatest advice you’ve ever received.

It is exceptionally easy to identify the greatest advice or counsel I’ve ever received—if you don’t include the scriptures. Without question, that advice came from Stephen R. Covey and his two best-selling books: 7-Habits and Principle Centered Leadership.

My wife will tell you that the truths taught in his books changed me, for the better.

Anything you’d like everyone to know? 

Serving and helping others is one of the keys to understanding ourselves, and recognizing the blessings in our lives.

Many years ago we received a cup from someone that sat in our kitchen window sill. It had a wonderful message inscribed on it:

“Life is a gift. It’s wrapped in a ribbon woven with dreams, and whether you are very young or very old, life is full of wonder and surprises.”

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My First 90 Days at Akili: Patrick Payne

 

By Patrick Payne | Sr. Sales Executive

My first exposure to Akili was when I was working with a software company in the same building, one floor up, four years ago. I remember doing some research on Akili to see what line of business they were in, after seeing the logo in our building. I found myself intrigued, and I knew that eventually, I wanted to work with a company similar to Akili as I grew further into my career.

Four years later, here I am at Akili, working as an Account Executive managing the central region of the U.S.

In my first few weeks, it was immediately evident that Akili was a unique company. The culture coupled with the company’s twelve core values are sincerely lived out each day. One thing in particular that I’ve been impressed by, is the overall transparency displayed starting with the CEO and trickling down throughout the company.

I’ve also been impressed with the cohesive team approach that is taken in every sales cycle. While some companies might boast this as a differentiator, I’ve experienced first-hand that this isn’t always the case. I was told in the interview process (and more than a few times since) that I would never have to sell alone. This sentiment has more than come into fruition as I’ve already experienced multiple sales opportunities that support this notion.

Additionally, I’ve observed loyalty at Akili on a completely different level than I’ve experienced at other organizations. In my opinion, our outstanding client reference and retention rate has a direct correlation with the loyalty shown here.

Lastly, I’m very grateful to be a part of such an immensely talented and knowledgeable team, and I’m excited about the future direction of Akili. As a contributor to the team, it’s my ongoing goal to help new and prospective clients meet their business planning objectives, while expanding the Akili brand throughout my region.

I feel that this is a really special company, and I look forward to being a part of the many successes that we experience this year and beyond!

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Akili PHD: The Athlete

 

By Ben Wilmoth | Senior Business Planning Consultant

In 4th grade, I started playing football and learned early on what it’s like to be a part of a team.

As a kid, I liked to joke around a lot, so my parents were looking to get me into whatever activity that would keep me from getting into trouble. My mom tells me stories of when I would stack pillows in the living room and pretend the stack was a running back. And in an attempt to stop the stuffed running back from scoring imaginary touchdowns, I would continuously tackle it as if I were starting for the Dallas Cowboys. I’ve always wanted to play and it just came natural.

Add a couple of years and more than a couple of pounds, and I found my fit as an offensive lineman. And as I grew, so did my desire to compete. To be a successful competitor, it meant I had to learn how to be disciplined, fundamentally sound and coachable. Through the variety of ups and downs playing football competitively provides, I had acquired all of these skills and more. Most importantly, I learned how to be a contributing member of a successful and productive team, which would help establish a foundation that would support me in my future career.

Today, I’m on a whole new team with and although I’ve switched from reading defenses to reading user requirements, the passion is still there. As a matter of fact, many of the skills I used in football are apparent in my role as a Senior Business Planning Consultant at Akili.

Just like an offensive lineman, you have to be accountable for your role, but also be cognizant of the roles of your teammates. You have to be decent at making changes on the fly (both literally and metaphorically).

You have to be quick to adapt.

The core of how we implement projects at Akili is based around being agile. It’s about keeping everything in control and taking frequent status checks. It’s also about being transparent and understanding that if what you are presenting to the client does not meet the mark, you need to pivot immediately.

In football, the offensive line doesn’t get all of the glory. As an old offensive line coach once told me, “Your job is to finish your block and get out of the way.” Being an offensive linemen is not a glorified role. In fact, the general premise is that if you are being noticed, you are making mistakes. Similar to Akili, our main goal is to make our sponsors and clients look good. This means that in the end, we’re not always the one who receives the credit.

For us, that’s OK because our greatest sources of pride come from successful implementations and continued business. We perform until the expectations of our clients have been exceeded and at Akili, that’s what truly matters.

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Employee Spotlight: Meet James Cannon

 

From planning business solutions to bike routes, Solution Leader James Cannon puts the pedal to the metal when it comes to personal growth. This week, we learned more about his experience at Akili and even took away some solid advice.

What’s your role at Akili and the most satisfying aspect about it?

Officially, my role at Akili is a Solution Lead within the Anaplan platform. Unofficially, I wear a number of hats. No day is ever the same, which is one really satisfying aspect of my role. I’m able to help drive change within our clients’ organization, as well as help drive change here at Akili.

How did you become interested in your line of work?

I’ve always had an interest in technology and building things, so it’s almost a perfect fit for someone like me. When you add in the fact that I also get bored easily, this industry is fitting because it requires the ability for rapid change. I’m usually rolling on to a new project every 4-6 months.

What about Akili made you decide to join?

The people! When I interviewed, the individuals I met were the real reason I chose to work here. At the end of the day, I’d rather work with people I really enjoy and call friends than make a few more dollars somewhere else and be miserable.

What’s a memory that stood out to you at Akili?

There are honestly too many to list over the past 4 years, but most of them either involve having a great conversation over a drink with a fellow Akilian, or some office shenanigans.

In your opinion, what makes Akili different? 

A lot of the same reasons that made me want to join Akili (the people, the culture, the leadership, the team spirit, etc.) are what I think allows Akili to separate itself from others in our industry and make it a really special place to work.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Anything outdoors, really. I am an on-again, off-again avid mountain biker. In the summer, my weekends are often spent playing golf or going to the lake. In the winter, I’m usually trying to make my way to a mountain to go snowboarding.

What keeps you motivated?

Helping people is a really big motivator for me. I’m a firm believer in continuing your own personal education, so I really like to learn new things. Sharing my knowledge with other people to help either benefit them, or their organization, is my main motivator.

Tell us about some of the greatest advice you’ve ever received.

I wouldn’t categorize it as the greatest advice given to me, but there are two maxims I circle back on when working with our clients. The first one is, “Work smarter, not harder” and the second is, “You can only manage what you measure”.

The first one is something I believe we help our clients achieve with our services. At the end of an engagement, I like to think we have helped our clients facilitate the change needed for their group or organization to work smarter everyday by doing less work through the tools we helped implement.

The second, is an idea that I truly align with. You are not able to fully understand the impact of a problem unless you measure and track it. This idea has limitless applications and is a great way to improve either a personal process or an organizational process.

Anything else you’d like everyone to know?

Don’t be afraid to gamble on making a jump to something new. I knew nothing other than a Google search of who Akili was or what they actually did. Making that leap of faith into this field and this company has been eternally rewarding for me, both from a personal and professional standpoint. It has allowed me to continue to grow and develop as a person and along the way, it has allowed me to meet and connect with some amazing people.