What Is an Operations Leader, Exactly?

The often-overlooked role creates infrastructure to give their employees the support they need.
Written by Jeff Kirshman
December 13, 2021Updated: January 5, 2022

MONDAY: Provide feedback to the team on the demand model for the company’s science programs in 2022. Take a call with the curriculum director and superintendent for a large school district to plan next year’s reading program. 

TUESDAY: Meet with your group to develop targeted supplier performance-improvement strategies. 

WEDNESDAY: Review two newly designed reports that visualize fulfillment and transportation data. The report structures are smart, but the underlying data needs to be scrubbed.

THURSDAY: Early-morning breakfast with your manager to review major assumptions in next year’s budget.

FRIDAY: Attend the business system group’s sprint planning to ensure they deliver on the functionality the team has requested. 

*****

As a recent week on Matthew Ely’s calendar shows, a “typical day” as an operations leader can take many forms. The vice president of business operations at edtech company Amplify has a wide range of responsibilities under his purview, which is perhaps why defining his role can be so confounding. 

“Almost every day presents a different mix of ‘business as usual’ functions and special projects,” Ely said. 

To learn more about the often-overlooked leadership position, Built In New York checked in with five local companies to understand exactly what an operations leader does and how they influence the success of their respective organizations.

 

Matthew Ely
Vice President, Business Operations

 

Describe a project you’re working on right now.

We’re currently evaluating many aspects of our customer journey with other teams across the company, including account management, implementation, sales and business managers. The goal is fairly straightforward: ensure that our customers are quickly and efficiently onboarded to our products and services and that they remain informed and supported throughout that process. Although our team is not often customer-facing, we work directly with the underlying customer service, digital and physical fulfillment records that are the building blocks for customer implementation reporting. 

Our focus on this project will be in the area of backend process optimization and data quality. We know the most common customer questions, and we need to be able to answer those questions quickly and accurately at scale. It’s challenging, given the complexity and variations in our implementation models, but rewarding in that it will forge the path for future growth. In the last three years Amplify has grown 300 percent and must be prepared to do the same again in the coming three to five  years.

We need to be able to answer those questions quickly and accurately at scale.”

 

What are some of the trends you’re currently watching in the operations space, and how do you anticipate they will affect your team’s day-to-day work?

Like other companies, domestic and international supply chain bottlenecks are challenging our ability to source and deliver efficiently. Labor shortages in the industries that serve our supply chain can create production delays and unexpected price increases, which we’ve largely tried to shield our customers from. On the other side, we are seeing unusual purchasing patterns from our customers, who themselves are operating in unprecedented conditions. There is tremendous learning loss to overcome and an influx of help through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund to combat it. In this year, that has created larger late-season spending with less visibility into very rapidly-evolving deals. 

Of course, the K-12 public school schedules do not afford us more time to prepare; in some cases, schools are starting earlier as a part of their strategy to close the gap. Caught between these two forces are extended lead times in our supply chain and larger, less predictable spending in the K-12 education market. We are sourcing early and aggressively. In some cases we will make supply chain investments two months ahead of our established cycle. It’s a bet we’re willing to make.

 

 

CJ Cintron
Director, Property Management

 

Give us a little insight into a typical day for you. 

I’m the director of property management for all of Common’s Northeast homes, which includes the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas. Common is a global residential brand that designs, manages and leases apartments across the world. The Northeast is one of our fastest-growing markets, with beautiful new buildings opening nearly every month. On a daily basis, I am responsible for overseeing the weekly operations and budget of each property in my domain, including ALTA in Long Island City, Frankford in Philadelphia and Owens in Bed-Stuy.

My day-to-day work has a dual focus: I help Common successfully launch new buildings in a given city and work with real estate owners and developers to ensure everything is working smoothly at their assets. The client-facing aspect of my role is super important to Common’s operations as we continue in this high-growth and fast-paced startup stage. Through weekly calls and in-person visits with building owners, I am seen as the face of Common to some of our most important partners. It is my job to exemplify the mission of our brand daily. Lastly, I manage an incredible group of portfolio managers, community managers and housekeeping team.

It is my job to exemplify the mission of our brand daily.”

 

Describe a project you’re working on right now.

As a property management company revolutionizing the industry, Common is always working on new and exciting projects. I’m particularly excited about Common bringing the first co-living apartments to Jersey City this winter. Common is undeniably the industry leader in co-living, and while we have opened units all over the Northeast, we’re really thrilled to bring better roommate living to the Jersey City area. I always look forward to bringing our brand standard to new markets in the northeast, and I know that we will thrive in a fast-growing market like Jersey City. Thinking about property management in a new, more innovative way is what inspires me at my job daily.

 

What are some of the trends you’re currently watching in the operations space, and how do you anticipate they will affect your team’s day-to-day work?

Since Common was founded in 2015, we have been a people-first operation. Having a strong connection with residents continues to be an important trend in the property management space, which up until now has been largely stuck in the 1980s. As we have grown to 7,500 residents across the U.S., we make sure everyone is connected through our app, which allows residents in each building to chat with each other. Our connection with residents is made easier through technology and helps emphasize that Common will always be available to ensure a resident’s living experience is the best it can be. The discourse between residents and Common will continue to be essential as we grow. Delivering a consistent line of open communication is one of Common’s founding principles.

Covid-19 protocols continue to be a trend in property management operations today. Since we are managing apartment buildings, we will always be physically interacting with people. Our operations teams consistently navigate the proper precautions and steps to take to ensure Common staff and residents feel safe every day.

 

 

Courtney Harrell
Operations Manager

 

Give us a little insight into a typical day for you. 

I partner closely with many stakeholders across the company — both internally and externally — to support our daily operations, product, sales and marketing efforts.

Externally, I work with our partners and vendors that support some of our outsourced processes: our underwriter, our printing partner and our fulfillment partners. I also work with many prospective employers who want to offer Pumpkin as an employee benefit.

Internally, I work closely with our customer experience team to support them with any customer matters or ad-hoc customer account updates. In addition, I work with our product, design and engineering teams to build or improve existing system features that will allow Pumpkin to continue to deliver an exceptional customer experience as we scale. I also provide operational support to the marketing team for their many initiatives across different channels.

 

Describe a project you’re working on right now.

I’ve been working paw-in-paw with our marketing, design and sales teams internally and our printing and fulfillment partners externally to optimize our physical marketing collateral offerings in light of the current global supply-chain issues and overall price increases of raw materials. We went through a marketing collateral proliferation period, and we really expanded our marketing collateral offerings as we grew. In response to price increases spurred by the global supply-chain issues, we’re now going through a rationalization process, which can be a challenge when you have to decide what to keep and what to discontinue. At the same time, that’s also what is rewarding. There are so many opportunities for optimization without necessarily discontinuing something. Ultimately we are going to see some great benefits: It will allow us to focus on what works and streamline our fulfillment process, while still offsetting any increased costs.

There are so many opportunities for optimization without necessarily discontinuing something.”

 

What are some of the trends you’re currently watching in the operations space, and how do you anticipate they will affect your team’s day-to-day work?

Customers today increasingly expect quicker answers on every channel but also prefer human-to-human interactions. This is a trend that we will see more of with the increase in hybrid work models. Unfortunately, it creates a bit of a catch-22 situation for companies. To answer quicker, they turn to chatbots or automated responses, which can lead to customer frustration and fewer “moments that matter” — interactions where human-to-human contact was a differentiator and had the opportunity to create a positive customer experience. 

These moments mean that customer service is becoming a sales tool. Operations teams that can help the customer experience team find the sweet spot to manage quantity and quality simultaneously will be increasingly important as we scale. Automating and digitizing business operations processes that touch the customer experience means our customer advocates can help customers quickly with their inquiries in a personalized way.

We want to foster solid relationships based on genuine human empathy and compassion with our customers. Being customer-centric is now everyone’s job — even those who aren’t traditionally customer-facing.

 

 

Nathen Bishop
Vice President of Operations

 

Give us a little insight into a typical day for you.

My typical day is spent in support of my direct reports: Axle Payment’s director of operations and director of underwriting. We sync on projects, ensure that we are on track with our quarterly goals and make sure we are aligned on some of the day-to-day challenges that our teams face. I spend significant amounts of time consulting for other departments, providing feedback on engineering projects that affect not only operations but the company as a whole, and ensuring that the vision for our operations department is clearly articulated throughout the organization.

 

Describe a project you’re working on right now.

Currently, we are creating our goals for Q1 of next year and ensuring that they align with our company’s vision. While it’s not hard to set a goal, it is challenging to create company alignment and a shared vision. An organization thrives when the company vision is clearly articulated and each department is aligned. A company should be aligned from both the top down and bottom up, which means that the newest employee understands the vision and understands how their role and goals support the highest-level objectives of the business.

An organization thrives when the company vision is clearly articulated and each department is aligned.”

 

What are some of the trends you’re currently watching in the operations space, and how do you anticipate they will affect your team’s day-to-day work?

We are a fully remote company, and while there are many positives that come with having a fully remote team, there are also many challenges. I’m highly interested in the future of remote working. I’m thinking about how I continue to build team morale, give the same level of training and coaching, replicate the office environment, and reproduce the energy and excitement of a positive in-person culture as my team continues to scale.

 

 

Gerardo Cervantes
Head of Business Operations

 

Give us a little insight into a typical day for you. 

I like to think that business operations contribute to creating an amazing and smooth experience for our employees, clients and visitors, as well as ensuring an overall healthy business. The operations role at BCG Digital Ventures is unique, because it provides a lens into all aspects of our business from the internal to the client-facing work. I’m very fortunate because I get to work with a wide variety of stakeholders across the business, from operational team members who work on our administrative services, IT, HR and finance teams, to our team members who design and build innovative products, platforms and businesses. Our network spans across BCG, our client organizations, alumni and venture teams as we work together to drive impact and solve business challenges. On a typical day, I facilitate culture and community-building activities so our centers across New York, Chicago and Los Angeles can share knowledge and connect with one another.

 

Describe a project you’re working on right now.

I work on many challenging and rewarding projects because much of my work is directly related to our people’s experiences. What remains a priority project for me, and I am sure for many leaders, is determining how we adapt to the changing landscape of working in a post-pandemic world. The entire planet just experienced a very complex environment through Covid-19. Our people and our business had to continuously adapt. We are currently and will continue to go through constant revisions and closely monitor the implications for our people, business model, office experience and use of technology. I want to ensure our teams are able to collaborate seamlessly from near and far and stay connected to keep our productivity and our sentiments high. I remain optimistic as we find new ways of working that meet the needs of our workforce and I anticipate that the future will be both challenging and fascinating at the same time.

A priority project is determining how we adapt to the changing landscape of working in a post-pandemic world.”

 

What are some of the trends you’re currently watching in the operations space, and how do you anticipate they will affect your team’s day-to-day work?

I’m excited to see many positive trends becoming more relevant in today’s operations space. I think we’ll continue to experience more human-centered leadership, where our people’s experiences are at the center of our business. We will see various trends in new ways of working and collaborating across virtual environments, newer and better technologies and increased efforts to make positive contributions for the planet with sustainable operations. I most anticipate seeing companies investing more time and effort to support physical, mental and emotional wellness of their workforce. People and companies will need to be resilient, flexible and adaptable.

 

 

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