Humans naturally yearn for growth, but professional development journeys can often feel like being stranded in a desert, searching for ways to evolve in an inhospitable environment.
Assurances of opportunities for growth within a company that once appeared promising are eventually revealed to be mirages, and resources are so scarce that even the most independent self-starter would face insurmountable challenges in realizing their full potential.
Some companies, however, are committed to fostering environments that are not only hospitable to growth but rich with opportunities. NextRoll, according to Chief of Staff Sophia Chen, is one such company.
The company’s investments in its team members are encapsulated in Chen’s journey, which began with her working as a sales development representative in 2016 for AdRoll, a division of NextRoll.
For Chen, NextRoll’s leadership consistently prioritized her growth — helping her target the next stages in her career and how she could get there.
“In my time at NextRoll, my managers would raise opportunities and potential new roles that I could explore based on what I had shared as my interests and career goals in our career conversations,” Chen said. “I always felt they were rooting for me even though, at times, it meant I would be leaving their teams.”
What the future holds for Chen remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: her NextRoll team members will be there to support her endeavors and root for her success. Built In spoke to Chen about her professional journey and how NextRoll’s company value of “growth” manifests itself in reality.
What’s your role? What are your responsibilities?
I am the chief of staff to the CEO at NextRoll. Chiefs of staff are force multipliers and “dot connectors” — that is, I help make sure the objectives and agenda of the CEO are well communicated and progressed across the organization.
I serve as a second pair of eyes and ears and act as a sounding board and thought partner for the CEO. Taken together, it means that I create leverage for the executive leadership team by ensuring the operating rhythm of the organization continues to flow, leading special projects, preparing communications and bridging any gaps across the organization.
Give us a snapshot of your career so far. What has been your path to this point?
I started with NextRoll in 2016 as a sales development representative within our AdRoll business unit. AdRoll provides a single platform for e-commerce brands to easily launch display ads, social media ads and email that engages existing customers, attracts new customers and grows revenue. I was pretty early in my career, and the focus was being a sponge and learning as much as I could about the business, our product and how to connect with customers and prospects on their pain points and how we could help solve them.
From there, I spent a few years as an account manager within AdRoll, supporting some of our largest North American customers and helping them grow their businesses with our products and offerings.
I eventually came to lead our North American account management teams for our AdRoll business unit. Following five years of deep go-to-market and sales experience within AdRoll, I moved into the chief of staff role for the CEO of NextRoll.
How does working for NextRoll help you make progress toward your career goals?
NextRoll has been a great place to make strides toward my career goals. One of our company values is “hire great people and help them grow.” NextRoll does a great job helping Rollers — what we call our employees — gain the skill sets to thrive in their roles or even pivot to new teams and functions.
In my first four years at NextRoll, the company has supported me in developing my skill sets and experience in sales and account management. My managers have always encouraged me to think holistically about my career aspirations and worked with me to identify new opportunities to continue my growth and learning. I was encouraged and supported in attending industry conferences, joining women-in-sales networking groups and leading meetings with important internal and external stakeholders. Through their actions, I saw firsthand the dedication my leaders had to helping me grow. The trust they showed in me helped to develop my confidence during a formative time in my early career.
“My managers have always encouraged me to think holistically about my career aspirations and worked with me to identify new opportunities to continue my growth and learning.”
What makes NextRoll a unique place to work from a professional development perspective?
At NextRoll, professional development is not just an “extracurricular,” it’s really part of the job. Not only do we have effective learning and development programs and learning paths for a variety of skill sets available to all Rollers, but we also have access to programs such as dedicated mentorship and LinkedIn Learning for self-paced learning across a wide breadth of topics. Additionally, NextRoll provides an education reimbursement program to help Rollers satisfy their desire for lifelong learning and career growth.
I’ve also been able to tap into programs that help raise my awareness around diversity and equity and equip me to help be a driver of increased inclusion and belonging. I’ve had the opportunity to turn this into action at NextRoll by being a part of our DEI Core Committee, ensuring we review all programs, projects and events through an anti-racist lens. We’re also developing a blueprint for the company to increase the diverse talent pipeline for engineering roles for women and underrepresented minorities in the tech industry.
How have you grown professionally at NextRoll? What skills have you learned?
In my early sales and account management roles, I learned skills and mindsets that have served me well throughout my career, including the importance of discipline, how to be empathetic and consultative, and what it means to effectively deliver value to customers.
As the leader of our AdRoll North American account management teams, I learned what it means to be an effective, empathetic and inclusive leader, how to deliver feedback and how to coach team members through change. I also deepened my skills around financial forecasting and stretched myself operationally to develop playbooks and strategies to support my teams in servicing and retaining a multimillion-dollar book of business.
In my chief of staff role, I have strengthened my written and verbal communication skills, project management skills and experience in leading change management. Supporting the CEO and the broader executive leadership team has allowed me to build on my career experience, pivoting from working in the business on frontline go-to-market teams to working on the business with an operational focus.
How are managers involved in the career development of direct reports?
At NextRoll, our managers have regular career conversations with their direct reports. What’s more, managers receive specific training in how to conduct effective career conversations so that they feel equipped with the skills to support their team members in career development. The support and training I received as a first-time manager at NextRoll helped me understand what an effective leader looks like and prepared me to be one for my own teams.
“Managers receive specific training in how to conduct effective career conversations so that they feel equipped to support their team members in career development.”
In my time at NextRoll, my managers would raise opportunities and potential new roles that I could explore based on what I had shared as my interests and career goals in our career conversations.
What are you excited to accomplish next?
In my chief of staff role, I am excited to work with leaders and Rollers across the organization in shaping the next phase of our organizational culture – drawing on the strong foundation we already have to build an even stronger culture that keeps our Rollers engaged and excited to continue contributing to our company mission.
While I enjoy the individual contributor role I am in today, I also look forward to jumping back into a management role in the future and paying forward the support and dedication I received from leaders across my career.