Giving it a second go has paid off more than once for ZSer Daniel, one of our boomerangs who left ZS and then rejoined the firm.
As a student, Daniel excelled in math, but he didn’t really enjoy it. In university, he planned to get a Ph.D. and teach social sciences—until his professors encouraged him to give math another chance.
“What kills a lot of people in Ph.D. studies is the quantitative work,” said Daniel. “My professors advised that math would serve me well when the time came, and as I continued to take math classes, I found it much more interesting and enjoyable.”
Daniel’s first job was at a consulting firm in Chicago. From there, he joined a sister company of a leading airliner working on optimization algorithms for hotels.
“It was a great opportunity to apply my analytical skills to real-world problems,” he recalled.
It was also a great opportunity to see the world with flight benefits and free hotel rooms. During his 16 months in the airline industry, Daniel took 32 leisure trips!
Then a friend flew into Chicago to interview with ZS and crashed at Daniel’s apartment.
“From what he told me, I became curious about ZS and checked it out, and I really liked what I saw. I liked everyone I met, and was really challenged to think critically in all of my interviews.”
Daniel joined ZS in Evanston in 1999 as an operations research associate, transferred to ZS in London, and eventually returned to Evanston to “woo the woman who is now my wife, Carrie, of fifteen years. She is still my best friend and emotional intelligence coach,” he said with a smile.
In 2003, Daniel left ZS to work in commercial analytics and then marketing for a biopharmaceutical company in California. After two years, missing ZS’s culture and people, he “boomeranged” back to ZS’s Princeton office. He was elected principal six years later.
If you weren’t working at ZS, what would you be doing?
In addition to my work at ZS, I am very passionate about education and running. I could imagine being an educational consultant, or coaching cross country at the high school or university level.
What was the best career advice you ever received?
Always keep the long view in mind. When I left ZS, my professional development manager sat down with me to talk about my decision to leave. In that conversation, she encouraged me to take the long view, both with my clients and with my own career. It can sometimes be tempting to make decisions based on optimizing short-term outcomes that could actually undermine longer-term success. Taking the long view leads to better decisions, and puts minor setbacks into perspective. Her input was helpful and in many ways laid the foundation for my return to ZS.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made and what did you learn from it?
One of my favorite proverbs is “wisdom is learning from other people’s mistakes,” so I love this question! Leaving ZS was a mistake. I learned a lot about the industry and our clients’ perspectives while I was away, but in the end it was not a great career move for me. I’m convinced I would have learned more during that time if I had stayed at ZS. Having learned this lesson, it’s been much easier to say no to any tempting detours that have come along since.
What’s the best idea you ever had?
I have a bit of a knack for proposing ideas to Jaideep and Chris that become reality at ZS without much of my own energy—call it infinite leverage! My two favorite ideas were developing an internal knowledge management group and the real-world evidence practice. It’s been amazing to see how the teams each took these very nascent concepts, breathed life into them, and formed these groups into what they are today.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Our family life is very active. Carrie and our children are extremely competitive runners, but I have no real talent in this department. I get to take a lot of pictures of them on podiums. They were great support to me when I completed the Princeton Ironman 70.3 event in 2014. I literally collapsed with only .15 miles to go with a terrible foot cramp. Carrie rubbed it out on the side of the course enabling me to finish the course without crawling!
I also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro the week after I made associate principal. (Pictured below is Daniel on the left accomplishing this feat.) I intend to do it again one day with my family.
Carrie and I are also passionate about our local church and our children’s school, where I’ve served as the chair of the board of trustees for the past couple of years.
Reading is one of my other hobbies. I have been having fun leading a book discussion with an eclectic group of Princeton townies, which includes a ZS alumnus that I hope will someday be a boomerang!