Brandeis International Business School

012: COO, CPO and Mom

Having it all

Priya Sapra is the COO and the CPO of SHYFT Analytics, an industry-leading, cloud-based data analytics and insights organization in the life sciences.

Priya is also a self-described serial entrepreneur who has had the privilege of serving on five high-growth organizations since she graduated college. By training, she is a scientist. By practice, she is a makeshift statistician. And through it all, she is a working mom.

Priya gets a lot done, she does it all very well,\ and she keeps an exceptionally positive outlook on life – and today, we’re going to learn how she does it all!

From the Dorm Room

Priya arrived at MIT knowing she would be a physician, but she wasn’t there for very long before she realized that there’s a lot more out there to learn and try.

So, she decided not to pursue medicine and she tried a lot of other things: chemistry, chemical engineering, literature and more. “Because what I found was that as focused as I was ... the university experience gave me the ability to introduce myself to things that I had not been aware of.”

Priya ultimate graduated as a Biology and Literature double major with a Chemistry minor, “but that really is only a testament to the fact that I wanted to explore a lot of things,” which is something that she encourages any current college students to do, too.

To the Boardroom

For the first few years of her career, Priya was, again, trying a lot of new things. She worked in a variety of roles at five different organization, in addition to staying home for two years with her son after he was born.

And when she was ready to go back to work, she received an incredible offer to head consulting for Trinity Pharma Solutions. It was a great group of people and a fantastic opportunity, but jumping straight into a full-time position was too much right away. So she told that to the CEO, and the next day he offered her the opportunity to work part-time hours, which just goes to show you that you’ll never know what’s possible if you don’t ask.

So she joined part-time heading consulting for the organization, and she continued keeping part-time hours so that she could drop off her son and be home by 3:00 for a number of years.

During that tenure, however, she also took on the role of the VP of Analytics as they transitioned from Trinity Farm Associates to SHYFT Analytics. “So, just to create that line more directly, I did start off at SHYFT as a part-time employee. So, that's something to underline that the way you start does not dictate where you're going to end up.”

As VP of Analytics, she build a product that uses real-world patient data to help pharmaceutical organizations, which is the cornerstone of the SHYFT product portfolio today and led me to her being promoted to CPO.

It was a new role for her, and she was super uncomfortable – “And all I can tell all of you is get super uncomfortable. I was a mom. I was a CPO. I didn't know what I was doing very well, probably on either side, but I learned.”

Then, SHYFT lost the head of operations and the CEO looked to her. So, again, she took on a new role, with a positive attitude and an openness to not knowing everything.

Then, she built a team around her that respected her vision and complemented her. “I think that the best leaders, frankly, understand what they know and what they don't know and are transparent about that. And I think that's what leads to respect. And, honestly, that's what's allowed me to continue to be successful here for the six-and-a-half years of tenure that I've had out here.”

So, as a senior in college, you might feel like everyone you know is going to graduate school or has a job lined up, but you’re left alone with no idea what you’re doing – and Priya wants you to know that that’s okay!

“I was dead set about being a physician. I knew what I wanted to do, and I finished school having no idea. But what I would do is put one foot in front of the other. Find that thing that makes you interested now. What's going to drive your passion now? And go forward with it and fail fast.

“Investigate what is exciting to you, and that's going to change. As you experience something, that's going to evolve. Allow that evolution to happen, but don't be afraid to take that first step, and then the second step, and the third step. Your journey is not linear – it's not linear for any of us – and you don't know what it's going to look like, but allow yourself to wander a little. It's okay!”


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