From PM to Chief of Staff: How Kensho’s Meaghan Cassidy Approaches Career Growth & Continuous Learning
Meaghan Cassidy had all the cool pandemic hobbies before they were cool pandemic hobbies.
She started baking sourdough years ago. She took up yoga and bouldering even before that. And when much of America was frantically googling "how to keep a plant alive," she was caring for her thriving vegetable garden and turning its cherry tomato harvest into a delicious and easy Caprese salad (served alongside fresh sourdough, of course).
It's no surprise, then, that Meaghan has been an early mover when it comes to her career, too—or that she's continuously pursued opportunities to learn and grow on the job.
In fact, she said yes to her current role—Chief of Staff to Kensho's CEO, Bhavesh Dayalji—specifically because Bhavesh said she didn't know how to do it.
"He said to me, 'You're a great PM, but you don't know how to run a business.' I remember bristling and thinking, 'Yes I do!' But he's right. I actually didn't," says Meaghan, who has been at the AI innovation hub of parent company S&P Global for the past 18 months. "The message was, 'You don't know how to do it now, but you can learn. Would you like to learn?'"
Meaghan said yes, and we sat down with her to hear more about that decision, as well as her path to Kensho and what their learning-focused culture looks like writ large.
Stepping into—and out of—PMing
Meaghan came up as a product manager when it was still a brand new field.
"I remember being an intern and asking to have the difference between project and product management explained to me," she says.
While she got her undergraduate degree in social entrepreneurship, she spent half of her last three years of school working at a med tech startup that had her straddling marketing and product. She joined them on the product side full-time after graduating because she thought it would give her the best opportunity to learn about running a business and one day being a CEO, which is still a goal of hers.
After working at a startup in Tanzania where she was employee number two on the ground, she came back to the U.S. to take a job at a slightly larger startup back in the Boston area, where she stayed until getting to experience the volatility of startup life firsthand.
"The co-founders called an all-company meeting one Monday and told us, 'Hey, we weren't able to close our latest round of funding. Everyone's going to be laid off at the end of the week,'" remembers Meaghan.
Over the course of her career, Meaghan has learned to value companies where she can see a real path for her own growth. "It was less about what I would be doing right at the start and more about evaluating the company's mission and vision. Where are they in their own growth trajectory? What opportunities would there be?"
Kensho's work in the ML and AI space excited her, as did the company's growth plan. "I thought I'd have the room to grow and try new things without too much bureaucracy, but also have the stability of not coming into the office on a Monday to hear, 'The funding round didn't go through.' It was a really nice balance and a good mix for me," she says.
She worked as a PM for her first year, and when Bhavesh asked her to be his Chief of Staff, a new position for Kensho, she said yes without thinking twice.
In her role now, her mandate is to solve problems before they hit the CEO's desk and oversee the company's culture, including Kensho's DEI initiatives focused on creating an inclusive environment where every Kenshin feels they can bring their full selves to work. Her PM roles, which required her to translate business goals and values into product strategy and to deeply understand customer problems, have set her up well to run her suite of executive projects.
Making the most of a culture of learning
Kensho is committed to continuous learning, says Meaghan. From monthly knowledge days where engineers take a day to upskill themselves to impactathons where Kensho employees do 1-2 day projects with ESG partners, she notes there are plenty of opportunities to keep pushing yourself to learn and do more.
"There's a sense of intellectual curiosity," she says. "It's about learning, staying motivated, coming from a place of self-improvement and just being able to try things and go for it."
Meaghan credits her can-do attitude, her bias for action, and her self-confidence when approaching learning opportunities (like her new job!) to her family and other people in her life that believed in her from the get-go. Now she tries to pay that forward.
"I love telling my friends or people in my networking circles, 'Go for it, you can do this, what's the worst that will happen? You'll fail. And you'll get another job. It's okay,'" she says, also recognizing that there's privilege in being able to take those kinds of risks.
"I like to challenge myself. I like things that are hard," she says.
For those who aren't lucky enough to get a 1:1 Meaghan pep talk, we asked her what advice she has to keep pursuing growth. Here's what she said:
- Communicate your interest. "Sometimes you need help changing something to kickstart growth, and you shouldn't feel like you have to solve that on your own," she says. She recommends talking directly with your manager if you're in a healthy environment where they'd support you, or if not, finding a mentor or colleague who you can talk about career development goals with. "It can be as simple as, 'Hey, I'm looking for opportunities to be a lead on a project or learn Python.'"
- Volunteer to help. Meaghan points to a Kenshin who put a meeting on Meaghan's calendar and asked if she needed help with any PMing. "She straight up told me she was looking for more PM experience, and my response was, 'Ok, cool, what can I offload to you to help me and help you?' After checking with her manager, of course!" says Meaghan.
- "Sometimes it's just time to take a scary next step." If you feel like you've reached a learning ceiling, it might be time to leave, says Meaghan. "Eventually the time comes when you outgrow your current company. Parting ways is bittersweet, but it's also a time for celebration and reflection where you're looking back on all you've learned before you're onto something new."
Last Saturday night I had a nightmare. I went to LA for a business trip and I spent hours trying to find my ticket home only to realize that I had never booked it. I woke up in a cold sweat. Once I collected myself - with the help of copious amounts of coffee - I made a triage list to get me through the week.
I've written in this blog before about my productivity methods and the personality tests I took to understand what I needed. I use a journal called the "Productivity Planner" and I time my work in Pomodoro intervals. My goal is to break everything down into simple tasks. Last week, I stopped doing that and not only did I have a much lower productivity rate, but my subconscious started to get overwhelmed.
So my advice to anyone who is feeling overwhelmed is simple: break everything down into tasks and set a Pomodoro timer. Then wait to see if you have dreams about whether you bought your tickets home - you won't have them, at least not as often.
I broke my pledge to blog everyday - I didn't post yesterday. I blame technology, but there were a million excuses why I couldn't sit down and take the time to write. The truth is I probably could have found one thirty minute window if I had focused on making the time. So today I'm going to expand quickly on how I can actually make time to write.
Of all the techniques I use to concentrate, I'd rate the Pomodoro Method as the most effective. I found a graphic on Instagram that breaks it down. The key is to track your time. I use a Chrome extension called Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant that I click on every time I need to focus. Once the timer is on I have to flip over my phone, put my Slack on "Away" and make sure I don't check my emails.