My Career Path: Interview with Bhavna Patel, Chief of Staff at NetApp

This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Bhavna Patel, Chief of Staff to the President at NetApp, about her career path and the decisions that contributed to her success. Here at Stage 4 Solutions, we are committed to supporting professionals’ career growth, and we believe that one way to enable success is learning from leaders. Bhavna’s leadership journey offers powerful lessons about what we can achieve by taking measured risks and keeping an open mind.

Bhavna is a results-oriented leader with over 25 years of success at high tech companies such as NetApp, SanDisk and AMD, and tech startups. She has extensive experience developing, executing and managing impactful programs to drive revenue growth, ranging from multi-tier channel incentive programs to GTM strategic plans. She joined NetApp’s Cisco Alliance team in 2016, and was promoted to Chief of Staff to the President in 2020.

Feel free to: connect with Bhanva on LinkedIn

Career lesson #1: Taking smart risks can lead to big rewards

Can you walk us through your career path? How did you begin your career?

Bhavna Patel: I started my career in the medical field in office management. I had an interest in technology, and I started exploring opportunities to try something new. Soon after, I took a leap of faith and joined a tech startup as an Executive Admin to the President. During this time, I had the chance to join AMD. I was very excited about the opportunity, but the only way to get my foot in the door was through a three-month contract role. It was a big risk at the time because I had a good full time job and a one-year-old child. With my family’s support, I decided to take the risk and I accepted the contract. I think it’s easier to take risks when you are in the early stages of your career!

I spent 16 years at AMD, where I held several roles in marketing, sales operations, and global channel programs. I learned so much, and I was keen to continue growing professionally, but the best growth opportunities at AMD were in Austin, TX, and as a family, we weren’t prepared to move. I soon joined SanDisk, which was when I entered the storage field. The director who hired me at SanDisk moved to NetApp and offered a role here. I joined NetApp in 2016 as the Sr. Global Cisco Alliance Manager. I really enjoyed my role, but I wanted more responsibilities, which I asked for and received! But my roles were in the Alliance team, and I was looking for a broader, company-wide role. When there was an opening for the Chief of Staff to the President, I was excited. I wasn’t sure of the specific responsibilities, so I reached out to my Chief of Staff friends to get insights, and it sounded like a fantastic new challenge. I discussed the opportunity with my family and decided I was ready to interview for this role.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how did you overcome it?

Bhavna Patel: One of the biggest challenges for me was deciding to leave AMD. I loved my job and leaving the company after 16 years was a tough call. But, I felt it was the only way to advance my career, and I was right. After leaving AMD, I had access to so many opportunities that paved the way to where I am now.

Career lesson #2: Successful careers don’t always take a linear path.

When you were in college, what were your career aspirations?

Bhavna Patel: I always knew I wanted to work in the business world, and I was very interested in finance and accounting. I didn’t think I would be a Chief of Staff to the President at a leading high-tech company! In fact, I thought I would be a CPA. However, in almost all the roles I have held at different organizations, there has always been a financial aspect, especially in program management.

How do you define your role as Chief of Staff to the President?

Bhavna Patel: My current role is quite diverse. At a high level, my role is to ensure effective use of the President’s time and to make sure he is prepared for all meetings/projects. Additionally, I take the lead on special projects which do not fit into any one of his teams. I need to think strategically and anticipate the future. I manage all interactions with the AR, PR, social and communication teams. It’s a role that allows me to use all the skills I’ve learned throughout my career, but in a way I never would have imagined. 

What surprised you the most in your role as the Chief of Staff?

Bhavna Patel: In my role as the Chief of Staff, I have been exposed to NetApp’s entire suite of products and solutions – what NetApp has to offer to our customers is amazing! Previously, I had focused on the solutions under the alliances team. In 2020, due to the pandemic, companies needed to make significant changes overnight, and we were able to help them with our vast portfolio of both infrastructure and cloud products and solutions. My role gives me a unique perspective into how our whole organization works together to make achievements like this possible, and I love being able to contribute to that.

Career lesson #3: Success comes from honoring your priorities and keeping an open mind.

As you progressed through your career, how did you assess new opportunities?

Bhavna Patel: When I am assessing new opportunities, my family comes first. I always discuss and evaluate opportunities with my family and make sure I am making the right decision for us. I am at the same time 100% committed to my work and always deliver what I promise. I am very fortunate to always have had my family’s support in all of my decisions.

How do you balance your professional and personal goals?

Bhavna Patel: As a family, we have long-term and short-term goals. When an opportunity arises, I evaluate them with my family and decide whether the opportunity aligns with these goals, helping us reach them or moving us away from them. Sometimes we adjust these goals too, based on what life brings. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Bhavna Patel: Be bold. Take risks. Speak up for yourself. Get out of your own way. Most of the time, we sabotage ourselves. Just do it.

What advice do you have for empowering teams?

Bhavna Patel: You have to guide your team, empower them and also hold them accountable. This is how everyone will grow. Let the team members make the decisions, whether good or bad, and learn from these experiences.

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