Dekonti “Dek” Sayeh is driven by a desire to shape a better future for employees and companies. As a consultant at Slalom Consulting, a fast-growing consulting firm focused on IT, data/analytics and tech enablement, Sayeh works to achieve this vision with an emphasis on culture change and technology.
Through his involvement in Slalom’s Gender Equality Masters employee resource group (ERG), he strives to positively affect the work environment of colleagues as well as clients.
This Consortium alum began his journey as a psychology and economics major and went on to earn an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in 2018. He recently shared his story with us, including the most important thing he gained from getting his MBA, how he’s helping improve business outcomes and his predictions for the future of business.
What made you decide to double major in psychology and economics?
I think it was my passion and my pragmatic side. One of my first classes in undergrad was a psych 101 class, and I loved the content. I had that first good experience and felt like I wanted to stick with it because it was a science that I could apply to my everyday life. Economics, on the other hand, was pretty straightforward. My mom — an economist — said, “You’re not going to get a job unless you major in something that’s more marketable.” So I gave econ 101 a try, had another good professor and decided to stick with it. When I looked at the two, I felt like that was the closest I could get to doing a business major in a sense, and we didn’t really have that at my school.
So how did you go from there to an MBA to a career in data analytics?
Well, to be fair, I don’t know that I would say my career is in data analytics, but I’m working with a consulting firm whose competitive advantage is in tech enablement, so [looking at how] we make technology work better for businesses. Some of that is data analytics, but there are obviously other things that come with that, and I’m more focused on business analysis, strategy and project/product management.
I’ve had a pretty interesting career path. After college, I worked as an accounting clerk for about six months and quickly realized that it wasn’t for me. I applied to teach English in France and ended up doing that for the following year. My time there was an amazing opportunity that opened my eyes to so many different cultures and experiences. When I came back, through a friend, I found a job at a biotechnology trade association, essentially an organization that collects membership fees from biotech companies and creates programming for the betterment of medical patients and the industry overall. I worked on the international affairs team, and that was really my first corporate job.
A year and a half into that job, I decided I wanted to give myself some options. I didn’t want to be beholden to anyone at the company in terms of getting a promotion or even restrict myself to whatever my next job happened to be. So it was at that first job that I really decided I wanted to go to business school because I felt like that would provide me the widest range of opportunities in a couple years. I had that on the backburner as I was transitioning out of the job at the biotech firm to a nonprofit called Internews.
Internews is an organization that tries to get citizens better access to fact-checked media and information, specifically in post-conflict areas where people are vulnerable to being taken advantage of. As a program coordinator, a lot of my work was business operations to support getting funding out to people who were on the ground, for example, in Nepal after they had the earthquake and in Liberia after the Ebola crisis.
When I started my job at Internews, I had already started the application process for business school so I guess, in a way, it was only a matter of time and a matter of where I decided to go.
How did you make your decision about where to apply and ultimately what school to attend?
I applied to schools all across the country. I applied to the University of Michigan, Emory, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), NYU and then I also applied to a school in Paris, France (HEC Paris). My decision came down to Carnegie Mellon and HEC Paris; it was a difficult one because the two schools represented a completely different approach to b-school.
On one hand, CMU is one of the best MBA programs in the country, especially if you’re interested in tech firms or technology at all. On the other hand, going to school in France would have been another amazing, eye-opening opportunity to meet people from different cultures and learn about how business is done in other countries. So it was a tough decision, but ultimately, I went with CMU because I thought that it would give me the best chance at success post-MBA and the most career opportunities.
What was your experience like at CMU, and did it offer you all the things you thought it would?
In many ways, yes. … I went to school with really bright people, many of whom had very nontraditional paths to business school. It was an amazing, eye-opening experience to hear about all the things that people had done prior to Tepper. I think there are many interesting stories that came out of my class. That’s definitely one very positive aspect of the program. I think another very positive aspect is the close relationships the school and alumni have with tech companies.
If anyone ever says they’re thinking about an MBA and are interested in tech, I’m like “CMU should be at the top of your list.” You can look at the rankings and everything, but if you want to know where you’ll have the most connections — controlling for our small class sizes — and have great opportunities to meet companies face to face and professors who have experience working with Fortune 500 companies and who bring all of that experience back into the classroom, I think CMU’s one of the best schools you could ask for.
How did you find out about The Consortium, and what attracted you to it when you were applying to MBA programs?
I had two close friends at the time who were applying to schools and learned about The Consortium through them. They told me about the organization and the benefits of using one common application. The idea that Consortium member schools, by definition, are those that place a high [value] on diversity — that was one way to filter schools that would be a good fit for me without really having to do much work. I also liked the idea that you had the Orientation Program before school started, which was a great experience, a great way to meet people who you could stay in touch with throughout your MBA career and beyond.
Is the emphasis on diversity also a driver for you and an area in which you would like to make a difference?
Definitely. I guess I’ve been blessed to have been able to work with people of color who were very successful in business. So I think it’s really important to do everything you can to show people younger than you … that they can be successful, too, and that they can be drivers of change in the business world and outside of it. So, to that end, I’ve worked a lot with after-school programs to try to create that dialogue.
Another way of still striving toward that mission is working with Slalom’s ERGs. I’m involved with the Gender Equality Group. It’s still quite new, but we’ve done a lot of interesting work with our Women Leadership Network, and we’re thinking of ways we can partner with our Black Affinity Group called REACH.
So what is the purpose of the Gender Equality Masters (GEM) ERG, and how do you work toward that?
We try to give our employees a forum where they can openly talk about positive or negative experiences they’ve had on the job, at the client site or even outside of work. GEM provides a safe space where we can talk about those things and equip people to educate others. When people come to our events, they learn things they can apply to their lives as soon as they leave.
Our focus is really to provide educational resources on ways that Slalom colleagues — and even Slalom clients — can create more gender equal work environments, and we’ve done that by leveraging a publication called Lean In, which was started by Cheryl Sandburg, the COO of Facebook. [In it,] she calls out specific situations that might happen at an office or in a workplace in which someone is being discriminated against in some way, shape or form; unfortunately, [this is] mostly women. Sometimes it’s more conspicuous and sometimes it’s less so.
We have read and discussed a bunch of those scenarios and allowed people to share if they have encountered similar situations. People also shared ideas about how they might navigate those situations if they encountered them or how they might be able to coach a client through some type of situation if that happened on a client project.
Why did you want to get involved in this way?
I think I wanted to get involved selfishly because I thought it was a good leadership opportunity but also because I felt like it was a really impactful group to be a part of. You’re actually shaping the behaviors of your colleagues and potentially even positively impacting behaviors at client sites, even after you leave. So I like the idea that together we can create a better future for Slalom — but also for our clients.
In your current role, how do you use data analysis to help companies improve and make better decisions?
I’d say we use data to kind of shape a better future for our clients in a couple of ways. From my perspective, I’m really focused on “how does a business invest in technology that will lead to better outcomes for the business in the future?”
One way I’ve used data to help support those types of decisions is by creating business cases for different strategic approaches to business problems. One example is one of my clients wants to leverage natural language processing to “crawl” scientific journals and the web to find situations where there are product complaints. Whatever they can do to make this analysis more efficient is a huge value driver for the company, so I work with my client to try to figure out if it’s more effective to build these technology solutions themselves or if it’s better to work with a vendor who has some experience doing this already. So there’s a lot of business analysis and crunching of numbers to determine what’s the best approach from a financial perspective and an intellectual property perspective.
What is the No. 1 thing you feel you gained from getting an MBA?
I would say the overarching lesson I learned in getting my MBA is that no matter what you decide to do, you as a person and your career are constantly evolving and changing. You can’t just take the perspective that you’re going to get on a train and ride down the tracks and everything’s going to be straightforward and happen on one path. A lot of your career success depends on your resourcefulness, your curiosity and your drive to constantly evolve as a person.
But it’s also [about] the network you build when you go to school — it’s really special and something you can’t find everywhere — and the confidence that comes with knowing that you got into a good school and were able to succeed.
How do you stay up to date on changes or trends happening in the industry?
Obviously, reading your newspaper of choice is one way to do this. I’ve got a couple podcasts I’ve been listening to, like Planet Money and How I Built This. [The latter] features tech leaders or a tech company that’s on the rise and how it came to be. It’s a really personal look into the people who are leading the companies that [run] our everyday lives basically.
Then, honestly, just getting out there and networking, putting yourself out there. Sometimes you have to put yourself in positions that aren’t necessarily comfortable or that you’re not used to, but I’ve found that the majority of the time, it pays off and you’re surprised by what comes out of it — whether it’s new connections, ideas, things happening in your city professionally or even culturally that you weren’t aware of, or an opportunity.
What changes or trends do you predict for the future of business?
I don’t know whether this is a prediction or just an observation, but I think it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur. … Someone who’s a freelancer can launch their own business and effectively run their own company because there are so many cloud-enabled tools available “as a service” — whether it’s a data and analytics tool, something like Tableau, or you’re using Salesforce to manage customer interactions or Google Analytics to track web traffic. I feel like there’s so much data in the cloud to leverage, not only an individual’s data but data trends across the world, that I think this is probably one of the best times to not work for a company and to be your own boss.