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Sona Grigoryan (MBA ‘18): ‘My mission as PO director is to make people happy’

5 min read

Sona Grigoryan (MBA ‘18) is a graduate of the American University of Armenia (AUA) Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. For over 14 years, she has held progressively more responsible positions in people and operations management. Her career trajectory includes working in different companies, starting with customer support and advancing into more responsible managerial positions and leading the establishment of an HR department in a tech company. Currently, Sona is the director of People Operations at DISQO, a customer experience (CX) intelligence platform fueling brand growth with complete and actionable insights into human experience. Sona shared with us her unique story about how she came to study at AUA and how the University impacted her decision to choose a career path in human resources (HR). 

When and how did your story at AUA start? Why MBA?

My story at AUA started back in 2015. At the time, I was working at Orange Armenia as a customer service manager. Ten years had passed since my graduation from Yerevan State University of Economics with bachelor’s and master’s degrees. At that time, I surely had no intention of continuing to study at any institution. However, life had other plans for me. I remember the day when I overheard my colleagues at Orange Armenia having a fascinating discussion about a class project on which they were working then. I was so intrigued by the manner in which they tackled the topic: they had a distinctly different approach from what I had been taught. It turned out that these colleagues were studying in AUA’s MBA program. The next thing I remember is browsing the AUA website with another colleague. It was already mid-April, and we didn’t even have a chance to prepare for the exams required for admission into AUA, but we decided that our knowledge and work experience was enough to apply. So, we took a chance and did it. We had accrued the minimum points to pass. But the admission process wasn’t that easy after the exams, I was invited for an interview, during which I had to convince everyone on the committee why I wanted to study in AUA’s MBA program, which placed me on the list of conditionally admitted students, which meant that I had to work extra hard to demonstrate that I wanted to and could succeed in the program. Though my decision to apply for the MBA was spontaneous, studying at AUA turned out to be a rewarding experience. 

What was your favorite course in the MBA program, and why?

All the courses in the MBA curriculum are designed meticulously and teach important concepts and skills. I recall one specific course, Micro-foundations of Competitiveness by Dr. Martin Galstyan, during which we analyzed HBR cases. To this day, I constantly refer to them; those cases were so well selected and proved to be valuable in practice. The group projects we did during that course gave us deep knowledge and experience in project management, case analysis, and developed our competencies in other professional spheres.

Which professor/lecturer inspired you the most?

If you ask all my classmates, I am sure everyone will recall one of the best lecturers we had at AUA, Hrachya Hovhannisyan, who taught accounting. He made us fall in love with accounting, although most of us started the course disliking the subject due to previous experiences with accounting courses taken elsewhere. He managed to explain accounting in such a straightforward way that we all left the class thinking, “OK, when we finish this course, we can go and easily find jobs as accountants.”

Tell us about your professional journey after graduation. How did you make your career decisions?

I want to acknowledge and express my gratitude to another excellent professor I was lucky to meet at AUA, Dr. Mane Beglaryan, who was instrumental in my decision to change my career path from management to HR. As I mentioned previously, when I came to study at AUA, I already had experience in management from people to operations management. Changing my career path to HR had never crossed my mind back then. However, the courses I took with Dr. Beglaryan, and the case studies we did during her classes, really shifted my mind to HR. That was the first spark that made me understand that I am very passionate about HR and want to continue in that direction. 

What is your current position, and how did AUA prepare you for your career? What do you consider the most important achievement in your career?

Currently, I work at DISQO as director of People Operations. I credit AUA and my lecturers, whose classes gave me valuable knowledge, skills and experience that helped me grow as a professional. Studying at AUA also helped me realize my passion for HR. AUA not only impacted my decision, but also prepared me to make that career shift. My initial interest in HR grew year by year, and I began to practice various HR disciplines in the companies where I worked at the time, such as Orange Armenia, Ucom, and then Digitain. There, I had the opportunity to assume responsibilities in HR after working as a project manager. Shifting to HR, establishing the HR team at Digitain, and successfully completing big projects are some of the most important achievements in my career. 

What are the responsibilities of the People Operations Director? How is PO different from HR?

As the director of People Operations, my primary mission is to make people happy. The position has quite a large scope and involves complex components and responsibilities in various domains. From my own experiences as HR manager and director of People Operations, I can say that in PO, you are usually more focused on employee engagement, motivation, and retention, as well as tackling some strategic business problems. Alternatively, in HR, you are more focused on employee management, administrative tasks, legal, ethical, instrumental, and structural issues, and so on. If I compare the two, I can say that HR requires more reactive action to deal with employee-related issues that arise. Still, in the case of PO, you are acting more proactively to create an environment which prevents problems from developing. Nowadays, PO is practiced primarily in tech and IT companies, but I would be happy to see other industries also shift to a PO mindset. 

What advice do you have for current AUA students?

I advise current students to make the most of their time at the University and grab all the valuable knowledge and experience from their professors. I would also advise them to keep an open mindset, seize new opportunities, seek new knowledge, and discover their passion. One thing that everyone needs to remember is that they must have fun, make the learning process an enjoyable experience, and build lifelong friendships and networks. 

As we plan to celebrate the 5th anniversary of your graduation this year (Alumni Homecoming event), what are you looking forward to celebrating on this anniversary?

Although my classmates and I are still very close, coming together at our alma mater for the 5th anniversary of our graduation is a big celebration. We love to create or take advantage of any chance to gather, so homecoming will be another welcome opportunity to see one another back at AUA and reminisce about our student years. Another precious gift AUA has given us is the lifelong friendships we have established and the large network we have shaped in diverse industries. These enduring connections, friendships, and networks are some of the most valuable takeaways from AUA, aside from the knowledge itself.