From Account Executive to President: Proof that Having Grit and a Positive Attitude Pays Off

Kelly Deily talks with DJ Paoni, President of SAP North America, about what inspired him throughout his career and why getting outside of your comfort zone is crucial for success. Below are Paoni’s top tips for a successful career.

Hone Your Soft Skills

Paoni graduated from college with a major in speech communication and a strong conviction that focusing on soft skills is critical for success in any profession.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career-wise, but I knew that basically in every profession you needed strong communication skills,” he says. “Specifically, I figured out that being able to get up in front of a large group and speak with confidence would be a skill I could leverage in anything I did in life.”

From the time he began working at SAP in 1996 to the present, there are five key pillars of success that have carried him throughout his career:

  • Trust
  • Integrity
  • Treatment of others
  • Building a strong network
  • Putting the customer at the center of everything you do

Grit Through Your Struggles and Maintain a Positive Attitude

When looking at new talent that enters SAP, Paoni says there are two things he looks for that are skills that can’t be taught: a positive attitude and grit.

“Hustle is about what you’re doing when no one is watching,” he says. “Not because your boss is watching you or because you’re on the clock and getting paid to do that but because it’s how you operate.”

But hustle and grit require one key factor to ensure success: a positive attitude. “Attitude and optimism, I think, are half the battle,” he says. “If you don’t think you can accomplish something, then who’s going to believe it? Who’s going to have faith in you if you don’t? So I think it starts there.”

Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Paoni knows the power of calculated risks. He says keeping your head down and only focusing on core job responsibilities are crucial mistakes that early-career professionals make.

Though Paoni was unsure if he was ready to make the presentation, he took the opportunity to present at headquarters and formed relationships that would later be crucial to his advancement later in his career.

“I try to challenge my team to get outside their comfort zones because that is where you learn the most,” he says. “If you keep doing what you always do, you’re never going to learn, you’re never going to grow.”

Music by Ikson.