Ten years into his career in the Bellevue, Washington-area restaurant scene, Ardie Sameti was thinking about the future. As the general manager of a top venue, Ardie had managed people, scaled businesses, and enhanced profits. He had watched communities grow. He had, by many standards, succeeded. But every day, when Ardie's wife came home enthusing about the children she worked with in her capacity as an assistant principal, Ardie felt a keen absence in his life: His work gave him no greater sense of purpose.
Many of Ardie's friends, meanwhile, were talking about a company called Concur and a leader named Raj Singh. “I'd walk through walls for Raj,” the friends kept saying. “I've learned so much from him.” But it wasn't until Ardie saw Raj himself at a Biz Now conference in 2013 that Ardie understood what the fealty was all about. It wasn't until then that Ardie began to think that Raj might hold the key to a new future.
“I went up to him after his presentation that day and introduced myself,” Ardie says. “Later I stayed in touch. I said, 'If there's any way I could work with you, I'm in.' “I had no experience in the corporate world, but that didn't matter. The possibilities excited me.”
The hoped-for opportunity came in the fall of 2015, as Raj and Mike Hilton, also of Concur, joined the Accolade team as chief executive officer and chief product officer, respectively. The two needed an executive assistant. They turned to Ardie. Be our EA, they said, and get a front-row seat on this industry, this business, our way of working. In eighteen months you'll know what you want to do—what kind of contributions you'd like to make to Accolade in the long run.
By November 9, Ardie was in. With just a handful of Seattle executives at first, the small team occupied a phone-booth office during Seattle days and traveled the rest of the time—meeting the people, customers, clients, and investors of Accolade and looking for opportunities to take the healthcare advocacy company to a next, essential iteration. Ardie handled calendaring, logistics planning, travel. He coordinated projects, served as a gatekeeper, and built out the company's workspace when a building became essential to the rapidly growing Seattle operation.
Raj and Mike had ideas and destinations, meetings and plans. Ardie kept up. “The pace was 1,000 miles per hour,” Ardie says. “There was no solid routine. They were the hardest working people I've ever met, and my primary job was to remain flexible, agile, and available. From them I began to understand what Accolade already was and what it could become.”
He'd taken a gamble, but that gamble had paid off. It's not just that the experience had offered the equivalent of an MBA. It was that Ardie had found his genuine mission.
“Raj and Mike and Jerame Thurik, who later joined Accolade as chief marketing officer, have a deep belief in putting people into the roles in which those employees can give the most value,” Ardie says. “They support you far more than tell you what you have to do. It's a management style that gives those on the team a lot of confidence, and in my work as their EA, I was growing every day.”
As the eighteen months began to add up, Raj, Mike, and Jerame began to think, with Ardie, about what he might want to do next. When the role of a solutions manager for the product management team emerged as a possibility, Ardie knew he'd found his career match.
“I never knew that such a position could even exist,” Ardie says. “But it turns out that this new job is perfect for me. The job sits right in the middle of the business, giving me access to the clinical side of the business, the operational resources, and the customer-facing marketing initiatives. Its purpose is to help drive prioritization across the company, to help Accolade position its products more visibly, and to help make sure that Accolade is both achieving its return on investments and working on the right things with the right people.”
A few months into this new position, Ardie is hoping the pace never slows down. “This is not a messy fast place to work in,” he says. “It's a high-velocity decision making place, where we know where we need to go and we're doing everything we can to get there. We're offering patient-centered care, the kind of care I think every American should have. Our commitment, our pace, is centered around the opportunities we find and make to reach even more people.
“I'm so glad, I'll always be glad, to be a part of it.”
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