Leaning Into Leadership: A Q&A with Hanif Perry
Hanif Perry is a partner in Prophet’s New York office. He thrives in an environment that’s deeply collaborative and excels in delivering work that results in better brand experiences, increased customer engagement and overall growth for our clients. While we aren’t in the same office, Hanif and I have both been at Prophet for a long time, and I always enjoy catching up with him at the infamous lunch table in New York or during a quick chat before or after partner meetings. His curiosity in life, both professionally and personally, is infectious. As a lifelong learner myself, I hope this interview helps you learn a few things along the way as well!
Amanda Nizzere: What do you do at Prophet and in what circumstances would I come to you for something?
Hanif Perry: I am a partner in our New York office and work across a range of brand, growth and transformation challenges. I have been at the firm for 11 years and have been a part of its incredible growth journey. I help clients across a variety of industries including financial services, technology, retail and consumer products.
AN: What’s one professional skill you’re currently working on?
HP: I’m trying to talk less, listen more and be more intentional about when and where I insert my voice into conversations.
AN: What is your preferred way of working?
HP: Not multitasking as much as I can and being present in the moment. I also typically work better when I can ruminate on a problem, especially when I don’t know the answer to something. I like to spend time really diving into something – learning it, reading about it and then letting my brain process it. If it’s something in the creative realm, then I’ve learned that I really need to step away and think and digest. I find that specifically with things that don’t have a finite answer, stepping away allows me to have a more thoughtful response.
AN: Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
HP: While this may feel like a “canned” answer, many of the leaders I’ve worked with at Prophet have helped push me in various, positive ways. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a diverse set of partners, so there’s always something to learn from and adapt to from a peer and leader set. Everyone I’ve worked with has some quality or characteristic I’ve tried to adopt in my personal or professional life.
AN: How do you prefer to end your day?
HP: I am a strong believer in eliminating electronics after 8 p.m. and getting away from screens. I do try to listen to podcasts or Audible books to calm down and end my day learning something new. One recent enjoyable listen on Audible was “The $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark,” a story about how branding works in the contemporary art market. Also, on Audible, I just finished “To Fall in Love, Drink This,” which is a memoir by James Beard-winning wine writer Alice Feiring. Every chapter ends with some wine recommendations from great producers in more up-and-coming wine regions, including Vermont of all places.
AN: What’s the worst job you’ve ever had, and what did you learn from it?
HP: I took a job during my MBA internship as a summer brand manager. I loved the people, and they made meaningful products, but the fit was off. It felt very “corporate” and hierarchical: everything from wearing a suit daily to needing an MBA to manage a brand. Growth was single-digit and promotions were communicated as “being in lockstep.”
I knew in one week that it was not a good fit. I made the most of it while I was there and meet some really good friends and people. However, from that experience, I learned that you have to trust your instincts and judgment over what is appealing. I learned how important it is to have the confidence to do what’s right for you versus what others perceive as a good path. On paper, if you want to do marketing, a brand manager role might feel like the way to go, but realistically for me, it wasn’t. That path got me to where I am today, and I couldn’t be happier.
AN: What’s a mistake you made early on in your career, and what did you learn from it?
HP: I was a new senior associate at Prophet and was analyzing data for a client. I built a presentation for a meeting and handed it over not realizing some of the critical data was wrong. A partner took it into a meeting, and it didn’t go well. Needless to say, I learned a lot from that experience, specifically about the importance of owning your work, not just doing it. I always try to remind my teams to view their work as something to own versus something to just hand off to the manager, the partner or the client.
AN: What energizes you at work?
HP: People that are excited to do meaningful, impactful work. They set aside team dynamics and client dynamics and focus on the problem, opportunities and outcomes.
AN: What’s one thing that surprised you about working at Prophet?
HP: The thoughtfulness, empathy and humanity of our leadership. The leadership team here has had to navigate our continued growth and more than a decade of different difficult transitions that I have personally had the privilege to witness (economic, pandemic, etc.). It’s been interesting to watch and learn from their response to adversity with creative solutions.
At Prophet, our business is people and renting our time and expertise. During the pandemic, we had to do that during a period when people were dealing with a lot. Our leadership team made investments in areas that mattered to our people and culture, like giving everyone the last Friday of every month off (which was counterintuitive to how we make money but helped preserve our strong talent base). That is just one of many surprising ways that our leadership team shows up and responds to new circumstances in creative ways, preserving the integrity of our people and business.
AN: If you could snap your fingers and become an expert in something, what would it be?
HP: I get moved and motivated by people who are creative, so it would be something involving art or music. I would love to be an expert in creating something new that provokes emotion out of nowhere.
AN: What’s one thing you’re currently trying to make a habit of?
HP: I try hard not to look at my phone first thing in the morning and instead get one non-digital/non-screen thing done. It could be a house chore, meal prep, a workout or anything that doesn’t enable me to get distracted by my screen immediately.
AN: If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would you choose?
HP: I would be a hockey player in the moment right before they are about to win the Stanley Cup. I know this seems random, but I’ve been playing since I was a kid and continue to play today. Humans are wired for “play,” and I really enjoy it.
AN: If you had to pick one age to be permanent, which age would you choose?
HP: It would be the early-to-mid-30s. The reason being, to me, that feels like the age where you have a lot more confidence in who you are. You’re likely in the best physical condition you’ll be in, and you don’t have too many gray hairs (hopefully).
About the Series
Throughout my career, I have been fascinated with the building blocks of leadership, from motivation, coaching and communication to mentorship, empathy, inspiration and more. Unraveling and understanding what makes a strong and impactful leader tick can help each of us implement new strategies to grow as individuals and leaders ourselves. Over the years, I’ve listened to podcasts, read books, attended conferences and listened to TED Talks about various leadership topics, but some of the most impactful lessons and pieces of advice I’ve learned have been from those around me—my mentors, colleagues and industry peers—which led me to create this interview series. I invite you to join me as I interview various leaders in my network to share new tools and wise advice from them that you may just want to add to your own leadership toolbox.
Hanif is a partner in Prophet’s New York office and specializes in developing growth strategies that are powered by better brand experiences, increased customer engagement and digital selling. He’s developed powerful brand capabilities for companies as diverse as Nationwide, Dell, eBay, AT&T, Maserati, Pfizer, SAP and Cigna. Before joining Prophet, Hanif worked at CEB (now a part of Gartner), where he built member-based advisory insights and platform-based solutions for a network of leading executives. Want to learn more about Hanif or have a question? Reach him here.