We are Symphony: A conversation with Zac Parsons

Valeria Levantino
Communications Program Manager
Rakuten Symphony
March 28, 2023
minute read

Establishing Rakuten Symphony in Germany, wanderlust, and the concept of aggregation of marginal gains. Zac Parsons, Head of PMO at Rakuten Symphony Deutschland, shares his exciting journey to date as well his philosophies for living.

Tell us about your journey into Telecom and why you joined Rakuten Symphony.

I come from Melbourne, Australia, and have worked in the Telecom industry for the past eight years. I've always been interested in technology and when I finished university, 4G network rollouts were just starting. It’s safe to say that the telecom industry is continuously evolving and I wanted to be part of shaping its future.

Zac Parsons, all smiles in Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

This led me to Ericsson as my first company. And while working on a rollout of a bleeding-edge NFVi program, I was fortunate to meet many people who inspired me to build high-performance teams, such as Ahmad Farid, Vice President of Rakuten Symphony’s Delivery Department in the Sales function. A couple of years after the program completed, Ahmad introduced me to what Rakuten Symphony was going to be doing for the future of Telecom. The concept of Open RAN that they were bringing to life seemed truly innovative, and I knew I had to be apart of building it.

As soon as Melbourne came out of lockdown, I packed my bags and started this new fantastic chapter in Europe. It's been a year now and this has been one of the most incredible decisions I've ever made. Navigating the language barrier and cultural differences could seem daunting, but every team I’ve interacted with here and beyond always go out of their way to create a shared space of understanding with me and others.

What do you do at Rakuten Symphony?

I’m the Head of PMO under the Program & Portfolio domain. My team and I help build the tools and processes that enable our Program Managers to work as effectively and efficiently as possible (both cross-stream and with the customers and management teams). One of the tools we are implementing at this current moment is Symworld Project Manager. It’s a user-centric tool that supports our Program Managers with scheduling, risk and issue resolution, resource management, etc. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve and advance the product with our users while they use it. It’s never dull!

What have been your highlights since you joined the team?

We needed to build Rakuten Symphony's presence in Germany – fast. And we had quite a few tight deadlines to do this. That was definitely challenging but with consistent effort over time, we got to build completely from scratch and now, within just one year, we have a solid team. There’s not really a blueprint for what we are trying to do here in Germany and this pushes us all to think and challenge how we should build our organization and its culture, which ultimately impacts how we work and build our products. With people’s support and willingness to work together as one team, we’re breaking a lot of new ground.

How would you describe a perfect day in the office?

What I would call a “perfect workday” is when my team members surprise me by stepping up and taking ownership of a challenge in a way that shows they are building confidence and establishing themselves within the organization. I get very energized when I see growth. I’m extremely proud of my team. They’re all talented individuals, responsible for different aspects of our program management. Anjum drives the Project Manager tool, Tayyar manages program resources, Emre provides leadership and experience, and Lawrence oversees our information and communication needs. We also have a new team member joining us soon, who will be our tool champion, and additionally, we have a trainee, Mohammad, who recently started - I’m excited for PMO to serve as a training ground for our team members' career development.

"It’s the idea that there is always a 1% margin for improvement in everything you do. He believed that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1%, those seemingly small gains add up to remarkable overall improvement. "
-Zac Parsons, Head of PMO at Rakuten Symphony Deutschland
What's your philosophy to life?

One thing that’s stuck with me was this concept of "aggregation of marginal gains" coined by British cycling coach Dave Brailsford who led the British cycling team to 10 gold medals in the 2012 London Olympics. It’s the idea that there is always a "1% margin for improvement in everything you do". He believed that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1%, those seemingly small gains add up to remarkable overall improvement. Essentially, my life and work are all about consistent effort over time. When you start something new, it might seem a bit challenging and intimidating at the beginning but once you break them up and consistently deconstruct and tackle small bits over time, you'll get to a place where you look back and realize how much you’ve achieved.

A "not so casual" game of footy for Zac
What do you do in your spare time?

I'm all about "wanderlust"; I love travelling and exploring new places and cultures. When I was in university, I travelled a lot. Especially around Southeast Asia. One of my most incredible experiences was my time in Cambodia for a project to improve the rainwater systems in rural villages. Cambodians are such beautiful people - so warm and welcoming. I made so many great memories I will never forget!

I love sports too. I used to swim competitively and love playing Australian football, or as we call it in Australia, "footy". I played it most of my life and still watch it to this day. I support the Richmond Tigers in the Australian Football League and without a doubt, my favorite memory was watching them win the 2017 grand final at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground.

How would you summarize your experience at Rakuten Symphony so far?

Everyone comes together to solve problems day by day. You never know what the next challenge is but slowly over time, we’re all moving toward the same target. I’d also say it’s a large-scale startup and a setting you don’t get many chances to experience. When I sit back and look at my journey here, I feel like I’ve achieved so much within just a year and met so many great people.

"Rakuten Symphony is also doing a fantastic job with its trainee program. A group of trainees join all together at the same time so they can support each other, jump-start their career and make many lifelong friends. "
Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about joining us?

You need a lot of energy and excitement for what we’re trying to achieve. At the start, it can be overwhelming; everything moves pretty fast. But if you stick to it, it’s gratifying. The sense of achievement is amazing, and it's one of the most unique companies I've ever joined. There are so many opportunities in so many different areas of business and technology. Rakuten Symphony is also doing a fantastic job with its trainee program. A group of trainees join all together at the same time so they can support each other, jump-start their career and make many lifelong friends. So, if you’re in the early stages of your career, definitely check it out! We’d love to have you.

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