Count Me In®

IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants)

IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) brings you the latest perspectives and learnings on all things affecting the accounting and finance world, as told by the experts working in the field and the thought leaders shaping the profession. Listen in to gain valuable insight and be included in the future of accounting and finance!

"Count Me In" Trailer
Trailer 1 min 56 sec

All Episodes

Email:  heatherp@heatherpsolutions.comLinkedin: your hybrid/remote work experience: your new/first-time managers to lead hybrid and remote teams: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05) Welcome back to Count Me In. Here with you again is your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 153 of IMA's podcast series. In today's conversation. You'll hear about leadership needs that relate to hybrid or remote teams as you listen to my co-host Adam, speak with CEO advisor and speaker Heather Polivka. Heather founded Heather P solutions to work with progressive leaders of small and mid-sized businesses to accelerate revenue growth by creating work environments where people thrive. Keep listening to hear her discuss the evolution of business leadership styles and how to overcome the challenges associated with each.  Adam: (00:50) We're talking about remote work today, and it's been something, a topic that everybody's been talking about, especially with the commencing of COVID-19 and every that, how that shook the modern world as far as the work world and everything else. So we're going to focus really on a remote and hybrid work, as people are coming back to offices. And so let's start with this question. How is remote and or hybrid work benefiting teams or businesses now?  Heather: (01:17) There was a lot of benefits. I obviously, I think people know the benefits from an individual employee perspective in terms of flexibility, maybe saving on that commute. And you give some of the time back to the company and some of the time back to your, your personal life. But that also that, that benefits teams a lot, first of all, teams and business now have a broader access to talent. You're no longer stuck within your particular geography in terms of, you know, who has the skills or the experience that you're looking for. So it allows you to build the team with the skills and capabilities and experience needed to forward your business strategy. The other thing is retention of talent. You know, an employee moves away, goes to school for whatever reason gets married here, relocates, you don't have to actually lose that talent. You can keep them wherever they go. And I think that's particularly when I've worked for employers that really like to employ military veterans and their families. And so that is a whole host of talent that you get to retain even as they, as they move around. And there has been some productivity, at least maintenance and in many cases gains. And I think it's because the number of people are doing what I said at the beginning. I used to do this. Like if my commute time was an hour, I would give a half hour back to me for sleep or working out or whatever, and I'd give a half hour back to the company. and so that has helped with some productivity. And then the last thing I'd highlight is it's broken down some of the barriers between work and life. And I know that, millennials in that have not necessarily had those strict walls between work and their real life, but I know maybe for those of us a little bit older, we kind of had that separation going on. But when you've got kids hopping in the zooms and dogs barking in the background, it makes everyone more human. So while we've had less one-on-one interaction, it's also, I think, broken down some of those barriers that we used to maintain between work and life and a good way.  Adam: (03:27) It's almost like you can still be professional and then have a dog barking in the background and under, and everybody's been there and seen that, and it's no longer this taboo thing, you know, like that businessman who was talking on the phone in the news and his wife came in and the kid came in, his wife came in to just get the kid out and nowadays people are like, oh, there's your child. And they would just keep moving on, you know?  Heather: (03:48) Exactly, exactly. And I think that's, that's, I think that's healthy and that's really good. And I think it's particularly healthy for leaders to kind of shed a bit of that and make themselves a bit more human and vulnerable in the workplace.  Adam: (04:05) Speaking of leaders, how do you think they need to evolve their style to work with remote teams? And then, you know, on the other side of that, what types of leaders should companies be looking for in this type of environment?  Heather: (04:19) Yeah, that is such a great question. I think one that a lot of companies are struggling with, particularly I tend to work with more small and mid-sized businesses. And, but my background obviously is in fortune 100, many times, especially when you're talking executive leaders, regardless of the size of the organization, there is a way that we have all learned how to be successful. I pulled this lever, I do this thing and it creates those results, right? So we're now asking a whole host, a generation really of executive leaders to no longer really use the formula that they know, and that has been successful for them. And guess what, they're human and that scares them very much. And that's led to some of the defaults thinking of, we've got to get everyone back in the office and because that's the way they know how to lead. And so when we asked, like, what do we need from leaders to lead in this environment? You know, one is the old command and control model of leadership doesn't work well in hybrid and virtual work, right? Because even if you're in a hybrid work, you can see how people, when they're in the office are going to be doing more of the kinds of work that it involves interacting with other people. So a leader could walk through an area and just see a bunch of employees sort of sitting and talking in the lounge area, which quote, unquote, doesn't look like work. And yet that's the kind of work they're going to focus in on when they're in the office, because their intense focus, productivity work is the work that they can do at home. So that command and control of if you monitor and you manage employees that doesn't work well in hybrid or virtual work, instead leaders have to shift to managing the outcomes and the objectives and supporting people in whatever they need, whether it's what resources do you need, or what roadblocks do I need to break down? You know, what is it I can do as a leader to support you, to deliver on that outcome? And that's very, very different than managing people.  Adam: (06:34) For sure. So what are some of the challenges that come up when you're, when you're, when you, so let's say you've gotten that style, you're getting that style down. What are some of the challenges that you are going to start facing as you work with remote and hybrid teams?  Heather: (06:46) Yeah, there's, there's four buckets that I see most of the challenges come into and it has to do with communication, performance management, relationships and project or task management. Those are the four buckets and some kind of bleed over into, into one another, communication. What's interesting. And a couple of things with communication. The first is the thing we miss with remote work is that sort of fly by interaction or that incidental, you know, I used to catch people in the coffee line and go, oh my gosh, I was going to set up a meeting with you, but I'll just handle it right here in the coffee line. You don't get that necessarily when you're working with remote work. So it requires a little more either it requires more technology, it requires more intentionality. But there are ways to do it. You can, I've seen groups set up collaboration sessions where we're all going to log on and think about this problem and brainstorm. And it's just a, it's just a working kind of collaboration session. I've seen very successively used. What's called co-working sessions where you set up like a two hour block for whole team. And at the beginning, you kind of all say you're high in your creatings. Then after five minutes, everyone is heads down work, but you still got your zoom going on. And that way is you come up with a question or a yabba, or how about I can go out of this, this thing, do you know where that is? And you can give me that quick update and we can do that. And so we're still getting work done, but we're allowing for some of that more informal, quick touch base. And then another thing to kind of take us all back to our college days is the professor's office hours. The whole team could have office hours. It could be an hour a day, each day. And that's a time that, you know, you can informally grab anyone, you know, real quick on, you know, texts or phone or zoom or whatever, to get a question answered. So that's another way to bring more of that informal communication into remote and virtual virtual environments. So that, that would be, that'd be one I can dive into the other four, the other three, if you want Adam.  Adam: (09:03) Well, I mean, if you want to start addressing, you know, ways that they can help each of those challenges, you covered communication. Let's, you know, let's look at some of those other ones because I think it is a real problem, you know, unless I know that our company, you know, gave us all Teams, Microsoft Teams. So now we can chat with each other a lot easier because you do miss that, like, especially people who aren't necessarily in your department, people in your department, you're talking with more often, but somebody else, you may walk past their office and have that informal conversation that kind of getting to know, because you don't greet with them every day, but that's a little harder in a virtual environment.  Heather: (09:37) It really is. And that's where it does take, you know, some, it takes more intentionality there to make that happen. And I think Adam, that's an excellent point, especially for those groups outside of your team or department, but who, you know, you partner and you need each other. That's great, call-out. Performance management, we already talked on, it talked about it a little bit. I mean, first of all, most, most businesses are, we should be should quote unquote, be using smart goals, specific, measurable outcomes for, for people. And I think managing it by objective and then showing up as leader to say, what support do you need is really critical for being able to manage performance? And if you managed by your outcomes or your objectives, I mean, certainly in a performance review, that's an annual, so you have to break it down to what does a monthly or quarterly look like? What does a weekly look like depending upon what kind of team that you have, there's some way that you can measure your outcomes or your output. So then you can see where things aren't happening at the pace that they could or should or need to, and then start getting into root cause. so that's how you can approach performance management without having to keep your eyeballs on everybody, sitting at their desk for relationships. I, I think it's also about setting up time with each other where you don't talk about work. And I know that sounds a little, little crazy, but that's also that informal stuff that we miss, like when I was sharing about catching up with people in the coffee line, right. And it could be that it's a Friday morning virtual coffee, but you all agree, you're not talking about work instead. You're sharing what you're doing over the weekend, because that's also an opportunity to learn more about each other, like, oh, you're going to Comicon. I didn't know you're into that. Who's was your favorite, you know, that, that sort of stuff. I also like to encourage leaders particularly to log in early to meetings and, take those one or two minutes for chit chat to get to know employees and relate to them and find out what they're up to, what they're dealing with or questions before you, before everyone jobs jumps on the call. It has a great way to capture those little informal tidbits. And, and to your point, Adam, I would say that that's almost like critical to do when you're interacting with departments outside of your own, that you don't get to interact with as much. That would be a way to kind of capture a little bit of what you were pointing at.  Adam: (12:07) I've I found, I found that, I've had to reach out to people that I used to talk to when I was walking past their offices and like, Hey, let's have coffee, let's have virtual coffee and like we'll have tea or coffee in the afternoon and just catch up for a half hour. And that's just, a great way to connect with people.  Heather: (12:23) It is that's that intentionality, you know, we gotta be more thoughtful about it and about the, even recognizing the fact that we miss those interactions, you know, cause it wasn't like they were necessarily planned or on our calendars before. And then I think the other thing is when we were talking earlier about the zoom and the kid pops in and the dog pops in, I think there's a opportunity just, there's been more shared humanity and vulnerability during this time. And that's important to continue no matter where people are working. So I think there's something, again, particularly for leaders to share some of the more of those tidbits, like what were some of the mistakes you made? Like if you're talking about a major, let's say a tech implementation, you can use that moment to say, you know what, early in my career, I made a really big mistake. I didn't ask X, Y, Z questions. So I learned, and I'm not going to do that again. So what, what would be the answers to those questions here? So you're using an opportunity to actually forward the implementation call, right? Cause we're going to ask the three questions, you know, to ask, but you access it in a way that like shares something about yourself and makes a little more human and more approachable. It's amazing how those little pieces go a long way towards building trust, towards creating the kind of environment where people know like, oh, I I'm going to share too. And it doesn't mean the end of my career. And I can learn from you. Like you just, you just shared a mistake. So I'm going to write this down to make sure I don't make that same mistake. So it serves a lot of purposes, but it's just amazing how those little tidbits can go a long way towards building relationship.  Adam: (14:06) So as we've been talking about this, like remote hybrid stuff, it made me think of, there's gotta be these misconceptions that are hanging over all of this. You know, a lot of those misconceptions were broken down when everybody was forced into remote work. But as offices opened back up, a lot of places are just opening as hybrid. They're not going back to full-time cause I don't think people want to go back full-time into the office. And so what are some misconceptions that maybe we can break down for our audience?  Heather: (14:33) Yeah. Well I think the first one that I see in here a lot is that we all need to be together for our culture. That is a, that is a huge misconception. It's an understandable one though. And in that most workplaces that were in person before, how they work, how they make decisions, how they go about getting things done and share information, was all designed around an in-person experience. And just like if we design a desktop website experience and you go to your, your phone and it's not responsive and it's all kind of wonky, the information is still kind of data or, but it's not showing up in like the easiest way because it wasn't designed to be mobile. Well guess what? Most of our cultures and ways of working were not designed to be mobile. And that's why it has seemed wonky these last 18 months. But that does not mean, you know, your choices. You only use your desktop experience or you design a mobile friendly one and that's the same choice with culture. You can either review, you know, go back to the office if you're talented and your employees are willing to do that and stay with you. And in a sense, I would say, try to turn the clock back to 2019, not the path that I recommend, or you can design a mobile first experience that can also work when you're in person. And that's, that's, I think one of the mistakes too, not that you asked for mistakes, but with that misconception, one of the mistakes people are making is thinking that they can just go back, go to hybrid or stay virtual. And somehow it's going to become unwonky over time by itself. And it will, but that's sort of the painful way, like peeling the band-aid off one hair at a time. You know, you can do it. I'm not gonna, but there's, there's a less painful way to go about it. Or I will say it's more kind of ripping it off very quickly. And that is pausing and doing some intentional thought about what is summit, what are the ways that we have worked in the past? How have we shared information in the past and how do we redesign that for a hybrid or virtual experience? In fact, I just realized, Adam, I didn't share with you project and task management. Aha. My bad. Two things I love that I recommend: One is stealing from our agile tech world and doing daily standup meetings, the little 15 minute mini things that has everyone, like, what are your roadblocks? What are you going to do? Like easy peasy. But the other thing, and it's amazing how many teams don't have this is a single source of truth for what work is happening. Who's accountable for it. When is it due, but also like what decisions have been made? Why were those decisions made? What's some of the context, if that's not someplace that all team members can access, I mean, given some appropriate for all team members to access, then you miss some of that, that context. But that makes a huge difference when you're talking about designing a work experience where people might be hybrid, they might be virtual or they might be in office, is you think about having that single source of truth that you could get away with not having that when you were in person, you really can't get away within effectively and remote and hybrid work. So it's doing that work. And then the other thing I'd say about that is values. What does compassion look like in email? What does integrity look like on zoom calls? What does innovation look like with slack channels? And I, those sort of like, huh, I hadn't thought about it that way, but if businesses have defined their values and their behaviors that they want to perpetuate in their organization, they have to do what work to think about how those values show up in the channels and the ways that we're going to work in a remote and hybrid work. Cause that'll make it much easier. Like maybe it's okay to have short little messages and slack and you don't have to say good morning or hope you had a nice weekend and you say, we're not going to consider that root cause in this channel, you get to talk in shorthand. It's amazing how much little nuance and drama you could save by just saying that like, you don't have to do the little warm greetings. We're going to use this as a, you know, almost like text messages I'm running late, be there in five. Got it.  Adam: (19:03) It goes back to how important communication is and good communication with the whole organization. Because if you're not communicating people won't understand this new culture, all these different things you're trying to do. If, if you can't communicate that, then it just all kind of falls apart.  Heather: (19:22) Yeah, it really, it really does. And I would say the other, and I don't know that it's a misconception or even a mistake, but I think a struggle that we kind of pointed towards earlier and that we're going to ask a lot of leaders and especially executive leaders who their success and how they've produced, amazing results has not been in this way of working. And they just, as they've been asking your team members to demonstrate growth mindsets, you know, to continue to evolve and innovate the business well now it's time for leaders to demonstrate growth mindset and be willing to embrace a new way of leading. And I think as just as a human, we never want to look silly. We don't want to make mistakes. We don't want to do it wrong. And especially when you kind of feel like eyes are on you like, like executive leaders feel. And I just think it would alleviate a lot of pressure and expectation for everyone, for executive leaders to say, Hey, I've asked you to demonstrate growth mindset. Now I'm going to do that. I'm going to take on a new way of leading, cause I've not led in this environment before and guess what I'm not going to get it right. And we're not all going to get it right as we figure it out together. But what we ask is that we all have the same intention and outcome and we have a lot of grace for one another and then we'll, we'll make it through. I mean, cause if you think about it, that was a lot of the messaging at the start of the pandemic. There was a sort of, we're all in this together and we're all figuring it out. And that is the first time in decades that we've actually seen a marked increase in employee engagement was April, May, June, July of 2020. And it's because employees, they were communicated to which you just pointed to Adam, like there was a ton of communication going on. They felt their employers cared about them being safe, but there's a lot of messaging because it was the truth. Everyone was just figuring things out together. Like, I don't know, we haven't done this tech off site before, but we're going to try it in the next 24 hours. You know? And there's something about that as spree decor of that brings us all together that we'll figure it out and we can use that right now. We can use that to our benefit. And a lot of companies and leaders can use that to their benefit and it'll, it will, it will make everyone better and more cohesive as we move forward.  Closing: (21:41) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Nov 22

22 min 1 sec

Contact Nishant Nair: Technology Council: Times article: FinTech Series interview: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host, Adam Larson, and you're now listening to episode 152 of our series. The guest speaker for this series is Nishant Nair, CEO and founder of RecVue, a modern order lifecycle management solutions provider. In this episode, Nishant speaks with Mitch about the value of new financial systems over traditional legacy systems and the importance of streamlining your corporate structure to enable further innovation. Nishant believes businesses are walking when they should be running through today's business landscape of adaptable digital technology. So keep listening to hear more of what he has to say as we head to the conversation now.  Mitch: (00:54) Why is it important now more than ever for companies to implement new financial systems within their businesses?  Nishant: (01:01) Oh, that's a great question. Which, a simple way to explain this would be with an example that we are all too familiar with. Now, we don't go and get our movies from Blockbuster anymore. We have Netflix, we have Amazon, we have Hulu. Essentially we are in a digital economy and companies are changing the way they do business. They're not selling products anymore. They're converting the product into a service and selling services. So if you look at the financial and audit systems that were essentially designed for the Blockbuster world just does not meet the needs of the Netflix business model. I mean, they're just not designed for it. And it requires a completely new technology architecture and thought process.  Mitch: (01:53) Now with this new technology, these new thought processes, obviously there are a lot of opportunities. So for those businesses who are working on traditional legacy systems, what are some of the main issues that they are really coming across today?  Nishant: (02:11) Sure, sure. So the main, the main challenge, right, that we see with a traditional legacy system, it's its inflexibility, inability to scale and the need for an army of IT resources and business analysts to maintain it. Now compare that to modern cloud-based server-less platforms that lets companies be agile, right? Modern platforms built on cloud technologies make businesses nimbler and more flexible to meet the customer's need. I mean, if you look at, you know, these modern cloud platforms take away the whole operational aspects of running and managing huge software applications so that companies can now solely focus on growing the business, introducing new revenue models and making the customer successful, and then modern systems don't require an army of people to maintain it as well. So a lot of things that a, you know, a lot of challenges that we see with traditional legacy systems that, that, that we don't, or that can be avoided by transforming or with modern technology.  Mitch: (03:31) Now you've mentioned some of the challenges that businesses are facing. And again, the opportunities, the more streamlined new approaches that are available for listeners in business who are interested in taking action, right? What are some of the key actions? these business leaders can take within their organizations to accomplish a more streamlined, you know, simplified corporate structure, where the army is not needed, as you just said.  Nishant: (04:01) So it all starts with aligning your finance, your it, and revenue operations team towards a singular goal of transforming the organization and, setting the course to innovate and win in what we call a digital economy, right? And, that requires, fostering a culture that is receptive to change. That's going to be very important, right? To streamline operations. And even for these digital transformation projects to be successful, finally, it's the, it's the people that's going to make or break any transformation, like this.  Mitch: (04:48) And now you provided a great analogy, right? Going from say, Blockbuster to Amazon and the trends that are happening all across business. In general. I'm curious if you have recognized and seen other trends, you know, are there other things happening and obviously, particularly in finance financial services, what are some of the trends that are really exciting you and things that our listeners should be aware of? Maybe a little bit more interested in.  Nishant: (05:19) Yeah. From a, I mean, that is a lot of innovation. I mean, a lot of innovation that is currently happening in the financial services industry it's happening across, but specifically in the financial services industry, there is a lot of innovation that's happening that I'm really excited about. Right? I mean, if you look at, you know, if you, if you go back 10, 15, 20 years gone are the days when you had one or two large financial systems doing a mediocre job of all the different business processes. Now what I'm seeing is companies coming up using these modern cloud technologies and focusing on one particular business process and excelling it and being the best at it, right? I mean, if you look at, Cooper is a good example for procure to pay. And if you look at RecVue, which is for order to cash are prime examples of cloud technology being used to essentially improve or optimize a particular business process. And another area that I see is with cloud technology and API based architecture, it actually allows different systems to seamlessly talk to each other, and that's driving a lot of adoption as well. I mean, people, especially the next generation users are no longer compromising on any business process. They want a system that is the best for that particular business process. And today with the cloud technology and all the different integration platforms that are available, it is possible, right. And they want the best solution for each and every business process. And that is resulting in a lot of innovation in the financial services industry. It's a very exciting times with both, you know, technology and the business knowledge pretty much aligning with each other.  Mitch: (07:25) And what happens if businesses essentially don't take your advice, right? Everything we're talking about here, if a business chooses to continue using its legacy, the antiquated processes and systems, if they haven't gone digital, what are the risks? You know, what would you predict will happen to these businesses?  Nishant: (07:46) The world is changing. The world is changing. We all recognize that. I know the common example is obviously Blockbuster to Netflix, but what I see is that same change happening in each and every industry that we operate in that particular change. And, with the legacy systems, the most common phrase that I hear from businesses running legacy system is that they are there to keep the lights on. Right? And that's the most common phrase that I hear when we talk about legacy systems, what are you using your legacy systems for, or they are just there to keep the lights on now, companies can differentiate, accelerate the growth and own the digital economy by just keeping the lights on, you've got to change. Companies have realized it, that companies have to change. They've got to transform or essentially risk being obsolete. I mean, those are the, I believe the two to two choices that companies have in a digital economy where things are changing so rapidly, new revenue models are being introduced. More complex revenue models are being introduced every day. So you better have a system that can handle it, that's agile and scalable enough to take you into the next, you know, that can make you leaders in the next, I would say, in this economy.  Mitch: (09:22) Now, obviously the current state of, you know, the global business economy, we went through a lot right in the last year and a half or more with the pandemic and a lot of businesses. I'm sure a lot of those who were on these, you know, traditional systems, had to make major adjustments. They had to adapt very quickly and hopefully, you know, most did. And with that being said, assuming that, you know, anybody in business is aware of the possible consequences, as you just said, of becoming obsolete, what is your vision for business? You know, finance post pandemic, how do you see things potentially rebounding and, you know, what will this global business competition look like again?  Nishant: (10:10) Sure, sure. I mean, I think the pandemic, right. Pandemic, I mean, people talk about pandemic and it's true that what was going to happen in 10 or 20 years timeframe, the pandemic has definitely accelerated that whole process. Right. And then that whole process of cloud adoption, where we are looking at, we are no longer looking at a hundred percent going back to offices, everybody's talking about hybrid remote models, and working remotely. And that essentially brings in the need for modern collaborative platforms on, right. I mean, if you're running an old legacy, on-brand solution, that's no longer connected to the world. You're not going to be able to run your businesses anymore. Right. And it's not collaborative. And it doesn't scale plus it doesn't you know, it does not work, when most of your employees are global and working remotely, and that's a huge change. And I think that that's going to bring about an acceleration in the adoption of, cloud technologies and modern platforms, which we are actually seeing it today. We are seeing a huge demand post pandemic for modernizing legacy applications all across the financial services space.  Mitch: (11:45) So I just have one more question to wrap up our conversation today. And I think you've shared a lot of great insights on this topic. you were just talking about modernizing legacy systems and, and allowing for business to rebound and, you know, employees to collaborate teams to work together remotely. I'm just curious if you have any thoughts in regards to other possible innovations when it comes to modernizing these systems, you know, are there certain opportunities that you see that you think businesses might start to take advantage of as they begin to implement some of these either more modern systems or, you know, potentially new ideas?  Nishant: (12:32) Yeah. So, in terms of, in terms of new ideas, I think everybody all, I mean, like I said, the ecosystem for innovation is ripe at this point, right. And companies are innovating and obviously, right. There's a lot of talk around artificial intelligence and automation technologies like RPA. So I see those two areas, which is very interesting. That's essentially right. I mean, what you want to do is you want to do two things, right? You want to give people the information or the insights that they need at their fingertips. That's one, and you would want to automate any repeatable tasks, any tasks that can be, can be automated and that's repeatable, you would like to automate it that rather than a human actually going through that processing back. Right. And then those are the two areas that I see are ripe for, you know, for disruption now is mainly the areas of artificial intelligence where, you know, you can get more of a predictive capabilities in different areas. And, and even, you know, just like you have self-driving cars, we, in the next step one or two years, you're going to have self-driving. And then some of, some of the features that already come out where there's going to be a complete self driving financial systems, that's going to operate on its own. And it's going to require human intervention only when there is an exception, right? And that's the world that we are going towards. And that, that is one space that's pretty exciting.  Closing: (14:18) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Nov 18

14 min 39 sec

Contact Hema Vyas:'s Website: (Book a complimentary 20-minute Discovery call!)FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host, Mitch Roshong and today I'm happy to introduce our guest speaker for episode 151, Hema Vyas. Hema is a renowned speaker on heart wisdom, human consciousness, spirituality, health, and energy. She works with individuals, corporates, startups, and diverse global audiences to provide needle turning solutions for problems of all kinds. In this episode, Hema speaks with Adam about the significance of heart, passion and emotion. When it comes to leadership and building high performance teams. Keep listening as we head over to their conversation now.  Adam: (00:52) Our initial discussions or, conversations back and forth. I was seeing you have this term omnipreneur, and I, you know, for many years there's been a celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit and business. And I was looking in like the definition of entrepreneur is a person who organizers or operates a business or businesses taking a greater risk than normal or financial risks. Cause they're usually going out there and starting their own business. So I'd like to take a step. So where is it? Where does Omnipreneurs fit into all that? And how does someone to get from an entrepreneur to an omnipreneur?  Hema: (01:26) I think an omnipreneur is what the world needs now. So, you know, we have lots of businesses. We have lots of entrepreneurs now, more than ever. We've got so many startups and people wanting to run their own business and run with their own ideas and taking the risk. As you said, you know, an entrepreneur who's willing to take risk and, and put the money behind themselves. And for me omnipreneurship is really about the next level where you align those sort of business skills. You align the financial and entrepreneurial skills together with health, wealth and meaning. So it's not just about, you know, in terms of running a successful business, it's about how we look after ourselves, how we look after other people, not just the people we employ, but also the people around us, the people, you know, when we're putting out products, how we're taking into consideration, you know, what's going to be for the benefit of the whole and also the planet. So for me, it's really a holistic approach to business, a holistic approach to life. And I believe that each of us should be omnipreneurs in our own way, where we are not only taking care of our own financial success, whether it's in a corporation or whether it's in as an entrepreneur doing, not running our own business, but also taking care of all aspects of our lives, making sure that we have time for relationships, family, making sure we have time to take care of ourselves and those around us and doing it in a way that is sustainable to the planet and the world that we live in.  Adam: (03:11) So it's taking all of the things that an entrepreneur would do, but adding in a holistic approach, it makes me think of terms like sustainability and those things are becoming more and more prevalent in business and being able to connect all those things in a holistic manner, which is not the easiest thing to do, especially when the bottom line is most important thing in any business, right? Because you have to make money to stay in business.  Hema: (03:39) Absolutely so, you know, one of the things that we teach is really how to be a tucked down business, where, you know, the people at the top are taking care of more than just the bottom line. They are taking care of people, making sure that they're fulfilling the sense of purpose that they have a sense of meaning. And they are also contributing to a sustainable business as well as a sustainable growth of business because you know, a lot of startups sort of growing exponentially and then don't have the means to take care of the people. Other dues. There's a huge turnover of staff because they're burning out and, and, and that's not healthy for anybody. It's not healthy for the people. It's not healthy for relationships, but it's also not healthy for business every few years. If they have to keep training new people or get new people involved in the vision and the goals you want people to grow in a healthy way. So really teaching the leaders how to lead in a way that takes care of, the people in such a way that the bottom line gets fed or can make do.  Adam: (04:49) That makes sense. I was reading that you say that you have to put your heart into it. So what's the role of like heart in leadership and in life, I guess, because we're trying to talk about the holistic approach.  Hema: (04:59) Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of the qualities that we teach I would say are qualities of the heart. So, you know, we have the cerebral intelligence, we have cognition, we have intellectual ability. We also have the gut intelligence, which is a body's intelligence, which is our instincts, you know, and that feeling, that knowingness that we get, which is more from an instinct place, that there's an instinct about something. And then there's heart intelligence, which I would say is more of a wisdom. And it's, you know, really tapping into that sense of wisdom that allows us to have that holistic approach. It is being able to come from our heart space to lead from our heart space, to make sure that we are being really heart-centered so that we have all the qualities, you know, that are heart centered sort of leader would have in order to be able to take care of the people in order to take of themselves. So heart has everything to do with business as far as I'm concerned, because that is where we get balanced. If we're not in balance, then whatever we're doing is not going to have the desired effect. So that's what causes extremism. And when we're too focused on one thing and not enough on another, eventually the way the universe works, that it creates his own balance. And that's what burnout is, is it, if you're not giving enough time to people to really, really take care of themselves and what's going to happen is they're going to burn out. So what you think is good, pushing people, for example, ultimately ends up not being good when we're centered in our hearts. We know what that balance is because each individual is different. So there's no sort of set of rules that says, well, you know, you have to stop people working at five. Some people might thrive working late into the evening. They might want to come in later in the day. You know, there's that flexibility that comes from not being so structured, not being, so process-oriented not being so cerebral, not being seen to lecture and not going well, this is what works, and this is how we have to do it. But actually looking at the people that you're working with, who you're working for, who's working for you and how to get the best out of that situation so that there is genuine expansion of the heart, which means that there's a, a sense of flow. And there's a sense of balance, which is really where real happiness lies, but also where prosperity lies. And if we want to be successful in business, I think we have to be successful and happy and heart centers qualities are those qualities that help us to really relate in that.  Adam: (07:48) Yeah. It's not something that you talk about often you don't, you don't pick up the Harvard business review and see, you know, things of the heart. but what you're saying makes a lot of sense where it's connecting to it's connecting to what really matters. Because if, if your employees don't understand, don't see that you care about them and that you hear them and listen to them, they will eventually get to that burnout place. If you're not helping them get there, is that what I'm am I following you right?  Hema: (08:16) Absolutely. Because, you know, we can't leave our personal lives out of it. So, you know, when you're going to work, you're carrying all of you to work. And yet there's this idea that when you go into work, you know, whoever you are, whether you're the boss, whether you're the employee, it doesn't matter that you have to leave aspects of yourself, but it all filters in. And if there's space to be seen for who you are to say, Hey, listen, you're having a tough day today. Why don't you take the time off, you know, going work out what you've got to work out and then come back in. I think you're going to get so much more from that employee. Then if you just do the same old, same old, you know, which is across the board, this is what applies to everybody. It doesn't necessarily anymore.  Adam: (09:05) So it sounds like, you know, things like truth and trust and transparency are very important in this model that we're discussing. Can you discuss more about what, what that looks like?  Hema: (09:15) Absolutely. Yeah. So the qualities of the heart that we focus on are sort of the ones that you just talked about for us. You know, it's really, really important to help people understand where heart energy and truth trust and transparency comes into that. So one of the things that I talk about is the electromagnetic field that the heart and veins the heart is always looking to put, right, whatever it considers or, you know, the wisdom of the heart could see yourself as being not really aligned with what is true. We know we feel and we connect, you know, with every sense that we have with what some, when something is truthful and our bodies respond when it's not truthful. And so the same idea that we live in a world where people are withholding information, not being transparent, you know, giving sort of information on a need to know basis. For example, it doesn't create a sense of trust. Now, when there isn't that sense of trust, I'll say instantaneously, you lose a connection with those people. If you're not inspiring trust in them, they are going to be disconnected from what you're doing. And if they're disconnected from what they're doing, they're not going to feel like they're on purpose. They're not going to be passionate about what they're doing, even if they started off loving what they were doing. And, and it's something they genuinely loved to do. That's why there's a crossover, you know, where they go to other companies or, you know, where you lose that sort of loyalty. Because often there is a lack of, you know, that transparency and it might be for genuine reasons. It might be, well, we don't need to bombard them too much information, but actually, you know, I think we have to get better skilled at really being able to identify when people do need information, whether it's useful for them to have it or not, because it's, you know, that lack of secrecy and that real transparency that I think makes people feel like they're part of something. And when we feel like we're a part of something, our hearts organically open up when our hearts are open, we're in flow. And when we're in flow, we have greater trust. Now we have greater sense of truth. And that feeling that there is something truthful here that's happening. I think, you know, increases productivity, increases creativity and increases loyalty. And I think that's really, really important.  Adam: (11:55) So how do you overcome it? Cause I heard you saying that transparency, that old mindset of you're on a need to know basis, but that's the traditional model and many businesses still hold to that. And even in an entrepreneurial space where you're a startup, there are certain secrets that you don't want getting out. How do you balance all of that? Because you want your people to feel like they're in a trusting environment, but there are certain things that are unable to be shared with everybody.  Hema: (12:25) Absolutely. I think it's less about sharing everything with everybody and more about intention. You know, it's, you know, the open door policy, when you say, Hey, listen, if you're struggling with something and I don't even care what it is, whether it's personal, whether it's social, whether it's about the business, whether it's about something that hasn't been communicated effectively to you come in and talk to you. We need those leaders who are really available and that are not going to make people feel small or insignificant for asking what they consider a silly question or, you know, wanting more information about something. Like I say, not everybody needs it, but just knowing that we can do it makes a difference just knowing we can walk into, you know, somebody's office and to say, Hey, listen that project something about it. Doesn't quite sit right with me and can you give me a bit more information so I can do my job well, and you've told me just get on and do this research, but I really like to know the context or whatever it might be. You know, when there is that ability to be able to go in and ask for what you need. And more importantly, the ability to actually be able to acknowledge to yourself, you're in a safe environment where you can acknowledge that you might need something more than what others have already got. Then it is going to create that sense of open expansiveness. And that level of trust is definitely going to be inspired in that situation. Lack a sense, not necessarily that everybody has to know it. They just have to move that if they need to know that there's someone they can ask and they'll be giving an honest answer that we can't share that with you because actually, you know, there's a big roll out and we're not ready to share it with anybody. But as soon as you know, we're able to share it with anybody, you're going to be one of the first people to know it's that sense of being, you know, sooth, that sense of being comforted. And that makes a huge amount of difference. And we live in a world where I say a lot of people have been numbed out to that and because they've numbed out to it, they don't even know that that's what's missing and they don't know how to ask for it. And leaders don't know how to give. And so that's one of the things I say so important to acknowledge, to change the way businesses are running to go from sort of more the entrepreneurial businesses to the more entrepreneurial businesses.  Adam: (15:02) So with the last two years or so since, COVID hit the world and affected all of us where most businesses moved to everybody working from home for a long time, and a lot of businesses are just getting started to bringing people back into the office. How can we take all the lessons we've learned from everybody working remotely to bringing them back into the office, to continuing to build a high performing team with all these things that we've been talking about today?  Hema: (15:31) I think the first thing is to acknowledge, you know, for some people it's been an absolute send home for other people, it's been an absolute nightmare and everything in between, you know, and to not treat everybody the same and to not think that they should or be the same and feel the same thing the same and to give people a voice. I think that's the most important thing we want to build sustainable businesses with the uncertainty that we're all faced with, you know, the uncertainty that hit us or, you know, like a rock sort of, you know, 18, 19 months ago, you know, if we really, really want to get the most out of that situation, I think we need more conversations. We need better communication. We need better communication that inspires, a set level of transparency, which will absolutely, you know, endear trust, because if you're going back and you have struggled, then you are going to want to be able to speak to somebody. And you're going to be able to be able to speak to people about, you know, what those struggles are and how to transition. And also the uncertainty that, that we might look down here. There are lots of people that are still very nervous about getting back, you know, on the commuter journey. There are people who are nervous about going back. There are those people who, you know, can't wait and they just really want to go back. And people who want to do the hybrid thing, they want to work from home a little bit, cause they definitely enjoyed it, but if they want to go and be able to, you know, come connect with other people and office and have meetings in person. So I think, you know, if the leaders are going to really bring them back and to keep them in a space where they feel safe, where they feel, they can really, really thrive and get on with their work, knowing that other things have been taken care of. Then I think that leaders definitely need to make more time to connect with people, individuals in groups, however, to it, to really, really, you know, appreciate the unique journey they won't be. And if we don't make time for them, as you said might be, they don't feel that they're being taken care of or that they are cared for that they matter as human beings, then I'll assume that, you know, they're not going to bring their best care to the situation. They're just not why should they, because if they don't exist in your eyes, why should you exist in there? You know, that's just human nature.  Adam: (18:08) So if you're looking at your employees and say, Hey, I see that you exist. Is that a step toward increasing things like innovation, creativity, creative thinking within the business because you're giving them a passion and a purpose in where in their daily work.  Hema: (18:25) Absolutely. Absolutely. One of the things that we sort of notice, you know, doing the work that I do is really the fact that, you know, if people have a voice, you'd be surprised who comes out with those jams, you'll be surprised who is creative, who might be really quiet, who might be really good at one job, but you know, has all these other insights or how, when one person opens up a conversation, you know, creativity begins to flow. Innovation begins to flow. And I think it's really, again comes back to communication, giving people a voice when people are seeing, when they felt heard they are going to speak up and you'll be surprised what treasures live within those people. And so just being able to give them a voice to just, you know, is going to give them that confidence to be able to speak up, which is good. And because, you know, sometimes when we're in a situation, we have blind spots, we all do. We all have blind spots in our own situation. And sometimes it takes somebody from the outside to look in and go, ah, this is what you need, you know, within an organization, when, no matter how big or small you don't know who might have the solution that you're looking for. And when you create an open sort of space and when you create a very trusting space where people can voice whatever it is, they want to voice. That's where creativity and ideas flow. And that's what leads to beautiful innovation. And so it's something that I think if people spend more time doing this, they are going to find that they are going to thrive. And we've certainly seen that our experience has been a real sense of, you know, the growth that comes when people individually grow. And when people really, really fall in the safe space then, because when safety is no longer an issue, when uncertainty feels like a safe space to be, then I think creativity prevails.  Adam: (20:30) What I'm hearing you say is that from a leadership perspective, there's a level of humility that needs to be there in order for you to be open enough, to hear what your employees have to say, because they may be saying something that you may not like or want to hear, and you may humanly react like, oh no, I don't like that. Or I don't want to hear that, but you have to be humble enough to take in what they're saying and take it as, okay, this is their concern. And I may not be able to do anything about it, but I have to be able to hear and listen, and actually be humble enough to be present for that. And that's not easy to do.  Hema: (21:08) Well, absolutely. And it's not because, you know, as leaders, you've got so many other things on your mind and there's so much going on. And so how do you make that time? That's one of the things that I definitely have teaching is how can we expand time? And we expand time by recognizing what is missed in those opportunities. When you think you don't have time to listen to somebody because taking that time to listen to somebody today is going to save you a hell of a lot of grief, you know, further down the line. And I think that's something that, you know, really great leaders do know and do recognize, and sort of the more newer leaders, they may be the ones who are struggling with it because they don't necessarily have the experience. And so it's recognizing that, you know, sometimes things aren't as we think they are or healthy, we think they should be. Sometimes we have to really lean into what's really needed in that moment and really come from that heart space to say, okay, I need to make time. Doesn't matter how busy I am. This is what I need to need time for, because, you know, again, I can honestly tell you that I know so many people have and are going to be leaving jobs, you know, September, because I've spoken to people, myself, my own clients who are like, you know, they haven't taken the time to really check in with us during all of this time. This is not company I want to stay with. And, you know, and I hear it across the board and, and I'm sure, you know, it's not unique to the few people I speak to. I'm sure a lot of people who are going through this now, if they're taking the time, let's say six months ago, even, you know, whenever to just touch base with everybody, you know, just really connect. Then they would be safe with themselves, the whole process of recruiting and all the rest of it that goes with losing staff. So it's so, so important.  Adam: (23:12) So I've mentioned already, like the, you know, how it takes a level of humility, but what role does things like emotion and intuition and even cognition, take in leadership, especially in, you know, in the realm of an omnipreneur.  Hema: (23:26) So I think for me, it's really about bringing balance to all of them because all of those things have such an important part to play. And in the past, we've sort of tried to keep emotion out of it. We tried to keep it very cooperative, we've tried to keep it very intellectual and the heart for me, you know the mind is where cognition happens. The gut is where our emotions happen. And the heart is where there is balance, where we balance both the instinct, as well as has seen too, where we balance those two things and get to a space and place of wisdom. And in leadership, I think, you know, you have to be like, it's not necessarily about your skills because sometimes the most skilled and the most, you know, expert, you know, people in their field don't make great leaders. And the reason why they don't make great leaders, is because, you know, they may be good at what they do, but they haven't found that balance of, you know, bringing the whole thing together and being able to have that bird's eye perspective, you know, when you step out of that situation and to really look down and really be able to say, okay, what's going on? Not everybody's like me, not everybody thinks like me, not everyone feels like me. And so to really have that kind of ability to have that sort of 3d perspective and to look down and to go what's needed in this situation. And that's where the role of intuition really, really becomes prominent because it's not necessarily about what you've done in the past. It's not necessarily about where you're going in the future, but it's about in that moment, what is the right thing to do and what is really, really needed. And when we have that present, when, when this, when we have that ability to, we all have intuition, some people are just better at being able to connect to it and name it. And, and it's, there's, it's something that we can learn. And when we really, really learn and use our intuition, I think we bring together, you know, our cognition, we bring together emotions because emotions are important. You cannot leave them out of a space because they're part of what's happening in the moment they add context to what's happening in the moment. And when we act intuitively, I think we act wisely. And when we act wisely, it's not only good for us. It's good for the people around us, but it's also good for the business or whatever our goal is, whatever our vision is, it's good at that.  Adam: (26:12) So what I hear you saying is that to have a successful business business, you no longer need to have a bunch of mindless drones. We need to have fully aware self-aware emotional people who can give all of themselves to, to what they're doing.  Hema: (26:26) Absolutely. Absolutely. We are human beings holistically inclined, and therefore this idea that we've had to compartmentalize ourselves, hasn't served us. It's created an imbalance and now you're right. We don't need this mind restraints. We absolutely need people who are willing to bring all aspects of themselves to the space and feel safe to do so and recognize it is a positive skill rather than a negative.  Closing: (27:00) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at 

Nov 15

27 min 21 sec

Contact Mfon Akpan: Hitchhiker’s Guide to Virtual Reality: Talk - "Incorporating virtual reality in the classroom": EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) We're so happy you decided to come back and listen to Count Me In's 150th episode. Welcome to today's conversation. I am your host, Adam Larson, and the speaker for this milestone episode is Mfon Akpan, assistant professor of accounting at Methodist University. Mfon has a passion for emerging technologies and as an expert in virtual reality technology. He researches new technologies and educational methods to offer students occurrent effective and relative teaching experience and his conversation with my co-host Mitch, Mfon talks about the value of social media and its accounting implications for accountants and finance professionals. Stay tuned now and thanks again for listening to another episode of our series.  Mitch: (00:51) Social media is not something that many, you know, accounting and finance people probably keep top of mind, but following, you know, initial conversation here, there are a lot of dots to connect between social media and accounting. So to kick off our conversation, can you please explain why is it important for our accounting and finance listeners to really understand the value of social media?  Mfon: (01:15) Well, I would say that, well, first of all, that's a great question, Mitchell, and I would say in one word data and another word funnels. So when we look at the outage of Facebook and Instagram, that just happened, there was a huge disruption in both of those areas, one data, so information, two funnels. So you have many businesses that use social media to drive traffic, not only to their websites, but also to their physical locations. And this was completely disrupted. So, so many of those, those individuals may say, well, my business doesn't rely on, social media is not that important. What, when it was gone, many, many business owners felt the impact of that. And I think it's important as accountants for us to understand number one, to advise clients on their situation, but also the environment as a whole. And we need to also understand where the environment is going. So, one thing, and we talked about this a bit before the interview was I found out that Facebook was down because I started getting text messages from, from companies and place idea of business with that said, "Hey, come to our website, Facebook is down, this is a chance for you to check out certain things". That's how I found out because I was getting text messages from it. So, you know, understanding how this can impact the flow of business, I think is very important. And I think the outage of Facebook for many business owners was a wake up call on its importance and also the importance of having some type of backup plan, which translates to a strategy on what to do if it's not working. And or if that platform that you are on for some reason is not as popular or as not as, effective.  Mitch: (03:32) Yeah, those are great points. And, you know, we, we talk about data, obviously, data technology, evolution across accounting and finance and, you know, social media, it kind of lives on all of that. So, you know, you don't, like I said, it may not be top of mind, but through our conversation and considering everything that happened with Facebook and Instagram and, you know, we're talking events of the start of October, but, you know, I think there are, are a lot of other points to connect with our listeners. And, you know, we also heavily rely on metrics right in different benchmarks and other data points specifically. So as far as that goes, what kind of social media metrics, really affect the accounting and finance team as these, you know, events trickle down?  Mfon: (04:18) Well, I think it goes back to, as far as social media, understanding that. So from a, I guess, putting at a very simple level, understanding the dashboards on the social media platforms that you're using, that's very important from the side of the accountant, because if you're going to advise your client, you need to have some type of understanding of it, what data is there and what may be relevant to your client. Your client needs to understand it cause needs to understand who's engaging with their content. And when we think about social media, it can be broken down into three areas. So you've got owned, you got paid and earned. And when you think about your, your own accounts, so what you're posting, if it's a Instagram, if it's a Facebook or if it's a Tik Tok understanding, okay, what I post who's looking at it, who's looking at it. What are their demographics? You know, are they moving? And you can also look to, to determine where the traffic is going. Are they coming into the store? If it's a physical location, are they going to the website? If they do go to the website, are they buying same thing. If they go into the physical location, they call that conversions. So understanding that, and really that, that movement of getting people from that social media to your website and location, that's, that's a funnel, what they call a funnel. So understanding that I think is important on both sides. So from the accountant side to the, to the, business owner side, the other thing is that what I tell people is, you know, many people are, are, overwhelmed. They said, well, this is a lot of stuff to learn. And I say, you know, you don't have to become an expert at it, but you should be knowledgeable, particularly if you're, if you're using it for your business, you're posting it. You may be missing out on opportunities by understanding that information. And particularly you need to be knowledgeable if you're doing what's called paid media, you're paying for advertising. You really need to understand, are you effectively using your, advertising dollars on that platform? But if it makes sense.  Mitch: (06:46) I think, you know, for accounting and finance, everybody's looking to, you know, make sense of the numbers, right. And quantify things. And obviously everything you're talking about certainly relates to that. And I think one of the best or most common, however you want to say it, metrics really is, you know, that ROI, what is the returns? So when we talk about that, what is the actual measurement, as far as social media impact, you know, what are some scenarios where understanding ROI is really most important for, you know, the business owner, the accounting function.  Mfon: (07:22) Yeah. It is very important because you want to make sure that it's specifically would that pay media portion. You want to make sure that it's, it's being effective. It's being effective. There's measures, not in the dollar sentence, they call volume and valence, but you want to make sure that, okay, if I'm spending a thousand dollars a month, what does that equal in conversions? What, what is the return for me on that as a business owner and as an accountant, you want to be able to understand if these, these campaigns, as they call them are being a few, if you're advising your customers or your clients to, use paid media, is it being effective? So you, one of the measures as the impressions and the, the overall engagement with whatever, posts, which could lead to further awareness, or again, the end goal is conversion. So, and there's schools of thought on this, the awareness is, is more of the long game where they said that awareness will eventually lead to conversions or sales, and then the conversions. So immediate traffic and then purchases, you know, that that's the shorter term of, of the area. So it's important to understand all of that and to have some sort of strategy, whether it is formal or informal, and to be able to, to recommend and make recommendations to your clients. Also looking at trends. So looking at seeing what works and what does it work. And the, a lot of this is tied into, you know, you, you have the marketing point where there's not a really, you're putting things out in the public public domain. So, you know, some things may work is a lot of trial and error, which may be daunting to some as well.  Mitch: (09:29) So as far as keeping track of all this, right, you know, there are a number of data points that you just discussed and a number of ways to go about really figuring out that return, I suppose. But as far as, you know, providing some kind of insight, what can be used to track these different metrics, you know, are there tools out there? How can our listeners who are interested in learning and doing more in this space, start to apply what it is that we're talking about today?  Mfon: (09:57) Sure. So I'll answer this from that. The answer is, yes, there are many tools and many of the tools that you may see there's different dashboards that will measure it. They, they, from, from my research and investigation, many of these tools, the vast majority are based on something called the Eisenberg EMV. The Eisenberg EMV, and they released what they call the social media index. So, and what this index is, is they put a dollar amount on the likes, the shares, the engagement from various social media platform comments. So from Twitter to Tik Tok to Facebook, to Instagram, they have a whole list. So then you're able to put a dollar amount on your engagement. Why is that important? Well, again, we talked about the ROI, but now you can start measuring the impact and effectiveness in a dollar amount. So you may have a spin, you know, you spend 12,000, 15,000 on paid ads. Now you can take a look at that engagement from the paid ads and put a number on it and say, well, okay, this is really the net of it. This is the return on that investment. What we've gotten back from it as well. Now, the power of that ties into what they call earned media, which is outside what you post and what people are, are, really talking about you putting a value on that. And that's something that I think is very interesting, which can tie into community impact initiatives and spending money in those areas. And then posting, and then getting an ROI on that earned media from those particular initiatives.  Mitch: (11:59) So that community impact that you were just discussing, I think will probably lead nicely into the last question I have for you here, because, you know, we talked a lot about business impact and putting dollars, right. Quantifying a lot of our activity and operations, but I'm sure there are parts of social media that businesses can't necessarily quantify or measure, right. So, and I guess if the answer to that is, yes, it's probably a two-fold response, right? There are certain things that the business can't measure, but can still be valuable, I suppose, kind of like what you were just talking about, but then, you know, maybe there are parts of social media that can't be measured and actually increases risk. I don't know. so, you know, are you able to share some insights into what other, you know, qualitative data points from social media businesses should be aware of?  Mfon: (12:50) Oh, that's very good. So comments, so it's hard to measure comment what people are, are writing. I mean, you can and you'd have to read through all of the comments and try to find all of them, which can be challenging, but to find out what people are saying about you, that's, that's the hard part to measure and they call that consumer sentiment. So it's hard to quantify that, but you can take a look at your analytics as far as your, likes and, and your shares and engagement and impressions. So your engagement on your particular posts. One thing I would say for, let's say a smaller business owner that may be spending maybe $500 to $12,000 in paid advertisements. So their, their budget monthly, maybe between that $500. And, you know, let's say $12,000 range is to think about taking some of that money. And this is something we can advise our clients to, to try taking some of that money and potentially giving some of their product away, giving some of their product away, give, give $200 of the product, $2,000 of their product. If it's, let's say a t-shirt company give 2000 t-shirts to a boys club and then post it and then take a look at the engagement that they receive. Now there's indexes like the Eisenberg EMV. If you're not able to afford that, you can compare and contrast, take a look at the engagement. So this is why it's important to understand that dashboard and your data analytics, because you can take a look at your engagement from your paid ads, from your earned media. So from what you've done, and this can be an incentive for you to do some type of community initiative, right? And, and it could also generate more sales. So it could be a win-win on that side. So there's different ways to, to look at it, but I think it's important to understand it. And, and again, it comes down to, well, there's many points, but I think the two primary are the data and the funnels. So the information that engagement, and then the funnels leading to sales and understanding that.  Closing: (15:25) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, 

Nov 8

15 min 46 sec

Contact Kevin Au: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. We're happy to have you back for episode 149 of our series. This is Mitch Roshong, and I'll be your host getting you ready for today's conversation. In this episode, you will hear from Kevin Au -'s head of product marketing, accountant, and wealth management. In a moment, you'll hear him talk about lessons learned in the accounting industry and what the profession can anticipate as far as roles changing and skills needed in the future. So without further ado, let's transition over to the conversation now.  Adam: (00:47) So Kevin, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. We really appreciate you taking some time out of your busy schedule to be a part of count me in.  Kevin: (00:54) Great. Yeah. Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. I'm a big fan of podcasts, so great to be here.  Adam: (00:59) Thank you. So there has been a tremendous lessons learned, and changes across society and business over the past 18 months, we've all been affected by it. You and I were just chatting about it before we started recording. What have you seen in the accounting industry? And do you think those changes are here to stay?  Kevin: (01:16) Yeah. So what we say in the accounting industry as small to size business markets is that the innovation and the adoption it's been accelerated about three to five years. And while every industry has been disrupted by digital transformation as a result of pandemic and working from home, right? This industry in particular has been ripe for disruption like for years. We've been just saying that over 90% of SMBs rely still on paper-based processes and checks, and that realization will be over-reliance on outdated labor and manual intensive ways to do business. As you know, works closely with the accounting community work with 85 of the top 100 firms plus 5,000 firms in total. And I remember I was talking with a couple of accounting partners and one partner in particular. I heard a horror story, literally during the pandemic, they had to use Uber and Lyft to transport documents between houses to get them signed. And they even use bike messengers. Like, I mean, this isn't sustainable, whether it's pre pandemic or post, and we believe that this community deserves innovation and we're here to deliver it.  Adam: (02:24) So when I hear innovation, I think of keywords like automation and AI, the, the buzzwords that we're hearing all around, and these are powerful tools that accountants need to have in their toolkit. Can you tell us a little bit about what harnesses, in your solution?  Kevin: (02:39) Yeah. So as, as part of the industry deception that we talked about earlier, you know, we believe that digital tools that all, that all three help our customers and partners to see it's really important, right? And automated those back office tasks and day-to-day activities. It gives our campuses actually more time and focus on areas of interests and right. So like inviting automation into the office, ultimately it just provides the accounting professionals just more time take control of their careers and just have more of a better work-life balance. As an example, you know, one of's customers is a wealth management firm and they mentioned that when they use, they experience a say percent time savings by streamlining all their accounts payable processes, but just then allows them to do something more that matters to them around financial planning and then managing their clients assets. An example for us on our platform, we do use artificial intelligence and we have a tool that we named, IVA, which stands for intelligent virtual assistant. And what IVA is, is a feature that just uses advanced technologies like machine learning that helps us extract invoices and vendor information from documents in our inbox. So that helps you actually create vendors and bills faster. So it takes information like the invoice number, like the, the amount you have to pay the due date, the amount. And it makes us so simple, like just literally imagine if you had a camera and he took a snap shot of your invoice and it gets automatically loaded in and IVA can read it and put all that data very easily for you to just help you get paid, to get paid faster. And that's, what's really exciting about, you know, automation and AI space.  Adam: (04:15) That is very exciting. Cause it, it allows you, it takes time away from the menial tasks, sometimes those tasks that take up more of your time and allows you to do other things right?  Kevin: (04:25) Exactly. Exactly. It's always about like the stuff that, you know, what would you be doing on a Friday night? Would you rather be doing all the manual checks and everything, or would you be going out having dinner with your family? And what we do is like with our technology and systems, it allows you to do the latter.  Adam: (04:39) So it sounds like the accountant's role is expanding and has been expanding, especially during the pandemic, you know, maybe they're saying, "Hey IVA, print me out my invoice". I don't, I doubt it's voice activated, but you've talked about a new Renaissance of the adversary accountant. What does that look like?  Kevin: (04:56) Yes. So even before the COVID pandemic, we saw, we heard businesses had a clear, and active need for advisory services. During the pandemic they became the go-to person, when they're helping clients through their PDP loans, through changing regulations and so much more. And they were the lifeline, they're literally the heroes, I think for a lot of the SMBs offering their clients the best, the latest information and advice actually keep them afloat. Like it was a really tough time. And we heard like accountants were just working endlessly nights and weekends to make sure, like they have to figure out how to do the PPP loans. Right. And that was a big thing that they did and their SMBs where their clients were also thankful for that. So now, as we're kind of getting out of the pandemic, right, accountants are just taking the opportunities to redesign their day-to-day jobs, especially by putting more time and focus through these advisory services. And they also offer things like client analysis and strategic counsel. And the goal here is not to add more hours to their already busy Workday, but instead it's about optimizing the work. And so for instance, you know, build a compromise, a lot of different tools, insights, and data, and we believe that data is going to be necessary to provide that efficient and essential path for that advisory services. How? It's that it can raise up all those data insights by unlocking that data in real time, in, in ways that they couldn't have done before. We're like in the past, this data will be trapped in some hidden spreadsheet or in a separate system that you can lock up. Now you have these systems and tools to bring this up to light and show it at the right time. And so we believe that the shift in like the bookkeeper's role is going to be actually more rewarding. It's also a really smart time for these firms in terms of growth and what we did like, in 2019, we had a fire hire index survey and we just asked them like what they're doing. And one of the things they said is like more than half of the S&P participants are actually looking for, accounting firms that offer a wide range of services around accounting tax and advisory services. And what we even said that there was about almost half that said that they would stop referring their accounting firms if they wouldn't offer strategic advice. So now strategic advice is almost the norm that a lot of these firms and these clients are looking for.  Adam: (07:12) So you mentioned the end of the pandemic, obviously we've got different variations of the virus happening. So there's, there's different things that are happening with the vaccines and all those things happening, but that brings in new challenges and new changes that are on the horizon. Companies going from completely remote to hybrid situations or even fully in the office. There's so many different things happening. So how can companies best prepare for a potentially unpredictable future?  Kevin: (07:39) Yeah, so I always learned the only constant in this world has changed. And as we always move into the future, changes is inevitable. And I believe that treating new technology and using automation, it's an opportunity as a key to imagine the future of accounting. And what we find is like, you know, finance and accounting leaders will need to be increasingly clear about any changes, that their company does in terms of processes or programs. And what this will do is it'll allow you to prepare for that shift and communicate any concerns before anything is set in stone, right? And as we know, speed, bumps are always going to be enough, right. And businesses should plan for it. For instance, having a buffer in their budgets for unexpected expenses, making sure that you have the right technology updates to happens, even have a plan for crisis management, that if, and when it happens. And lastly, I think one of the things I always think about when you want to prepare for changes, like stay on top of those trends. So kind of think you're joining accomplices and just reading what, you know, what are the things that are coming up so that you have a sense and have a little bit of a north star of what may be coming up in the not so distant future.  Adam: (08:48) So speaking of the future, let's put our, you know, let's look into our crystal ball, five to 10 years from now, you know, Kevin, when you're looking at an accountant, what makes a good accountant? Like what are the good skill sets and approaches that you anticipate will make that good accountant in the future?  Kevin: (09:03) Yeah, so accountants, I believe their role is morphing and in the not so distant future they'll be called upon to do more than just what I call the traditional bookkeeping, the debits and credits of bouncing box. And we've already seen these professionals step into these multifaceted roles, such as financial advisor, wealth manager, and even like a therapist as our world becomes more interconnected and just more complex. Right. And I believe the truly successful CPAs, will be able to balance the client relations and ad-lib consulting with the work that they've been traditionally been associate with. And part of that balancing that interpersonal and strictly I call them logistical aspects that we kind of lens will involve knowing when they could pass off the certain responsibilities and rely on technology and acknowledging the use of that automation taking advantage of the capabilities will differentiate the good accountants from the great.  Adam: (09:56) So to what extent do you think those roles and responsibilities will change by, like, let's say 2025.  Kevin: (10:03) Yeah. There's a lot. And, you know, considering what the pandemic that businesses have pivoted already so much and their policies and procedures in a matter of days and weeks, four years in 2025 is actually a long way. But I believe that the role is changing and for the accountants and bookkeepers, it's, it's going so fast from that traditional sense to more of the CFO advisory services. And our focus for us is to help them make this transition, providing the tool sets to make them successful, which is around data, the more automation leveraging AI to do it. And this also includes investing in employees with quality training, and also includes educational resource to help them ease into these new responsibilities so that when you do have to adopt new technology, it's not a big detractor reduction. I believe that upscaling will be a big priority in the coming years. What we did see, you know, the lights stay at the AI and the enterprise reports show that once automation solutions having to establish, you know, those good business leaders actually more sought after than those technology engineers. Why? Because they got to figure out what's the other technologies built up. They've got to have some person with a business sense, to make sense of all the, all the data and then actually figure out what you want to do in terms of the business going forward. And as more and more firms transition to digital, we expect the accountants. They can actually additional responsibilities for managing clients and offering strategic advice. I think, you know, most important about this role by having all the technologies use the accountant's role is actually it can be driven by more what they want to do as opposed to what they have to. And it's because those increase automations will just allow them more time to pursue more of their professional interests.  Adam: (11:49) So what do you think the accountants are focused on now? You know, as we look at the next, you know, two to four or five years, what should accountants be looking at? Or what should they be focusing on? You know, you said what they're interested in, but they also need to worry about, Hey, what does my job require me as well? So how do you find that balance?  Kevin: (12:08) Yeah. So there's the so many things I think of that, the jobs morphing. So if I were like, say like, if you're a new accountants and here's the five skills that you want to have, here's where I think: number one, because of what we're saying about the advisory, I think number one skills that you want to have around the strategic client, right? We're just seeing just more accountants, just doubling the hat. You can be the countless, but you're the advisor, you're the therapist. So you having the ability to think through strategically what clients are looking for. I'm thinking a little bit ahead is going to really help. Number two, technology's our friend. And so as an accountant, yes, you not, you're not that technology savvy, but you will have to be able to manage technology and be technology forward thinking. All right. The fact is, you know, using the technology as part of like one of your arsenal and your toolkits will really help and having accountants who will become the experts in managing and retaining these programs. It's kind of really be helpful. Third one, as I mentioned, it's about the customer relationships. You know, I count this is not simply just doing the books and going away, or you gotta be able to work closely with clients, address their, their questions and answers. And you have to build that relationship over time and just be able to adapt and really listen to what they really want and then figure out what you want for them. Fourth one is creative thinking, know our world is so complex and the standard way of what we did even a decade ago is much harder now. And so what we see in a lot of accountants is that they had the pandemic was this one of the situations where they had to do something that's totally different for what they ever had done before. And they had to think about creative solutions that could meet the needs of every single one of their clients. And so the accountants to be successful is going to have, be able to think outside the box and outside the books, it's going to become the norm. And then lastly, I think the last skill I think for accountants to be successful is finding that work-life balance, right? That pandemic collapse, all the boundaries about work and home life, right? We're still all working from home. And as we emerge from COVID-19, I know both employees and employers are advocating for practices that promote just better mental health and permit that flexibility. And so automation and AI simultaneously putting that time back on the accountant's calendar. So there'll be able to take more time for themselves without sacrificing their career aspirations.  Closing: (14:30) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Nov 4

14 min 51 sec

Contact Gregory Kogan: Data Analytics and Governance for Managers (book): EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05) Welcome back to episode 148 of Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Adam Larson, and I'm pleased to kick off today's episode by introducing you to Gregory Kogan. Gregory is professor of practice and accounting at Long Island University, focusing on teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in accounting and finance. He is also currently pursuing his doctorate in business administration at the university of Scranton with the research focus of data analytics and accounting. So in our upcoming episode, you will hear Greg discuss self-service analytics. Keep listening as we head over to the conversation now.  Mitch: (00:49) In the field of finance and accounting, there's been a lot of talk about data and analytics. And, I know in your space you have a lot of experience. I'm just curious from your perspective, what is really driving the accelerated pace of analytics and the overall adoption at these larger enterprises?  Greg: (01:09) Yeah, so I think the biggest thing, and if we're talking about the finance function, it's really the, realization of ROI (return on investment), where companies can use these new techniques, analytics, automation to accelerate their processing, right? So in finance accounting, for years, we've been doing things manually and repetitively. And now with these new tools and these technologies, a lot of companies are adopting these tools to accelerate processing, reduced processing time, reduce hours, accelerate processes, and there are benefits like it's more accurate, there's more control, better internal control. And those are really big benefits on top of the financial benefits. So there's sort of a convergence, I think that, companies are just taking advantage of this, the, to have more smooth and streamlined processing. That's more efficient.  Mitch: (02:08) Now I know something that you focus on or, you know, you'd like to share a little bit more here are these, self service tools, right. And, you know, just for our listeners, what are some of the defining characteristics of this subset and how does it work into analytics? And, you know, when it comes to again, advancing some of these opportunities, I guess you could say, why do these tools lead to more of a decentralized pattern for your reference?  Greg: (02:36) Right? So the tools, yeah. So the tools we're talking about, you know, and coming out, you know, very much out of the what's happening in public accounting and what's happening in the finance function in terms of, financial and managerial accounting. We're really talking about Tableau and Alteryx, which are off the shelf tools. And even in higher education, we have a lot of these now in the classroom. So this is a still pretty, fairly new, but very much highly used. And we call themselves service tools because, it's not something you develop, what you end up developing is a specific process within that tool. So for example, an Alteryx, you can create a little process that say does a reconciliation or a certain reporting. And it's something that used to live in Excel. That's really now living in this tool and we call it self service. It's in that bucket of you can really do it yourself, much. Like you do Excel yourself. You could really, as a finance professional, since it's low code or really no code you pick up the tool you put in your data, which you really, you already have access to. That's really something you work with on a day to day, and you can set up these, we call them analytics, assisted automations for Alteryx and in Tableau it's really dashboards and visualizations. So it depends what part of it you're working with. But yeah.  Mitch: (04:04) That's very helpful. And I know, you know, in our space management accounts, specifically, a lot of that, you know, internal focused and we're really into, you know, the storytelling behind it and the tools that you referenced literally enable, you know, our, our listeners, our finance and accounting professionals to present this data in a way that's easily easy to understand for everybody, right. I think that's really the goal, but, you know, taking it even a step further here, try to, you know, set the stage for us a little bit. What are some of the primary motivations? And, you know, there is some kind of investment or, you know, even if it's just a learning curve in order to adopt these tools, what are the end goals, but what can our listeners expect if they're able to implement these strategies?  Greg: (04:48) Right. So what you can, what are the, some of the benefits, essentially, after some investment, what you can end up doing is something that you do on a recurring basis, manually in Excel, right? And, and we had this also, as a case study in the book that we're kind of referencing here, the self-service data analytics and governance for managers, but this is something that I've been doing as a case study with students and in the MBA. And what happens is we basically have like five years of data of balance sheet and income statement data. And, and we do this in Excel where we compute all the financial ratios, profit margin, asset turnover, return, and equity. And we do like the DuPont model, basically for all the companies in the S&P 500. So for example, what we did as a case study in the book, we put it in the Alteryx and then we set it up as like little steps, rather than Excel. It's sort of all in one big place and you could still see everything. And we do pivot tables and graphs. It's still a very, very good, but once we set it up in Alteryx, we're able to filter the data by industry. So all of a sudden we started looking just at information technology. We started looking at graphs for each company of all the ratios, and then we started looking at specific companies a little bit further down the line to see, oh, wait, we just keep looking for the best one. What is the best industry? What is the best company? And then for that company, we have four dashboards for each of the ratios over five years. And after we set that up, we thought, wow, if this was like, say this was in management accounting, and I was doing my own internal reports, it could still be profit margin by region or geography. I could really sit with that and just flip my filter from Europe to north America and see my ratios, you know, and then we were thinking about it for me to do it in Excel every month. And it's something I used to do as an accountant. I just imagine it's a lot of work, get the new data uploaded, reconcile it. And that's something that takes us a couple of dates and just the flip, the switch. And Alteryx where you just upload the new data. And it does it for you. That's what we sort of started imagining. And of course we have seen the benefits. We've talked to people who've seen the benefits, but just to feel it yourself, like that amount of work going down from three days to like 30 minutes is exciting. And I don't know, I don't think you lose anything in the process. In fact, it is still stable. It is controllable and it's more flexible because the, all the charts are, you still see them, you know, and you just, you do it yourself. It's not something you have to call an IT person too. So I think it can even feel very empowering that it's still your it's within your role and your routine. You just do it in a different way.  Speaker 2: (07:36) Just a quick follow-up on this, part of our conversation here, you just mentioned, you don't need it for this. It is your responsibility, essentially, as you know, within the finance function, but what is the learning curve? You know, what, what goes into actually being able to upload this data and, you know, work with it to a point where you're comfortable, you know, first of all, you have to trust it, right? You have to trust that everything's working because you're not the one who's actually doing it. I think that's a big thing with accountants, right? They're used to, as you said, reconciling everything and they know that it's right, but you know, the trust factor, but then the learning curve and just being able to do it all from your experience, what does that look like?  Greg: (08:14) Okay. So, the learning curve is basically, and this is something that I went through a couple of years ago is something that, it can take a couple of weeks essentially to get ramped up. And, you know, Alteryx itself has a bunch of videos on their website and a, and a guide on each one of the processes. And they give you, I believe the license. And also the licenses are very affordable or free, depending on the situation, whether you're a student or affiliated with an organization, or it might even be available within your organization. And I would say, yeah, it's a couple of weeks that are kind of playing around with the process. Following the videos, the training itself can take a couple of weeks to get set up with these, and then the setup itself, or the specific process can be a couple of hours or a little bit more. So it's not, it's not as intensive as you would think, oh, wow. I have to take a year to go study this stuff. No, it's a couple of weeks of, I would say, an hour or two a day to get caught up and then a little bit more to play around with it. And the only thing I would recommend is speaking to the other people who are using these tools and kind of try to connect whether it's online or through these podcasts, or, I know that IMA has several courses that I've taken on RPA. I'm sure now there's other ones in data analytics. So actually I've taken a couple of IMA courses on data analytics and RPA, but those are very helpful. And if you, in fact, if you start with one of those that I think that one was four hours and you build your own study and you connect it with speaking to some people. Yeah. There's really no standard way. I think because it is a little bit of a new space, but I think organizations like yours really help out because in a way I would compare it much easier than say going out and studying for the CPA. I mean, we're talking about really like a 10th or one point of the effort. So I would think, you know, start with those smaller courses and build up from there.  Greg: (10:17) That's that's perfect. And thank you for sharing that your personal experiences, you know, I think that helps our, our listeners really understand, you know, all this sounds great, but having an idea of what goes into it, you know, it makes it a little bit more, you know, feasible, I think, in their minds. So, that's great. I appreciate it. And, you know, taking this a step further now, talking about analytics and the different things you can do with data, if you've taken a couple of the IMA courses, you know, one of the things that we've put at the foundation of all of our data and analytics conversations is governance, right? And I think that's something that, you know, you might be able to automate some of these processes, but the governance needs to be in place. So what in your, you know, your voice, what is the importance of data governance and what goes into the, the requirements, you know, your recommended procedures, policies, whatever it may be.  Greg: (11:11) Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we speak extensively about governance and, you know, I think data governance is a huge field of study, right? And, and, and it, you know, and it ends up probably the best way to enter it. And I think data governance in this context really focuses on the input level because when you, when you work with the self-service analytics tools that are very much accessible to management accountants, the biggest, most encompassing issue is on the input side, right? Much like with any Excel spreadsheet and picking the same principles, you have to make sure that those inputs are correct. That there's integrity, that there's a sort of a custody chain of data as it moves from different places, whether it's in the ERP system or a cloud to the Excel, to the Alteryx out of Alteryx to somewhere, back to the ERP. So that custody chain has to be maintained and made sure that every link is properly has proper security and integrity, privacy, accuracy, and then the extra step. So all that I think is already well-known in a way in the data governance was just like a whole field of study. And I know you focus that you focus at a time a very much, and then the additional pieces that we discussed that are specific to self-service analytics are things within the tool. So once you get in the pool and say, Alteryx, yeah, it sounds the one I described does sound kind of like simple and exciting, but I've seen some that have like 50 processing steps and they're looking for fraud. And now they're using advanced text analytics, the mine, a whole email database. So it gets more advanced. The capabilities are there and people are using them. So what we recommend is also that additional layer of each step within Alteryx has to be verified, has to be assured and has to be tested, you know, make sure what you put in is what you're expecting to get out. Make sure it doesn't seem like a black box where you don't know what's happening inside and making sure that the auditability of it is there, you know, whether it's for management, accounting, and that's going to management, or it might be a number that ends up somewhere in a report, that's going somewhere else. So there's a risk assessment part to it that we discussed where we say, Hey, we were going to build these, analytics assisted automations. We're also going to make sure that we're aware that there could be some risks and we should be auditing some of that risk and we should be monitoring the performance of those builds.  Mitch: (13:51) So just real quick on that topic. Cause I did have a follow up on that as far as risk goes. Again, some people who are new to this and may not have the governance procedures in place and, or, you know, any kind of internal control, maybe over, you know, like you said, the custody chain there, if you don't take the time and put in the effort in order to ensure that, you know, all of these policies are in place, what could the risks be? You know, sometimes you want to give them a picture of down at the end of the road. If you don't do all this, this is what could happen. So why is governance so important? What are you really hopefully preventing?  Greg: (14:31) Right. So what's going, what happens with these? And this is on one level, there's that traditional risk that we know from accounting where, you know, number's wrong and ends up on a report there's liability, there's risk, there's reputational risks. There's financial risk. Yes. That's all there. And we probably are aware of that already, but the additional piece here, is that, you know, if you go back before all of this, all of our digital processing was inside of some kind of ERP system that centralized ERP system already was designed with the controls in mind, authorizations, reconciliations, different checks, segregation of duties, and all the users were funneled into those control funnels. If you think about it, now we have people sitting there doing Tableau, doing old tricks on their desktop, you know, getting their data from wherever and inputting it in. So that's sort of what we call data. democratization where now users are using the data to do their own processing. So they're not being funneled into the central ERP system that has all the control architecture. So we need those additional controls. And one of the things that can happen is just total chaos, where everybody's doing their own processing and they're doing their own reporting and say, you're like a higher level control manager at NuCalm, and you say, how do I know any of this is right? It's not, where's the segregation duties where where's the reconciliation where are my additional system checks, that's all happening on those decentralized basis now. So without governance, it could be a situation where you actually can't really rely on any of those outputs anymore. So that's sort of a, trying to get it in advance of that. As it gets adopted, the governance can really, can really help. And the other thing we recommend, and I think you mentioned that it's also lack of governance has been known to be the number one issue in scaling the analytics. So people say, oh, all of a sudden, oh, I can't do this. Oh, this is too much. And it's partly because there's no governance and scaling analytics can be a huge digital transformation goal. So we sort of say, Hey, we want to scale digital transformation analytics. That is sort of something that's actually going to help you do that. Otherwise it's, it's really, it's kind of a steep slope without it.  Mitch: (16:57) That's perfect. That's exactly what I was looking for. And, you know, like I said, sometimes you just paint that picture upfront and give everybody the heads up, but this all sounds great. And listen, I know you briefly mentioned the book. I want to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit more about it here, as we wrap up our conversation, because it's all very valuable information. So how is all of this really presented in the book? And again, plug the name for us one more time and give us a little bit of the background story to it. Why's it all relevant? And then, you know, what kind of information or, takeaways can our readers and listeners expect from some of the work that you.  Greg: (17:33) Absolutely. Yeah. So the book is by myself and Nathan Meyers, and it's called Self-Service Data Analytics, Governance for Managers, and essentially what we do, it's sort of a two-step process where we first discuss all this analytics and service self-service analytics. And we discuss it in a way that is very accessible to accountants because we're both CPAs with an accounting background. And, Nathan has been leading these digital transformations in the corporate world, and I've been embedding analytics into accounting classes in higher education. And we sort of looking at from a perspective of making it really accessible, making it really understandable and making it really kind of down to earth. And that's the first couple of chapters where we define all of these technologies and we make the argument that where we are, where we are today in accounting is where aside from, for example, artificial intelligence and RPA, which are tremendous topics in this world, we kind of make the argument that look this world of Tableau and Alteryx is something that is really happening. And we kind of make the argument that it's something that may grow quite a bit. And I, and I have seen it growing since we started, in the past year and we'll see what happens next year, but it seems like a lot of organizations that are really using it. So, and then we go and say, we say, well, there's an issue with controls if you're doing everything in Alteryx and Tableau, because it is decentralized. And we actually propose a whole governance framework for users. And it's, it's mainly around project governance where you kind of make sure that each of these projects has proper assurance capabilities and, development standards and it's properly documented and has the proper data governance and in risk governance talks about how each one of these can be risk assessed according to unique risk dimensions, and basically treat them as a portfolio and have a whole portfolio of these builds and risk assess each, and then monitor them, monitor them, report risks, report exceptions, create risk transparency. And basically the goal is to create trust and the outputs. And now we live in the world where there's so much emphasis on, in a way mistrust with technology. And then there's also a ton of emphasis by accountants. I think we're leading the way in creating trust around that, but then that's really the goal. Each chapter includes like a, basically a checklist of governance precepts, for project risk. And then we also talk about investments. So make sure that your dollars are going through the right opportunities, make sure you are prioritizing the best processes and it's sort of to help grow your ROI. And we call that investment governance.  Mitch: (20:31) So again, before I wrap this up, we may have to bring you back and talk strictly about this governance framework. I think that's something that our listeners would really be interested in, but in the meantime, you know, before we get that reporting done, where can the listeners find this book? How can they get their hands on it?  Greg: (20:50) Absolutely. So the book is on Amazon, you get it through Amazon or through Wiley directly. And, and essentially as self service, if you go self service, data analytics, governance for managers, it comes up. Usually it's Amazon is the way to go these days, but, Wiley has a very nice thing. And the other thing I'll say is that if you are a student or part of a university, I know it's widely available in, in all the university libraries. If you just go, if you just search it in the library search box as well.  Speaker 4: (21:24) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Nov 1

21 min 45 sec

Contact Jason Whitley: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong, and today's episode is number 147 in our series. The featured guest speaker in today's conversation is Jason Whitley. Jason is the chief financial officer at Phi Inc. And he comes to count me in to share some of the knowledge he's gathered from his over 30 years of global industry experience. While talking with my cohost, Adam, Jason addresses how the CFO can become an effective business partner and emphasizes the various skills one should develop along the way. To hear more about what an aspiring CFO needs to do to contribute to sustainable organizational success, keep listening as we transition into the conversation now.   Adam: (00:57) CFOs are now being looked to for governance, risk management, business change, business resilience, technology advancement, and the list goes on from there. Are the inherited skills, finance and accounting professionals possess sufficient enough to make decisions? And if not, what are some of the crucial skills they need to evolve?   Jason: (01:16) Yeah, no, that's a, that's a great question. I would say that the, you know, the CFO role has really transformed pretty rapidly over the last several years and it's become, you know, one of the most difficult jobs in the organization to do really well because of the broad scope that you just mentioned. I know that, you know, myself, me and my colleagues who aspired to the role over the years, but it's really a job that's almost impossible to fully prepare for and I don't think the skills are easily inherited. You're expected many times to have a depth of knowledge in several different areas. The ones you mentioned, including, you know, treasury, accounting, risk management tax, IT, controls. And then on top of all that you need to really have a good in-depth knowledge of the business operations. If you want to be an effective business partner. And it probably even left out a few areas, but the point is that it's, it's really extensive. It's difficult obviously to have depth of knowledge in all of those areas. So inevitably you're going to enter the job with some, some skill gaps. And I've seen this in my role. I've seen it observed in probably every CFO that I've interacted with in my career. And I think the key is really to surround yourself with a team of folks that are they're technical experts in these areas and ensure your weaknesses are really covered by their strengths. I think it's also important to develop a strong network. I need a network of mentors and a network of you know, technology and technical aspects for service providers that you can really draw on to supplement your knowledge and some of the skill gaps that you have, or just to bounce ideas off, as the time comes and things are needed, in that fashion. I guess, in addition to, and as you alluded to in your question, and it's really imperative that you develop and hone certain skills throughout your career. And I think those can be developed in many different functions and many different roles, but you know, you're going to need these, if you really want to lead the team and be proactive and addressing the problems that come up every day in business. And I think some of those skills specifically would be, you know, leadership, analytics, planning, communication, and the strategic decision making. It's really key that you're developing these kinds of skills throughout your career. And those can be things that you develop in finance and accounting. It could be in strategy, business development, operations, or other functions, but, you know, every role should involve developing, utilizing those skills. So that you're really ready, when the time comes to take on all of the responsibility and scope, that comes along with the CFO role.   Adam: (04:07) So as I hear you talking about all the skills that are involved, one of the things I heard you mention was, having a good network surrounding yourself with people, even people that are smarter than you, I've heard, a lot of people say, it's almost like you're being, almost like you have to be an effective business partner. You have to connect with all these different people. So we've covered some of the skills needed to evolve, then what's next?   Jason: (04:30) Yeah, then I think it's, it is like you just said, you know, becoming an effective business partner. I think the, you know, the way that you do that, you know, first and foremost is you've got to have the trust and respect of, you know, whoever it is. You're partnering with the CEO, the general manager, plant manager, department manager, you know, whoever it is you're supporting as a finance leader, this comes through, you know, basically experienced performance on the job. You know, sometimes it develops quickly. Sometimes it takes some time, but every one of my CFO roles has really evolved and become more impactful, over time. So it was more impactful, I would say at the end than it was at the beginning, as you know, I've developed trust and, you know, and experience was gained, you know, with the individual that I was partnering with and supporting. So I think you have to realize you have to be flexible and, you know, one approach to partnering is not necessarily going to be sufficient, over your entire career. And I've seen really great business partnerships and I've seen some not so great business partnerships in these roles. You know, the one, you know, the ones that didn't work out were usually sort of doomed from the start. It was just, you know, a lack of trust, lack of respect, or maybe appreciation for the role or function of the, of the other person. and that was just something that was never overcome, for one reason or another. So I think, you know, as I mentioned, that's first and foremost, is that you gain trust and respect. I think it's also important to know you can have two really great people, you know, it can be world-class in their respective functions and they still don't have really an effective partnership because they can't work together as a team. So it requires a lot of effort, you need to share information, there needs to be, you know, information and thoughts being shared on a two-way basis, you're working towards common goals and as are said earlier, you really need to respect responsibilities and the focus of each other. But if you, if you get all of these in place, then you can really maximize the effectiveness of both roles. I don't think either person can be highly effective. I think, you know, they can still be effective and really good, but I don't think they can be highly effective and at their best, without really the help and support of the other person. So it's imperative that the partnership work well, you know, for the benefit of that team, for the company and really for the organization overall.   Adam: (06:53) Now, Jason, there's something I've heard, you know, other CFOs, your colleagues, your, your peers say and things I've read that in IMA's research that, you know, the CFO of an organization must not also miss not only be able to share insight, but also lead through foresight. So when it comes to innovation data value, how can the CFO navigate the challenges associated with forecasting and best position the organization for sustainable success into the future?   Jason: (07:20) Yeah, that's another really great question. I think it's one of the biggest challenges for the CFO, but I think, you know, at the end of the day, the CFO really has a great perspective with which to lead and position the organization for success. We're usually the first to see the numbers. we've got deep insight into the operations. We've got the ability to drill in, on areas of concern, come back, make sure the organization understands them and, you know, offer solutions as well, so that things can be dealt with on a quick and timely basis. I think in the, right hands, you know, this data and understanding the business can be, can be really powerful, lead to great insights about how to position the business for the future. But, you have to have the right systems in place. You have to have a coherent digital strategy, the plan to track and report, and seminate the data as well as analyze it. And that's now the subject for a whole other podcast. But ultimately, you know, having all these things in place can set the direction for the company or the strategy for the company. You can help you change what you're doing in terms of allocating capital or resources in a particular area. You can also recommend something that has been put forward or as an initiative for the company that isn't necessarily working be stopped. I mean, this last one is one that I've seen, you know, finance organization or finance individuals, take a lead on many times in many organizations in many companies. They're the ones that say, "Hey guys, it's time to stop doing what we're doing. It's time to reevaluate or course, and take a new path or sort of cut our losses and come up with a new strategy". I don't think there's that many positions in the company where you have this kind of confluence of information, and it's really powerful in helping you address challenges. And, and as I mentioned earlier, to course correct, depending on what the business dynamic is. So I think the CFO has to be ready to use this information, gotta be ready to speak up, in regards to the trends, you know, the direction of pressure in the marketplace or the organization and make sure everyone understands what the data is telling them and come up with viable strategic solutions to address them.   Adam: (09:34) So a lot of accounting and finance professionals, their goal is to get to that CFO level. What skills does a CFO need? And, you know, we've talked a lot about some of those skills already, but if you're an aspiring CFO, what, what, you know, what should you set your sights on? Where should you develop your skills, to get, you know, to get to that next level?   Jason: (09:55) Yeah, a great question. I think, you know, some of the skills I mentioned earlier, but let me, let me dive a little bit deeper into what I think are really the most important, and get a little bit more granular in terms of what, what you really need to become an effective CFO, if you're trying to get to that level. But one of the ways that I think about it, is, is a way that my mentor, you know, 20 years ago, a CFO that I worked with describing it. So basically, you know, finance, you have two different jobs, right? And they're equally important. The first one is you gotta make sure the numbers are right. And this is, you know, reporting the controls, processes, systems. I mean, ultimately you're the single source of truth for the organization. And this is where you're going to spend, you know, 51% of your time, the other 49% of your time is to help improve the numbers. So it's really that simple, you know, those two things. And by improving the numbers, now we're talking about getting involved with strategy analytics, restructuring exercises, maybe a new initiative, you know, M&A, when that comes up, business development, cost reduction, working all of these things with the operations and the commercial folks. And I think, you know, the CFO can lead and dig into both areas, or the one that, that can really lead and dig into both of those areas is going to be the most highly effective and is going to be the best advocate for all the key stakeholders in the firm. I've been involved in a couple of situations where, you know, the first one wasn't in place, you know, the, the control aspect to it and making sure the numbers are right. And we spent massive amounts of time putting the house in order. And it became the only job we had, for some period of time. So we had to build the foundation through people, processes, and systems, so that we could really move on to the more value added activities of the job, which is the second piece that I mentioned. I think the, the other piece is that there needs to be complete transparency. So you have to develop the skill for, you know, putting out not only the good news, but the bad news and make sure that there aren't any surprises. I used to have a former CEO that said, you know, bad news doesn't age well, and I think that that adage applies to every organization I've been in. You don't want to hold up the dissemination of the bad news because the situation could get worse. A lot of times they don't resolve themselves favorably. And if you can get the information out there quickly enough, you can bring to bear all the resources of the organization on the problem. And I think the key for the CFO, here, is to the set the tone at the top. So the organization falls this line of thinking, constantly. A couple other points: I think you need to build organizational rapport. It's good to have strong partnerships with all of the executive staff members, or the extended staff. And, and these will change depending on the job that you're in, but learning how to develop organizational rapport, is important because you need to be a trusted resource for, for all of those stakeholders. And you can't really have the impact you want to have in an organization unless you've got that rapport. And if you do have it, and your impact is going to be much greater than it would be otherwise. And I think, lastly, I would say you just need to approach the position with a balanced viewpoint. Don't be too conservative, don't be too aggressive in your approach. You'd never want to approach, you know, an accounting problem or our forecast now with that mindset, for instance, because you'll end up being, over time, if you continually do that, you'll end up being labeled and you'll continually get second guessed. So in an example of a forecast, I mean, when you put together a commitment, you want to have balanced lists of risk and opportunities to discuss when you talk about what the number is going to be. This ensures that everyone understands what you've put in, right? That it potentially could be an issue, right. But you've talked about and learned how to mitigate those issues. And you've talked about opportunities that maybe aren't there, that you're going to work on, to make sure that they benefit the organization. So you're trying to get to the right answer for the reporting for, you know, for our business forecast or, or any particular problem, regardless of the, you know, the accepted practice or maybe the potential organizational impact, you have to be able to do that. And over time, these forecast, terminology, these beats and messes, they should balance out, you know, solid reasoning for your decisions along the way, that's important to get your decisions or your recommendations accepted by doing that and having this, I think it's important basically to make sure you've got a strong reputation along these lines, within the organization or within the company.   Adam: (14:35) So as we wrap up our conversation, do you have any thoughts on the role of the CFO and building their organizations, as we look toward the future?   Jason: (14:44) Yeah, I do. I think overall, you have to be flexible in your approach to the organization and to the business partnership that we talked about earlier. I think, you don't want to be flexible when it comes to your approach to ethics, controls and compliance, but, you know, as the scene goes in career progression, what got you here, won't get you there. these are kinds of things that you need to think about as a CFO. And when I, when I talk about, compliance, I think it's pretty clear what, I mean, there's really no room for flexibility here. You need to possess, an exhibit to the organization and impeccable ethics. You gotta be strong because there's going to be issues that you're gonna face, on compliance or controls, or, you know, you're asked to push the limits. These just aren't areas where you can compromise, but on your approach to the business and business partnership, I would say, you know, every dynamic, you know, a CEO and a CFO is, is different. You're going to need to adapt your operating style, many times to work most effectively with, you know, see if a CEO or general manager or department manager, depending on, you know, whatever the case may be. So your principles and focus can be the same, but your approach to the job, is going to be different. And sometimes just in order to get the same result, you know, but ultimately that's what you're all aligned towards maximizing the strategic value of the enterprise. So I think flexibility is key there and it's also a key in addressing business problems and building an organization. More directly answering your question, that's capable of thriving in the future. So if a finance organization can sort of learn and grow along with the company, and the organization to be, you know, make sure they continue to be relevant, and capable of helping the group with strong analytics and strategic decision making, then they're going to be hugely valuable to the, to the organization.   Closing: (16:39) This has been Count Me In: IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Oct 25

17 min

Contact Russ Porter: Margaret Michaels:® (Institute of Management Accountants):'s Ethics Center: of IMA shall behave ethically. A commitment to ethical professional practice includes overarching principles that express our values and standards that guide member conduct. IMA’s overarching ethical principles include: Honesty, Fairness, Objectivity, and Responsibility.  Members shall act in accordance with these principles and shall encourage others within their organizations to adhere to them. IMA members have a responsibility to comply with and uphold the standards of Competence, Confidentiality, Integrity, and Credibility. Failure to comply may result in disciplinary action FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05) Welcome back for episode 85 of Count Me In I'm your host, Adam Larson and today's conversation features IBM's Vice President of Finance and Global Business Services, Russell Porter. Russell has been with IBM for over 20 years, serving in roles spanning most financial disciplines in business units. He is a strong leader with a high aptitude for merging strategy and operations. In this episode, he really focuses his insights on how to lead and manage remote teams during these ongoing times of uncertainty. Russell explains IBM's current status and upcoming plans, as well as what he has done along the way to keep his team motivated and achieving. Keep listening, as we head over to this very timely and valuable conversation. Mitch: (00:55) Many leaders were faced with a task of quickly adapting their management strategies to remote work following the coronavirus pandemic. What were some of the strategies that you implemented in the beginning of this for the whole work from home environment, and how did you go about keeping your team together? Russell: (01:13) Mitch, in any situation, you know, one of the best things we can do is provide some clarity for our people. Discussing what we expect to happen, what we know, what we don't know and, and how we're going to make decisions as we all work through the issues that face us. In addition, one of the things we did was reinforced clarity around our organization's mission, and tried to make sure that each person continually understood their role in that overall mission. That helps people to stay connected and engaged, as we went through, you know, the, the vast uncertainty of those early days of the pandemic. We also noted that we needed a greater focus on empathy. You know, our team members all face different situations from those who are suddenly homeschooling their children to others who are concerned about aging parents and some who were cut off from the bulk of the social engagement that they had by not being able to go to work. You know, there's a saying that everyone's fighting a battle that we know nothing about, and we need to keep that in mind as leaders when we're working with our people, especially when we can't be physically with them, as much as we're used to.  That led us to realize we also had to be more flexible. You know, the work getting done is more important than exactly how it gets done. So at IBM we've got existing flex time programs that we just leveraged across the board. You know it allows people to attend to their daily needs while getting work done at what some would consider off shift hours. Now, not everything can happen that way, but to a great extent, our teams could modify their workdays to be early in the morning, late at night, or even split into pieces based upon all the other priorities they had to address. That took some creativity at times, and we had to change some structures like the workday times or some job design. And it was a great time actually to tap into our team's creativity, because they helped us develop some of those solutions to address the individual’s responsibilities and the individual's requirements and the job environment. The biggest thing we did though was communication, communication, communication. We were fortunate in IBM, we we've implemented agile methodologies in a lot of our work within finance and operations. So one of those, one of those methods is a daily standup meeting, and that really provided us a great check-in opportunity for our leaders and our teams to share those experiences and their concerns, and to make sure that our teams remained engaged in the work, but also that we could talk to them about what was going on outside of the work environment. That regular communication has really helped us to communicate both vertically and laterally across the organization. So a regular checkpoint with the team is key. But also as, as I've seen lots of people talking about the one thing that's missing in this virtual environment is the impromptu run into the hallways connection. That time when you're just walking down the hall and you see somebody and you think, oh, I meant to talk to them about an idea. So reaching out and keeping up networking and your contacts within your organization and outside, and being able to communicate across the small teams that we work in, that was also a big thing. And that was enabled by the technology and tools that we had adopted already. We were already doing video conferencing with WebEx and instant messaging, which we adopted with Slack earlier this year. Cloud based file repositories. All of these went from being ancillary to becoming like the primary mode of communication around the, around the organization, and I think the fact that we are already progressed with those tools, or at least had started with them, helped us adopt and adapt very, very quickly to what became a full time virtual environment. Mitch: (05:14) That's great that you had so much prepared and were able to implement so quickly, you know, I'm sure during this rapid change, and it was certainly a lot of uncertainty for everybody, even with plans in place like this, there must've still been a lot of questions from the team members, right? So what were some of the main concerns that you were hearing from your team while all this was going on, and how did you as a leader, go about addressing them? Russell: (05:40) So I'll tell you the number one question I kept getting was when are we going back to back to the office? And here again, knowing individual circumstances, I've got extroverts and introverts on my team, and the extroverts, you know, when they heard that we are going to be working virtually for a while., they wanted to get back to the office as quickly as possible. And, and working from home, working from bedrooms or living rooms on their own was really driving them a little nuts. So a lot of people thought it was going to be a one or two week closure of the offices to get past a peak period. But as the days turned into weeks, that question of when are we going back to the office became more and more insistent. You know, again, the best we could do was provide the clarity that we didn't know. And, and I'm in the Northeast. So, you know, in the Connecticut, New York area, and we had to tell our people, we didn't know. It was dependent first firstly, upon state regulations, but then also upon, the company's way that they wanted to approach coming back to the office, given that we've never had a time when the virus wasn't somewhere in the IBM office offices, or in the environments, I should say the States where, IBM operates. So, number one question was when are we gonna get back to the office? And we gave as much clarity as we could. Number two, job was, well, how are we going to get our jobs done the way we're used to doing them? And the answer was, we're not. We’re simply we needed to adapt to this new virtual environment there, wasn't going to be, you know, printing of documents, and, and there wasn't going to be the huddling in a physical conference room to go over charts, to go over analysis, to, to present ideas. Suddenly we all had to go virtual and that required a little bit of change, and the way we did things and the way we shared. It wasn't marking up and standing in front of a screen. It was, you know, trying to point at something with your, with your mouse and a little arrow on WebEx. but here again, it was adoption of the technology that helped us adapt and, and continue to be productive as a finance and operations organization. And what we actually found was within FNO, we really didn't skip a beat. We were able to modify the way we did things, everything from presentations and analysis to, you know, approvals, everything got, got swept up very quickly. And within, I would say 30 days, we were operating, like we'd been operating in this form forever. Mitch: (08:17) That's great, and that's a very, quick, you know, adaption to the new way of doing business, and, you know, you mentioned this was a couple months ago now, right? And within 30 days, things certainly picked up for you. I know here in the United States and many other places across the world, there are businesses that are opening up. So, you know, based on what you've shared already, can you please tell us, you know, how is IBM currently conducting their business? And is there anything that you have already planned, as far as a return to work policy and how you would support those who maybe are those introverts like you, or those who are hesitant to go back for whatever reason and are not comfortable in the office? Russell: (09:04) Now, I completely understand that hesitation, and right now there are so many discussions and debates going on around the country about opening offices and schools. No one wants to see the infection rates start to spike up again. So at IBM, we're still operating at well over 90% virtual capacity right now around the world. And we're engaging with our clients, our suppliers, our team members, all through only virtual means. And to a large part, we found it largely effective. That said there are some countries and some cultures around the world where in person meetings are really difficult to replace. Now, we've been really public about the fact that IBM is going to take a conservative approach in our return to our offices. And we're seeing lots of other companies that are saying the same thing, that this is going to be out of the office for an extended period of time. For us, we're going to have a multi wave plan in which our critical client facing and our teams where collaboration is absolutely critical. They're going to be the first back in the office, and they'll be observing a lot of new protocols to help ensure that they're doing so safely. Everything from lower space density usage, and daily checkpoints of health conditions. Minimization of use of conference rooms, and obviously masks and social distancing are going to be a big part of that. IBM's actually develops a new tools to facilitate that transition transition for us and for our clients called Watson Works, which is designed to help assess, help employee assess themselves before they come into the office and help manage the interior office space to make sure that we're not overcrowding or putting our people into a difficult situation. Now, after that initial re-introduction, we're going to gradually increase the percent of the population going back to the office slowly and deliberately over time. And we're going to put priority on those organizations where face to face interaction is pivotable. Now my organization in finance and operations, we're likely going to be in the later stages. We've been pretty effective in working virtually for, for a long period of time. So I'm expecting, we'll be working from home at least through the end of the year and probably beyond that. And I'm sure that, and this is true for everybody, I'm sure. We won't go back to our offices and same way we did before. Masks, social distancing, staggered scheduling, low density, that's going to be the norm for the foreseeable future. And from my perspective, it follows that if part of our team is always going to be off site, because I don't think my whole team will be onsite altogether again, for quite some time. Then our practices of engaging the remote teams through video conferencing and Slack and file sharing. All of that's going to continue for the foreseeable future as well. So the office may become less of a place, we go to work our nine to five, and more of a place where we go to have those critical in person meetings, but most of the work will continue to be conducted offsite, wherever possible with a digital connection to those who might be in the office, but really the majority who are going to be continuing to work from home. Mitch: (12:25) Well, it sounds like those are great solutions, and I know just in reading through the news and watching, you know, as you said, it sounds pretty standard for many businesses these days. but everything you just discussed really has a very positive spin on it, and that's something I really want to emphasize. I feel like we talk about this and it's always kind of the downside of what's going on, but how about some of the positives that you have realized? What have you seen over the last three, four months, however long it's been that has really enhanced your business, or some individuals productivity or engagement, you know, what's the positive side of everything going on right now? Russell: (13:03) So there are a lot of positives. There's always a, a silver lining around the cloud.  From IBM's perspective, first of all, we've got a global workforce, and within finance and operations, we've always had a number of people who work away from IBM's primary sites, whether it's in their home or in a satellite site, and as managers and leaders, we now have a greater appreciation for the challenges that those people have faced for a long time. Those people who are already working remote, they adapted like it was nothing because it was continuing to do what they've always done. So as managers and leaders, we understand a little bit more of that perspective. In addition, as, as our clients have gone through this transition, it has created opportunities for IBM to serve our clients in new and different ways, helping them get farther along in their own digital strategies. So, there are elements of our business that we've been able to leverage to help our clients adapt to these environments as well. Internally, we've also been able to help, adopt our collaboration tools like the ones I've mentioned before Slack and WebEx. A lot of these were on our plate, prior to the pandemic, but they've been far more readily adopted as a result of the pandemic than they would have been earlier. And I think that's going to have a permanent and beneficial change to the way that IBM can operate, and that's true of almost any organization. It's another tool in the toolbox to allow for collaboration, communication, leadership of our teams, wherever they may sit. And of course the one, the one benefit I hear a lot is a no commute. I work in an area where typically people are commuting 45 minutes to an hour each way every day, and people have, people have really used that extra time for a lot of beneficial reasons. They've, they've improved their home lives. They're more engaged, they're sleeping better, they're exercising more frequently, and the number of new dogs that have shown up on my WebEx is in the background, have been, has been one of the joys of seeing how people have expanded their families in a variety of different ways. Mitch: (15:25) That's great. I know we have very similar circumstances as well, and, situations that a little impromptu, a sigh of relief and nice smile. It's something that's certainly welcomed throughout the day. You know, just to wrap up this conversation, this has been great, and I appreciate all your insight. You know, a lot of people have adapted and are doing well, as you said, there are many positives, but you know, looking ahead, those who are going to continue to work remotely, in your opinion, how do you suggest maintaining motivation? What can you share with our listeners who are leading remote teams or are remote workers and are looking for some added incentive, what do you have to offer them? Russell: (16:06) So I always, I go back to the basics on this and I'm going to end where I started, I think. Number one, you know, keeping our teams productive means keeping them engaged, making sure they understand, you know, our mission as an organization, and again, they're part of it. People want to see the value of the work they do, and how it contributes to the team. And in order to really engage people, you need to be empathetic. You need to be able to understand the off-camera issues that your, our team members are facing, and discuss those issues with them, be creative, helping them find solutions, or even just to listen. Some of our team members are likely experiencing, you know, loneliness away from the office, spending time, just being with those people, and helping them to, you know, showing that you really care about them as people, not just as workers. It does help to keep them engaged and keep them productive. But I think it also just helps them deal better with the challenges that might be coming their way. e\Even those that we don't see. And also a little bit of flexibility, creativity and fun. We've got a WebEx coffee hour or a happy hour every two weeks or so. One of the rules is we're not allowed to talk about work, we invariably do. But we try to spend time talking about what's going on in our families. What interesting things we've been doing for, you know, adventure, whether that's hiking or kayaking or, going out and running. And as I said, you know, we get to, we get introduced to new family members, you know, dogs, cats, a turtle in one case. And in one case recently, a new baby that joined the family. So, helping to keep it fun, keep it lighthearted, keep the teams engaged, that pays a lot of dividends in terms of people's willingness to put forward the extra effort when it's required, and these days to put forward the extra effort when it feels like at times, you know, they're on their own. Making the time to socialize, making the time to spend some quality time with our teams, that's really critical in, in helping all of our organizations achieve their end objectives and keeping our teams engaged, and, and dare I say, happy. Closing: (18:33) This has been Count Me In IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Oct 20

16 min 38 sec

Contact Patti Humble: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm Adam Larson and I first like to thank you for coming back to hear episode 146 of our series today's conversation features Patti Humble, the chief accounting officer at UPS. Patty is an experienced senior leader with a broad background in both business unit and corporate headquarter environments. She is also a passionate leader who truly emphasizes personal development and the need for knowing yourself first. Next, you'll hear her discuss steps to successfully getting to know yourself and how that translates to strong leadership. So keep listening as we head over to the conversation now.  Mitch: (00:50) So I know our conversation for today is going to be about developing others, but I understand it's very important to you. And I know it's a topic that you're very passionate about. So for some background for our listeners, why don't you start off by telling us why this is so important to you?  Patti: (01:05) Well, thank you. I appreciate that. And I'm just going to begin with kind of an overarching statement that, you know, what, we all have a unique purpose in our lives, right? We all want to make a difference for our families, for our workplaces, for our country, even globally. And so just pause for a second and think about that. How do you make a difference? Because in my view, effective leaders, they have to start by knowing themselves first, before they can start paying it forward to others. So for me, self journey, my self knowledge and my journey, that was a linchpin. And that's when I really started putting some of my leadership puzzle pieces together. And I'm really passionate about this because I really want to share some of my aha moments with other people. I think what I've observed is that people are often very hesitant to go deep inside themselves. It can be intimidating, it can be a little scary, but as I look back over the course of my career, I found that I really needed to know myself first. And only then is when some of these other leadership traits, my coping mechanisms, all of that started to fall into place. So that's why I'm so passionate about it.  Mitch: (02:31) It's very fascinating. And you know, I'm curious these aha moments, you know, you said a couple of times right there, you have to know yourself first. What does that actually look like? You know, and I'm sure it's different for different people. but what do you, what does that ultimately look like to you when you make that recognition?  Patti: (02:54) Well, I think it's knowing your style, right? It's what drains you of energy when you get home at the end of the day and you're just wiped out what happened that made that happen and what gives you energy? I mean, when you think about those moments where you're just really jazzed, what was that? What gives you energy or maybe it's where you look up at the clock and you've totally lost track of time. I mean, the hours have gone by, and you just don't even know where the time went to. It's knowing that it's knowing your personality type. I think we all kind of have a sense of what our personality types are like, what are our blind spots? Where, what are the landmines that we might step on more than once. And also it's knowing your hot buttons, right? We all, we all know what those are too, but I think knowing yourself is really, it's so important because people succeed differently. So for example, extroverts and introverts, they succeed very different in the world. And you may, or you may not know where you fit along that continuum. And when I say introvert, I don't mean people that are shy. All right, there's a misunderstanding about introverts. Introverts are people that get their energy differently from thoughtful and quiet activities, right? We know our extroverts love to, to be around people and go to events. It doesn't mean that you're different, you're different than in a way that you succeed differently. That information can be really critical to adapting how you lead and how you position yourself for advancement in your workplace. So there's that piece of it by knowing yourself and even on a more personal level, you have to know yourself to know how you cope and, and to conquer sometimes your own gremlins, whatever those might be. I mean, think about what happened to us during COVID right during this pandemic, our coping mechanisms were really taxed. They were really strained. And I think that's a global phenomenon. So you probably learned some things about yourself during the pandemic that you might not have known and some of your gremlins might've been more pronounced, but I think when you know yourself, you're aware of your thoughts, you know, how you talk to yourself and you can talk yourself through moments of fear or uncertainty, you know, how to speak to yourself in the third person. So, you know, you think about the movie that runs in your head and you know, you tell yourself, oh my God, I can't believe I screwed up or I, how could I have done that? There is not a third person that would speak to you the way you speak to yourself. So try talking to yourself, like another, someone who loved you would speak to you, they'd say, you know what? You tried your best, you did the best you could with the information that you had, or yeah. You know, I didn't handle that so great. But you'll do better next time. If we speak to ourselves that way you talk to yourself, instead of listening to yourself, you try things like being grateful, when you're stressed out, because you look to the bright side of things, it's all that, that movie that, that plays on in your head. and I think that's part of knowing yourself. It just helps all those coping mechanisms work really well. A good friend of mine recommended me to me once, to create an "I love Patti" box and then fill it up with all the positive affirmations that you get that you receive. And then when you're having a really bad day and you need a boost, you just go read all those things all over again to say, you know what I do well, I am loved. And it just helps that, that inner, that inner voice. And I think that's really, really an important part of knowing yourself because knowing your style, knowing your energy, knowing how you speak to yourself is the platform for leadership.  Mitch: (07:05) I think that's all amazing advice. And as you were sharing this information, I started thinking, you know, we kicked things off talking about or setting the stage, really developing others. And it starts with you first. And as you're speaking, I kind of said, you know, developing others that other person can still be yourself. You know, it's, it's, you know, it's the other person that, you know, people see that maybe you don't always see. So, it's really interesting. And as you, I can understand the more you learn about yourself, the easier it is, as you just said to then eventually develop other people other than yourself and lead. And it's just all full circle. So you'd already just mentioned a few really great techniques, but I'm sure, you know, you're very passionate about this. You have other things that we could share with the listeners, you know, specific steps, anything that, again, how do you identify when you are successful in knowing yourself, you know, what, how, how can our listeners take this another step further?  Patti: (08:05) Yeah. well, there is a wealth of information out there on the internet about personality types. I mean, if you, if you put that into a search engine, you're going to come up with a lot of, of, material. I think, you know, people can start with something like a Myers-Briggs assessment. There's a number of things that you can do that are on the internet that are, that are free, but that's only the beginning. So like for Myers-Briggs you get come back and it's a four letter, kind of acronym that you get, but then the hard work starts. You have to read about your personality type. You have to learn about you, it's doing the homework. I mean, treat it like a treasure hunt. I mean, why do you react and behave the way you do? I, when I started digging into that and go, oh my gosh, this is, so me, how could I not have known that this is how I'm wired? And this is the way I behave. And it totally made sense. And I think once you see yourself in that light and you know, that there's other people kind of like you, it becomes, it leads to a sense of self-acceptance. And I think we all can struggle with that, at, at times, and because I'm an accountant, I actually made a small binder. I called it the Patti playbook. I think I kinda kind of figure as I went through the, the Myers-Briggs material and I did all of my homework, but it really was eye opening and it was especially eye opening when I shared it with my family, I said, you know, when this thing happens and I behave a certain way. Yeah, that's, that's, that's how I'm wired. And they're like, oh, it was really, it was really, really eye opening for them as well. And they understood what's kind of hardwired, into us. it going beyond that some companies, will support the cost of what's called a Hogan assessment, which is a little deeper than something like a, a Myers-Brigg and companies can actually put that into maybe your individual development plan. So my only advice on that, is make sure that when you get your Hogan results back, you need to have an expert read that back to you. Somebody that's familiar with how a Hogan, what a Hogan is measuring and what your results mean. So, and the reason I say that is, unfortunately for me, I spent about three years with a misunderstanding about my Hogan assessment and that misunderstanding actually sent me backwards a little bit. So just, just make sure that if you're going to have an assessment like that, that you really are getting expert advice on the, on the results. There's other taxonomies out there in this arena. There's one of them that puts, leaders into what they call the four faces. So you can, you can be a catalyst, a strategist, a steward, or an operator. Now, most accountants like us, we tend to be stewards and operators, because again, that's kind of how we're hardwired and that's why we went into the profession in the first place. But I will say, I think we all know that in a post pandemic world, our organizations more and more are going to be looking for us to be catalysts, change makers and strategists. So it's great to be a steward and an operator, but knowing where you fit on that, that fourplex helps you understand where it is you need to grow. I mean, ask your family. I mentioned that before, when, you know, I did the, my Myers-Briggs, I mean, they know you, they know your personality, they know how your energy ebbs and flows look for patterns on how you interact with them. Those are clues, right? And in every, in every family, people kind of play parts, it's kind of like a little play, but, you know, are the people that are closest to us. They know our strengths and our weaknesses and our hot buttons. So also treat that like a little bit of a treasure hunt, ask your family members about you and getting to know yourself. Next you can turn to the workplace. So what is, what's the word about you at work? What's your buzz? Both from your boss, from the folks at work, from you, from your peers, and if you don't know what that is, I would recommend that you need to find out. and don't just ask for feedback, just general feedback from them. I mean, you ask, once you're learning about yourself, ask some really, really specific questions. and let me just give you an example. So a question, a specific question might be, what's the one key thing that I could change in order to become more approachable. If that's something you're working on or another question might be, what do you know that I will never get to know, but I really need to know that that one was really open-ended question that you could ask some of your coworkers or your boss, and that really elicits a lot of, of openness from people. And I guess the last thing on this topic, I would say just, you know, getting to know yourself and your steps along the way is, remember when you're done with this, your greatest strength. Well, that's also your greatest weakness, right? So for example, accountants, we love certainty. We love detail. We love the fact that there's just one answer. That's our craft. That's what we do. But I think we also know that we need to learn to live in lots of shades of gray, rather than the black and white, organizations are asking us to see the big picture, get up to 50,000 feet, be able to speak, you know, in, non-accounting ways to other folks in our organization. And also remember your strength is your weakness. For example, going back to, if you're an introvert, how awesome is that? That's a strength where you're going to pick up on clues that other people might miss. And you're going to balance out your team with diversity of thought, but also know that you have to modulate. You have to be an extrovert. Sometimes you need to turn it on when you need to not, not 24/7, not all the time, not asking you to change who you are, but we also know that in corporate America, you need to be able to modulate back and forth. And when you can be honest with yourself along this journey, that is when you will really know that you're growing.  Mitch: (14:43) And I love how you continue to bring this back to accounting, because, you know, particularly here, obviously with IMA, we're really focused on the evolution of the profession, right? The future of the profession and upscaling, and you mentioned a lot about, you know, being able to tell the whole story to those non-finance people and a big word around IMA that we use is being adaptive. Right. And being able to take that next step, particularly the last year and a half, you know, how everybody was forced to adapt, but our real leadership strength there. So I want to keep our conversation here, going in that direction, you know, turning to adaptable leadership. What are some of the things that you've experienced and what is this dynamic really look like? How does knowing yourself and becoming adaptable tie in with leadership and, you know, just bring it full circle for this conversation.  Patti: (15:37) Yeah, well, I think people are like puzzles and most accountants really love problem solving. We probably like puzzles. So understanding people and leading people is, is rather the same because there's no two puzzles that are alike. And I mean, if you look at online again about books that are written on leadership or adaptable leadership, I mean, there are oceans of books. It's, it's actually really confusing, you know, on what you know, which is why I want you to go deep first. I want you to understand yourself first so that you can understand who you are and what you bring to leadership. And I think that also informs you, that you have to find your way in leading you won't lead like your boss, you will lead like you because you are unique, your blending, the best of the people that you've worked with and worked around and you've absorbed all of that. And you're customizing it along with your personality and adapting all of that into this, this puzzle. That's you. And I will say that I personally, I spent too much time trying to be a clone for one of my bosses thinking that that was the only way to lead, but you know what? I wasn't cut out of that same cloth. I wasn't raised to the same way in my family of origin. I didn't have the same work experiences. So I wasted a lot of time thinking that I had to be them when I should have been again, investing more in me and adaptable leadership comes back to modulating. So remember when we talked about that in the last section, right? Modulating, introvert, or extrovert, or, you know, kind of knowing yourself, managing yourself, this is the exact same thing, leaders modulate to get the most out of every person's different strengths they're putting together their puzzle, right. And their uniqueness. So when you're adjusting your style to what everybody needs, what each person needs is called situational leadership, right? It's this modulating, it's that adjusting. and it's tough. I think for accountants, again, they kind of want a single answer. When you learn how to manage a group of people, you want to be able to take that cookie cutter and move to a new group and say, okay, I know how to manage now, but you don't. Right? Because when you move, it's a whole different set of puzzles and a whole different group of people. But that's another place where we really have to live in the gray and we have to experiment right. The first time that you work about around someone, that's just argumentative. You know, you learn how to deal with an argumentative person it's called situational leadership. And then you're going to take that learning and adapt again. And you, now, you're, now you're going to know how to, how to do that. I think also adaptable leadership is how you build out your group, right? When you are comfortable in your own skin and you know yourself, and you look around your team and you can see those strengths and weaknesses in your team, you also know that you have to build a diverse group of thinkers because you don't want people around you that just agree with you or look like you, or act like you, or think like you, which is really our human tendency, right? We like being around people that are similar to us that are kind of in our tribe or the way we think. But when we welcome dissenting opinions is when we really get the best out of being an adaptable leader. And it's really fascinating to ask people that are different from you. This question, what would you do if you were me, because you're going to get a really different answer. But that diversity of thought from being an adaptable leader and welcoming those dissenting opinions are going to be really informative. And you'll be better because of the diverse group of thinkers that you brought together. But again, that's got to come back to do you know yourself, and have you looked at that situational leadership and your team to know how your, how your group needs to be rounded out with all of those skills and talents and opinions.  Mitch: (19:58) And let's keep going on that topic for just a moment here, you were talking about kind of building out your team. And I think one of the best representations of a good leader is, you know, their tree, right? The people that they develop and, and who's next, essentially. So when we are talking about our team and developing others, how should young leaders think about developing their own strengths? And, you know, obviously knowing yourself first, I think has to be first and foremost in communicating that to them. But as a leader, communicating to future leaders, what's the thought process, you know, how do we go about instilling this mindset with them?  Patti: (20:37) Yeah. I think one of the things they have to understand early, or, you know, young leaders is that, you know, your career is not a ladder, it's a jungle gym. It's going to be lots of jumping around. Early in a career I really ask young, young people, young leaders to focus really on their self-development first, right? Your path to success in general is always going to include being hardworking, reliable, results-oriented, trustworthy, and in our profession, extremely ethical. All of those things are what you have to build out in the first stages of your career. I also tell people to take notes. I mean, I mean, literally take notes, observe leaders around you. What is it that you want to emulate? What do you like, what do you think you can do when the way your built your personality? Who do you want to be like? And then also kind of who do you want to avoid? We all have those people that we work with for, or around where we go, oh, I'm never going to do that. But, but know that, I mean really study other leaders, make yourself a little cheat-sheet. It's actually fascinating if you do this over a period of years to go back and look at some of your early notes of what you were learning, because now you've absorbed them and they're really, they kind of become part of you. So I think your early career really has to focus around self-development.  Mitch: (22:10) And then how about later in the career, you know, your, mid stage, late stages of your career, and again, we're talking about leadership, how does your mindset and your approach to this mindset vary?  Patti: (22:23) Yeah. So by mid career, we hope that all of us have kind of, had that subject matter expertise. That's that's largely been mastered, right? You've got that in your rear view mirror. You've mastered your craft. Your roles that you're taking on in your mid career are now demanding kind of more ownership, more responsibility, and certainly more leadership. This is where you're transitioning from being a subject matter expert or IQ, more towards EQ or emotional knowledge. And that's also where your hard work, and investment from knowing yourself is really going to start to accelerate your effectiveness. This is where, where it really starts to gel. There's a good book for mid career that I liked. It was called, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There". It's by Marshall Goldsmith, I found that one particularly helpful just to kind of sometimes get you out of the little, the little rut, that, that you're in. The other thing kind of shifts in mid or late career about leadership is also the leaders that you have. And let me explain what I mean by that. So you need to make sure that you've got sponsors. Now, sponsors are different from mentors and coaches. What do I, what do I mean by that? So coach just like in sports or other things, they show you how mentors can give you advice, but sponsors, those are the folks that speak up for you when it's time for decision. Those are the folks that are powerful enough to be in the room when decisions are being made about you, about you and your development and your assignment. So I think that's it. It's not specifically your leadership, but it's something you need to be very mindful of about leadership in general is just to make sure that you've got sponsors. And I think the other thing that's super important in this mid-career is asking. If you don't ask you don't get, I have a quote that's actually taped on the bottom part of my monitor by my computer. And it says, if you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it. If you don't ask the answer will always be no. And if you don't step forward, you're always going to be in the same place. So it's just a really good reminder. That's super important in that mid-career ask and ask and ask. In mature career, I'll call it mature career, right? comes the ability really to influence that's where you start to really affect change. And when we get to this part of the leadership journey, I think that, you know, the leadership traits here, also include really being able to communicate with nonfinancial executives in your business. It's the part of your career where you're really taking risks outside of your comfort area. If you've always been in an accounting vertical, maybe you're taking a leap over into a business unit or planning or marketing or something like that. It's getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. That stage is where you really kind of learn to respect the culture of politics doesn't mean that you have to necessarily adopt it, but you have to respect the culture politics. You have to get comfortable in your leadership role to know enough to not to miss out on anything important, but you don't need to know it all. And I think for accountants, that's really hard because we really love knowing all the rules. We really love the detail and separating yourself from that and being okay with knowing just enough is kind of a difficult transition in that part of your career here also in this time, you're spending more and more time developing your people. And so all these things we've talked about, about your leadership, knowing yourself, taking risks, asking this is where it all comes to a crescendo, because this is where you're developing your people. You're asking lots of questions rather than you're asking more than you're telling and you're really see being able to focus on developing all, all of that learning in into your people.  Mitch: (26:53) Well, Patty, this has been incredibly insightful. I've honestly really enjoyed this whole conversation and I just, am very appreciative of everything you shared. And I want to give you an opportunity if there are any final thoughts that you have on this topic that you would like to kind of wrap up with.  Patti: (27:09) Yeah. So just you're right. Just kind of wrap this all together. So the journey of a leader, I think has several key skills. As I think about it. First, we talked about invest in your own learning and I mean your intellect and your personality, that's the investment you make in yourself. It's hiring those exceptional leaders for your team, that diversity of thought, and really developing those, those self-reliant teams. It's getting out of the details and not micro-managing as hard as that might be. We talked about communicating, right? You got to communicate in all directions up, down and sideways. And I think lastly, one of my favorites is Bernay Brown. She has a pretty famous, Ted talk. It's about vulnerability and authenticity. It's admitting when you're wrong, it's being human and it's being humble. I think every one of us has such great potential to make a difference. So I have another small reminder. That's taped my computer monitor that reminds me, and it says be who you are meant to be, and you will set the world on fire. So thank you very much for your time today. I hope that some of these thoughts have been helpful.  Closing: (28:26) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Oct 18

28 min 47 sec

Contact Claire Chandler:'s Website: Boost: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong and I would like to say thank you for coming back and listening to another episode of our series. The guest speaker for episode 145 here today is Claire Chandler an acquisition, integration, and onboarding specialist. Claire is a corporate survivor who draws upon almost 30 years of business leadership and consulting experience. One of her specialties is business value creation. In this conversation, you will hear her discuss what finance and accounting quite often get wrong when calculating business value. Keep listening as you will now hear from Claire Chandler with Adam Larson.  Adam: (00:55) So Claire, according to, I was reading that there have been over around 703 IPOs in the US stock market in 2021 as of around mid August, which is when we're recording this, which is 331% more than the same time in 2020. So needless to say, there's been a lot of business valuation happening as companies seek to grow and expand. So as we start off our conversation, can we talk about what drives the value of business?  Claire: (01:23) Yes, please. Yeah. What a great question to open up with, right. So, you know, back in the day we lived in an industrial economy, I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking we are still there. and back when we were more industrial close to a hundred percent, about 95% of the value of a business, any business was driven by tangible assets, right? So things like a company's technology, the products that it made and sold, their operations and of course their financial capital, but we don't live in an industrial economy anymore. We actually live in an intellectual economy. That economy is dependent primarily on the output of a human mind. And I know that sounds bizarre when I say it out loud, but think about it. We're really driven by intangible assets companies, brand its services, more so than its products, the intellectual property, that the knowledge in the heads of the human capital, right? And so with this shift that has happened gradually, but we are fully ensconced in an intellectual economy. That shift also, changed what drives business value. So before it was almost entirely driven by tangible assets today, it's well over 72% driven by the intangibles. And we're seeing this across every industry - in some industries, if you look at say tech and pharma, they're close to a hundred percent driven by intangible assets, right. The products of the human mind. and so it's really critical that businesses pay attention to that.  Adam: (03:04) And then on top of that, you not only are you having to worry about the numbers and the financials, you have to start worrying about, things like ESG and sustainability are becoming more and more essential that you have to report, not only the mind, but also how, how is my business affecting the environment?  Claire: (03:20) Yeah, and it's, and it's interesting to that point, the markets have shifted in that way as well, right? The SEC has become more stringent and, has raised its expectations on what companies do, not only in the sustainability space, but also in terms of how people are treating and nurturing the human capital. So the markets have shifted, the economy obviously has shifted and, you know, the, the more successful businesses have embraced this and sort of incorporated that into their business strategy.  Adam: (03:51) So as we're thinking about businesses and, getting investors and growing IPOs, the other thing I was reading, I saw an article on Fortune the other day, it was saying that there's been over $2 billion of mergers and acquisitions activity in just 2021. I think that was through July, like the beginning of July. We're now like to mid August, you know, how can investors reduce the risk of investing in the wrong company, especially with so many different factors that we were just talking about.  Claire: (04:17) Yeah, it's, it's a huge question. Obviously, the bottom line is investors want to make their money back, in multiples, right? And so the way that to reduce the risks starts with their value creation plan hypothesis. They need to be crystal clear on their end goal, right? The clearer they are on what they want to get out of that portfolio company on the back end, whether it's a holding period of three years, five years, you know, even longer the clearer they are on that going in, the easier it is on the front end to make sure that the company they're evaluating actually has the capacity and the capability to deliver that return for them. Because obviously that is the goal, whatever form it takes, that investor wants to get the most bang for their buck. So they've got to be really, really clear on the hypothesis going in on what they expect to get out of their VCP.  Adam: (05:09) So then on the other side, what about what should companies be doing to, to attract the right funding? You know, cause you got to think about their side too.  Claire: (05:16) Yeah, absolutely. And it's, and it's all about the right funding, right? To your point. And it's a similar process for companies on that, on that side that are looking to grow through the backing of the right investors. So they need to be really clear on their end goal as well. And it's probably not as far out for them, it may not be five or 10 years. It may be, you know, 12 months to 36 months, but they need to deeply understand where they want to take their business and how ready they are to grow in that direction with, or without funding. Right. So, and I say that to really make this point, a lot of startups make this fatal mistake of believing that money is going to solve everything right. We get to the next level. If only we have the financial capital and that's totally false, they really need to evaluate their capacity and capability just like the investor is going to do. Before that investor comes in and does that for them and finds that they're not really ready to grow and scale. So it's not just about getting investment. It's about understanding why you need that investment. Are you ready to take that investment and who is the right source of that funding?  Adam: (06:23) Yeah. Because somebody could come to your startup and say, we're going to give you $2 billion, but if you're not ready to grow, then that $2 billion would just kind of go to waste.  Claire: (06:32) It's going to be a wasted bet on, and both sides are going to be complete failures in that regard, right. Especially if you're talking about an investment to the tune of, you know, a billion dollars or more an investor is not going to do that on a wish and a prayer, they really do need to be very, very thorough in vetting the company they're about to put their money behind. And the company itself has to be really self-aware and disciplined before they take on that level of funding.  Adam: (07:00) So I can imagine that there's going to be mergers and acquisitions that aren't successful. We can, you can read about the famous ones when, I forget which company bought AOL, you know, no one really knows what AOL is anymore. You know, stuff like that. Why do most mergers and acquisitions fail to create value?  Claire: (07:18) Hey, so, you know, in my, in my defense, I still have an AOL email account. it, it's my it's the oldest one I have. And I'm a little bit nostalgic, I guess. So it's, I still use it for personal email, but I digress. Yeah. So Bain and company, it's one of the big, you know, research, houses and they do a lot of work in this space. they put out a global private equity report earlier this year that found that 58% of MNAs fail to create value. And one of the main reasons that they fail is because they over-index on the tangible side, right? They over-index, they over-focus on the due diligence side, the integration side and the management side post-close on those tangible assets that we talked about. And what's interesting is that same study by Bain found that the number one reason deals fail is the quality of the human capital within that portfolio company, specifically the top management team. And so what the sort of the good news about that and I mean, an eternal optimist. So I always look for the silver lining. The good news on that side is that the quality of that top management team, which again, is this combination of their capacity to get to the next level and their capability to, you know, to put the horsepower behind it in terms of depth of talent, et cetera. It's also the number one reason deals succeed. So if you look at that in black and white, if that is the number one variable or wildcard is your human capital on both the failure side, the success side, why wouldn't you spend way more time and attention and effort on evaluating that.  Adam: (08:55) That makes a lot of sense. Do you think that there's an element of the virtual capital? Like the things you can't see, the intangibles, besides the human capital, that could be an element of that, that it's hard to measure that we can't really see.  Claire: (09:10) Yeah. You know, that's, that's always the biggest, I think mental stumbling block when I talk to, you know, folks in the investment community and I say, you really need to spend more, more time and attention measuring and assessing those intangibles. And invariably, they come back to me and they say, okay, that's great. I get that. That's the biggest wildcard I get what Bane is telling us, I get that just from past experience, you know, the, the human behavior, performance capability, capacity, all those things are the biggest wild card. And then the products of that, right? The brand, the ability to innovate, the ability to solve problems, all of those things. but then they follow that up with saying, but they're humans, we can't measure that they're unpredictable, they're total wildcards. And the answer in fact is you can measure that there are ways. And in the work that I do, there are, there are tools, there are scientifically validated tools that will measure and assess these things that we're talking about, the capacity, the capability, the mindset, the coachability often, that's a big stumbling block for an investor coming into a company and saying, you got from point A to point B. We want to see if you can get to point C. There are ways to validate before you put your money behind that business. Whether that top management team can actually receive that coaching that advice and change the way that they do things from management by chaos to a more structured way to get to the next level.  Adam: (10:39) So as I'm kind of thinking about how this connects to our audience, you know, the accounting and finance teams, what can they do right when calculating business value, because I'm sure that they'll be integral in calculating the business value when it comes to ventures or IPO's and all that stuff.  Claire: (10:56) Yeah. They are absolutely integral. And I honestly think our friends in finance and accounting have the best opportunity to turn the tide right. To sort of tip the scales away from over indexing on tangible assets and really incorporate into their process, more of an evaluation and valuation of the, of the intangibles. So, you know, how do you do that? Well, instead of just focusing on, you know, quantifying head count, quantifying customers, taking a look at, you know, have they gotten into any legal trouble in the past, you know, counting up all of the widgets and the tangible assets that make up a company, really upskilling, starting a due diligence that, you know, their process for evaluating, the intangible side, which we already know across every industry drives the majority of the business value. So they need to find ways to evaluate that capacity and capability specifically at the top management level. but they also need to evaluate the depth of the talent behind them. And if they do that, if they find ways to do that, or if they find people like me - we are out there - to help them do that. They're going to be able to help their companies invest in the right businesses with far less risk and far more confidence in success.  Adam: (12:19) Are there specific things that they should avoid when doing that valuation? I know you gave some great pointers there, but what are some steps that they should really avoid or some, some red flags they should look out for?  Claire: (12:29) Yeah. so it's interesting that you say red flags. So I, in the work that I've done, in some of the valuations that I've done for investors, and even on the, on the, on the company side, I have a, sort of a framework that I use and I put together a checklist that I can give your audience, the link to, they can go out and in, in grab it, but it's a great way for companies and investors to, sort of do a self-check on it. It basically comprises the 11 dimensions that drive performance and profitability. So the checklist kind of takes you through each of those 11, and you can sort of self-assess on the company side, or as the investor looking into a prospective company, you know, just sort of rate those things, following the checklist and what it will yield for you is it will help you identify what are my top three profit levers, right? So what are the three dimensions that we have that we have in spades that are competitive advantages for us, that if we put the right horsepower, the right attention behind it, they can really drive the business forward. And conversely, it will help you uncover what are the top three risk flags, red flags, potential derailers that could sink your business. And so investors have used that checklist, yes, for the profit levers, but more specifically to say, are there any answers in here that are deal-breakers that if we knew this upfront, if we paid some attention to this and follow this checklist would make us walk away. So it's really, really important from, from both sides. One to help you press your advantage and play to your strengths, and also to make sure that you go in with eyes wide open and verify before you buy.  Adam: (14:12) Yeah. Verify before you buy is I think it's something that we all should keep in mind no matter what you're doing for sure.  Claire: (14:19) Yeah. Yeah.  Adam: (14:20) Well, Claire, I really appreciate you coming on our podcast today for sharing your insight. I know that our audience will be really be greatly receptive to it.  Claire: (14:30) Well, it's my absolute pleasure. if anyone in your audience does want to grab that checklist, they can go to my website. It's is the fastest way to get to that checklist. Otherwise, if you just go to, there's a button at the top click on checklist. and as you kind of go through the checklist, if you have any other questions you want to reach out and talk specifically about where you are in your business, has somebody like me can help you get ready for your next level. Go to the top of that same page. There's a big button that says, book a call, click that button, pick a time and let's chat.  Closing: (15:07) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Oct 11

15 min 28 sec

Contact Sarah Hoxie: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05)Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong, and I'm here to preview episode 144 of our series. Today's featured guest speaker is Sarah Hoxie. Sarah is the Chief Accounting Officer at LSC Communications. In this role, she is responsible for all aspects of accounting and has overseen various projects impacting the organization. Throughout this episode, Sarah talks about her experience with business transformation projects and focuses on the people involved. Transformations can greatly affect culture, and Sarah explains how to best manage that. So keep listening as we head over to the conversation now. Adam: (00:54)Sarah, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today. And our focus today is going to be around business transformation. And so just to kind of start off, what is your take on business transformation?  Sarah: (01:05)So in my opinion, you know, business transformation, isn't a straight line journey. It's not a matter of starting at, you know, "A" and working your way to "Z", and then, and then you're done. It's really about, you know, looking at the opportunities that are out there in the environment, and adapting to those, whether it's, you know, social, economic, environmental, they're all things that need to be considered. And as you're on that journey, incorporating them as, as they change. You know, in my experience, it's a lot of business transformation is about making the business or making your area of the company continue to remain, you know, relevant and I think the scope can be, you know, as narrow or as broad as, as needed, you know, I think you see a lot of companies that do business transformation well, look at all levels of a business and they never stopped looking for the changes that are out there. Adam: (02:08)So when we look at business transformation, what approach do you take when you're leading a transformation? Sarah: (02:15)I think the first thing that I really focus on is his tone at the top. I think to get everyone in a part of the business or even the whole company engaged in business transformation, they need to view it as a priority from the leaders of the, of the business. And I think it should, you know, my approach has been to involve all levels of the organization, right from, you know, people that have just joined the company or your interns, you know, right through people that are, you know, more senior in individuals, and getting their input. I think they have got to be helping drive some of the, the change, help identify, what the issues are, what the problems are, and then work together to find solutions for them. I think when you get all levels of the business, working behind this kind of transformation, it really does drive better solutions. You've got people that are doing some of the things on a day-to-day basis that can see how they can resolve the issues are they know what the issue is, and maybe don't know how to resolve it, but if you get everyone involved, then all those ideas are coming together and everyone's working towards them. I think another key piece of it is really accountability. Once you have that tone at the top set, and, you know, people are right behind that, then, you know, you can start to encourage everyone to be accountable for the areas they're getting involved in. From an accountabilities perspective, tracking some of the progress on the areas of transformation is really helpful as well, because, you know, if you're three months into this kind of process and you can precisely communicate to everyone, the progress that has been made, you know, and you're doing that through being able to track the progress, it starts to build the momentum for everyone to really get behind, the project. But, you know, it's in, you know, in the organizations I've been with it's, the tracking can take over. You really want something that's simple. That's not taking time away from the actual transformation activity. It kind of going back to what I was saying about getting all levels involved. I think if you're going to get true business transformation, you really need to give people a, you know, a lot of free reign to come up with those ideas. You know, don't set kind of restraints on projects or ideas that can be investigated. And I think that's, that's where I've had the most success when you've really given people a, you know, a free range, maybe hold up a brainstorming session to identify all potential suggestions of how we can do transformation out there and then start to investigate them rather than, you know, giving very tight restrictions on what can be proposed. That's something else that I've seen work well is not losing track of ideas and suggestions that don't necessarily make sense today, but may make sense in the future. Keeping an eye on those is always helpful because you know, the world is continually changing and that that idea or suggestion might be a great in, you know, two or three years time. Adam: (05:47)It almost sounds like you're referring to like a cultural shift within an organization, where, you know, you're changing the tone at the top and you're listening to ideas, even writing them down and keeping them for two to three years, maybe because that idea may be different later. How would you execute like a cultural shift in an organization to make sure that the transformation is successful? Sarah: (06:07)When you think about making it stick? It has to be something that continually comes up in everyone's day to day activities. It's not something that just people focus on for a month and that it's never mentioned again. It's, you know, really keeping it in the forefront of everyone's mind, even if it's small, day-to-day kind of, activities, really, you know, any chance of, you know, small meetings as a team or a larger kind of town halls, really having it as an agenda item that people talk about, that people celebrate. Some of my teams have had a great success in that. And, you know, there's been, you know, recognition and reward for those kinds of, activities, which then starts to drive more, more change within the organization. Adam: (07:05)That makes complete sense. But then how do you avoid people from falling back into the old habits? Because, you know, you can, put it in front of people's faces, but then over time, you know, it's easy to go backwards. Sarah: (07:18)Yeah. Absolutely true. And I think it's very easy when individuals are not seeing the, kind of the fruits of their labors, right. If they don't understand what impact their projects or their involvement is having in, driving change or maybe improving results, then it's very easy to slip back. So the more that businesses and groups can communicate successes, I think it's easier to stop them falling back into the old habits, you know, and I think it's listening to all viewpoints within an organization as well. People that have been with organizations a long time, have a very different viewpoint, than people who, you know, have only been with the company a short period of time. I think it's making both of those groups feel like their thoughts are, and input is valued. You know, people that have been with the organization, you know, a longer time may think, oh, we tried this, it didn't work. and so a lot of it is encouraging those individuals to, you know, be more open to trying again, but also listening to them and say, Hey, why didn't this work previously and trying to learn from those mistakes as well? Adam: (08:44)Yeah. It's almost like the people who've been there a long time have that kind of jaded view and the people who are new may have a fresh, exciting view. And it's bringing those two together, finding that in-between to where, where can we meet in the middle to asking the right questions of the jaded view and then asking the right questions of the person who's never seen it before. Sarah: (09:03)Absolutely. Cause I think you don't want to just dismiss the, you know, the views of people that have been there a long time. There's a lot to learn from them, especially from, you know, not making the same mistakes, but you know, it is a matter of meeting in the, in the middle with it and making sure that, you know, team leaders are all focused on it. I think, you know, it's very easy for an individual team to fall back in all ways if the leadership of that team, it doesn't feel like the project's worthwhile. Adam: (09:35)So what stage of the journey would you find, would you find most businesses today? Would you say most businesses are today in the business transformation journey? Sarah: (09:45)I think it depends on a couple of factors for each individual company. You know, I think it's that where they are in the life cycle of the kind of that company, the industry, that the leadership, but I do think COVID-19 is definitely making more companies focus on transformation, in order to, you know, either to survive or continue to thrive. It's really, you know, pushing the point and making people, focus on transformation maybe earlier than they would have done. You know, I will say from experience, I don't think there should, you know, if, if leaders are debating about whether to, you know, start down a route of business transformation, don't delay it, it really is something. If you're thinking about it, it's probably something you should be starting to do today. And I think, you know, once, once you start to embed a business transformation culture into a company, then it does, it's something that, you know, becomes more natural. It's not something that you tend to focus on necessarily specifically. It just starts to come naturally and, and starts to be, you know, always part of what everyone does. Adam: (11:06)So as we wrap up our conversation, is there anything that you would want our listeners to kind of take away, as they're thinking about their own businesses transformation, thinking of the future of finance and accounting, what does that look like for them as they look today? Sarah: (11:22)Yeah, probably from a finance and accounting perspective. I think there's definitely a lot that can be done around taking out the noise from like the month end, close process, really focused on things that are, you know, very straightforward every month and looking at ways to reduce the time spent in those areas, whether it's making the process simpler for someone to do, or, you know, implementing some RPA, to, to make it, an automated process. But when you start getting, finance and accounting team to thinking that way, what can they take off their plates? That's very straightforward. What can they, that then gives them time to do some of the more interesting factor, you know, aspects of, accounting and finance, get involved in more one-off projects and that really then helps motivate, and develop staff. So it's kind of a, you know, has two great points there in terms of reducing the time, spent at month-end close, as well as you know, that development and encouragement that the staff, as you try and retain them in what is a very difficult employment world at the moment, as people try and retain staff or attract staff. Closing: (12:52)This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Oct 7

13 min 13 sec

Contact Michael Schmit:'s Profile Magazine Article: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson. And this is episode 143 of our series. Today's conversation features Michael Schmit, the corporate controller and chief accounting officer of SWM. The accounting team at SWM has been going through a business transformation, including the implementation of RPA, improved operational analytics and several process improvements to meet the needs of the growing business. And Michael has been the leader of these efforts. In this episode, he discusses the importance of identifying the company's why when considering a transformation and the role of technology in the process, keep listening as we head over to hear more now.   Mitch: (00:51) So business transformation is not really new when it comes to accounting and finance, but the systems, the processes, the things that are being transformed have certainly evolved. So what has accounting transformation looked like at SWM and how does that compare to previous transformation projects or other things you've seen evolve in your experiences?   Michael: (01:11) Yeah, I think that accounting and finance really isn't new, but I think the why we're doing this and the, how we'll achieve this, really has been continuing to evolve, to ensure that we're meeting customer's needs. For instance, the SWM, our accounting business transformation is really following our overall company's business transformation. SWM's has been growing at an accelerated pace, both organically and through acquisition in the last year and a half or the last, I guess two and a half years since I've been here, we've actually grown from about a billion in revenue and 22 production facilities in eight countries to now 1.5 billion in revenue with 36 production facilities in 11 countries. And now we operate in over 90 countries. So we've been really focused on integrating our acquisitions while transforming our own accounting processes, leveraging best practices from companies we've acquired as well as adding new technologies along the way. So our why wasn't to, just, you know, cut costs. It was to obtain synergies from the business, but also improve on kind of our status quo and, add more value from our roles as accountants. The vision for the accounting organization here is to operate as one team and one company to support our company's vision, their knowledge sharing and process improvements and leveraging technologies to execute world-class business partnering and fiduciary excellence. And so all those things are kind of leading the transformation and, you know, we see the fiduciary excellence piece as the absolute minimum expectation. Yeah. That includes complying with all laws and regulations, and to do that as efficiently as possible, but then also business partnering, which is partnering with companies' leadership and management, each other on our teams, and also other groups to provide actionable, insightful reporting to assist in decision-making to achieve the company's vision. So in other words, taking the rear view kind of near view of driving down the road and focus more on what's coming on the windshield and in the future of the road ahead. So this is different than past transformations, I was involved with in other companies, cause I think the why was really always focused on how do we lower costs and the, how was we're going to offshore it to a lower cost place like the Philippines or India. You know, sometimes robotics were in there as well, but really that's the main difference I see.   Mitch: (03:47) We'll get back to the specific, why at SWM and some of the goals and, you know, progress that you've seen in just a minute, we'll go to that. But I first want to, you know, take a step back. You mentioned business partnering another term that's, you know, again, not new, but it's definitely more prominent, I think these days when it comes to accounting and finance. This whole conversation has a lot to do with the future of work. And that's another hot topic, a phrase that is getting thrown around a lot. So before we really dive into what all of this means and the connection between the future of work transformation, business partnering, I'm curious what you think about the future of work. How do you define it? What are some of the main considerations are really, you know, why listeners should be aware of what's going on when people talk about the future of work?   Michael: (04:33) Yeah, to me, the future of work really boils down to value creation. In other words, how can we as accounting professionals add more value beyond what we have done historically and what can now frankly, be done at lower rates in other countries, or be replaced by technology? You know, we're evolving from the history of being just scorekeepers to being trusted business partners. And that is someone that's going to provide those insights to help drive decisions of the business. And, you know, the rate of change now is greater than it's ever been in most industries and it's going to continue to increase. So as accountants, we have to be better prepared to change and help our businesses succeed in this. So we need to be able to evolve ourselves and improve at least at the speed of our business. And why should your listeners be, you know, interested in that, frankly, so they don't get left behind. I mean, I literally, you know, having their roles outsourced overseas or replaced by technology accountants today really must focus on continuing to develop their own business skills and be able to articulate the value they're bringing to the business above, you know, debits and credits and internal controls. That's just not good enough anymore and won't be in the future.   Mitch: (05:56) So that's a great point. And we have a lot of conversations about this and the need for upskilling, reskilling, and technology is a big part of that. And we'll get to technology coming up next, but to connect the dots in our conversations so far, the accounting transformation that you talked about, the specific why at SWM other initiatives, how is that preparing you and your team for this future of work?   Michael: (06:23) You know, we're, we're focusing on, just business driven value, integrators, predictive insights, how to help the future of our enterprise, not just the enterprise today, but also getting the basics and fiduciary portion of our jobs done efficiently and effectively, leveraging technologies. We'll talk more about RPAs and advanced analytics, automated AP online account reconciliations, all those things. A great recent example has been during the COVID-19 pandemic when the world was hit in 2020, suddenly we had our a hundred plus accountants worldwide, all working from home. Luckily we had already started our journey and we'd implemented BlackLine systems, which is an online task management tool and account reconciliation tool at most of our locations. So this it's a cloud-based tool that you can really access from any browser and it's connected automatically to our GL and subledgers. So we were able to prepare, close and prepare our account recs and seamlessly, and it didn't really impact our Sox controls, internal controls. So our internal auditors and external auditors were able to audit and we were able to meet all our deadlines while other companies might have been struggling to kind of change things and have special actions taken during COVID-19. We were already prepared in that front. Similarly, on the AP side, we had implemented, automated AP software system called medias flow, where a lot of our vendors automatically are emailing or sending invoices to that. And then the entire delegation of authority is built in with them there. So, you know, whether it comes to me or our CFO or CEO, we can review the invoice online, whether it's a iPad phone, computer, whatever, and we can make sure that that gets approved appropriately once good controls. So those are great examples of things we've implemented to sort of make the blocking and tackling if you will easier. but really saved us during the pandemic. And so we weren't really behind the eight ball. We were kind of business as usual and, felt that gave us an advantage. You know, we were able to file our SEC filings on time and, you know, get our auditors, everything they needed, the board was happy and still, we executed two acquisitions during the pandemic where other companies were trying to figure out how to, you know, just do the basic internal controls. So I think that really gave us a competitive advantage.   Mitch: (09:06) Those certainly are great examples and it's great progress and a difficult time for many. I also appreciate the football reference with blocking and tackling. I can always relate to that. So good analogy there. And, you know, behind all of this, you, you started it off and talked about it a little bit, obviously the main driver behind transformation, the preparation and everything that goes into the future of work, what you were able to accomplish it's technology. And it talked a little bit about the technological advancements you've invested in you've implemented and some of the, the improvements or the capabilities that were there because of it. Can you take it a step further though, and talk a little bit about some of the benefits, the rewards, as opposed to just, you know, being able to do your business like you were talking about in a difficult time, how has technology enabled you to take a step further as well?   Michael: (09:54) You know, in addition to, you know, black, white, and medias, I mentioned the RPAs, which is robotic process automation. And what that really is, is something that is a computer software package that can mimic human behavior. So it can log in to various systems. You can give the RPA, it's an email. you can have it as long as it's kind of repeatable tasks, it can take data and manipulate it and put it in other places. So a good recent example of that was something actually we implemented during the pandemic. We used sold kind of like this on a Skype call and it all set up. And, we were able to kind of take this program rule-based tasks and eliminate non repetitive, or non value, repetitive manual work in the process. For instance, we had a controller that was spending a day during the close process, taking manufacturing, variances, and certain employee costs and allocating them to multiple sites to multiple product families and product lines. And this required downloads from lots of systems, data manipulation, and literally hundreds of uploads journal entries. So we were able to build an RPA that now does that in the background in about an hour's time. And so while that's happening, that same controller is now spending that time on analytics and helping kind of get data more quickly to the FP&A team, to the leadership team, to operations, to make better decisions quicker. So really he's not working late hours, just closing the books. The data is also happening, and we're seeing the benefits of that, you know, already, you know, other things, other tools, one stream as our consolidation tool, which is, some of your listeners may be familiar with like, Hyperion. And those are pretty common now with large multinational companies, but for a company like us, we're doing acquisitions and there's multiple ERPs. Just, the ability to consolidate quickly pull that in and be in our SEC deadlines. And, you know, we've implemented at least accelerator, which is a ASC 842, solution. And that helped us, you know, we've just bought some companies overseas who had never had to do that before. So inputting that in quickly within the quarter of being able to get them their journal entries, Workiva W-desk for the filings, and then for analytics, we're using Altryx and I've used Tableau in the past as well. And we're continuing to kind of find new ways to use that, to help drive better decisions as well.   Mitch: (12:40) So let's talk about all this a little bit more, you know, he just brought in analytics and obviously that's a key part of it. Technology, the driver behind a lot of the data that's available, as you mentioned. So you've obviously had great success. You've seen the benefits of this transformation and the use of technology. How do you recommend going about it? You know, maybe our listeners aren't working for these multinationals, these big companies that already have this in place. Maybe it's part of a transformation project they're planning, what are some of the best practices or, you know, step-by-step things that they can consider, in order to improve their accounting or finance functions?   Michael: (13:17) Sure. I would, you know, I'd say one thing is don't try to do too much too quickly, and there's going to be plenty of salespeople, vendors, consultants, who are ready to sell you technology with lots of promises that are going to fix problems you didn't even know you had. So I would say don't look for a problem to leverage this cold technology for make sure you're actually have something that is going to add value to the organization by you implementing this, do your homework, make sure there's really real value for you. For instance, if you're at a small company, you may not need an automated AP system. You know what I mean? You may have a small number. It may not be a ton of value there to implement this, or there may be a lower cost provider of some of these things online that, you know, larger companies might not look at so that won't stop vendors and consultants trying to sell you these things that you may not need. But, you know, I'd always say always start small, you know, run a pilot, a proof of concept. So let's say you think there really is value in implementing automated account reconciliation software. There's Trintech, there's Blackline there's others. I mean, I personally like BlackLine, used it at a couple of companies, but, it's very, you know, it's not cheap, it's expensive technology. So you may not need all the bells and whistles of a Blackline at a smaller company. You may not have, you know, multiple locations, multiple locations that in different countries where there may be a lower price that does everything you need. So, you know, do a pilot, do a small taste, try. And if you can, if you can afford it, I would always suggest using an implementation partner, the consultant that, has done this many times before, and maybe, also using a third-party to help kind of evaluate different vendors, because there are lots of products out there for the different, whether it's AP, whether it's RPA, whether it's analytics, there's tons of solutions. And I can't say one better than another because they're better in different situations and for different companies. So, you know, we've chosen the ones that were good for our company for various reasons, but there may be a different solution for you. So that gets back to doing your homework. So all those things, and then finally don't underestimate what it takes to make these changes. You know, you can't do it alone. accountants, sometimes aren't always the ones to get up out of their desk and partner with other people in the business, hopefully nowadays most do, but you have to work with IT. If it's an AP automation, you have to work with purchasing, you know, you can't, you can't do this in a box or you're going to fail, you know, or you're going to implement this great system and no one's going to use it. So, I think that's, it don't underestimate and bring in all those key stakeholders that, are going to be impacted by the technology.   Mitch: (16:24) That's a great recommendation, good suggestions. And I really like how everything you're sharing ties back to, you know, the individual, why or the individual is the individual, the department, the company, whatever, but it's all about what, why, you know, the value to you. So, I appreciate you sharing all that, all those steps. The last question I have for you, if it's all right. And, I like to ask this question when we're talking about transformation, the future of work, things like that, obviously nobody has a crystal ball, but it's nice to kind of think about what may be coming down the road next. Right. So when it comes to the future of work, in the role of the accountant, or, you know, the finance function, what do you predict is going to happen? You know, you talked a little bit about how transformation has changed a little bit because of different things that happen in, you know, in the industry, but what else do you think our listeners should be keeping an eye out for in the future?   Michael: (17:21) Yeah. And you know, I have thoughts on this and I would say it's probably not going to be a tidal wave of all these things happening at once. It'll happen more quickly, I think for the larger multinational companies. But you know, some of these changes may not impact, the smaller, single owner companies and things like that for quite a while. But overall, I see, you know, robotic process automation, mimicking of human actual become cheaper and more easily available. They'll just become commonplace. So that gets back to learning more valuable skillsets for the future accountants. And then as artificial intelligence continues to advance, I think especially in the businesses that can afford it and that can gain the most value from it will continue to adopt things like cognitive optimization, automation, sorry, and, and cognitive engagement is coming, which will augment human judgment, human intelligence. So utilize machine learning, ultimately predictive decision-making and, natural engagement with humans. It'll be, you know, like the robo calls we get that'll turn into business. I think in our lifetime, probably sooner than we realize eventually we'll have, AI in our ERPs. And then our other tools, I think this'll, like I mentioned, mimic human intelligence and eventually completely replicate interactions and possibly even make decisions. So we all have to stand in front of that. You know, I think our government and agencies, our auditors and others will continue to use these tools for their own use. And there'll be more continuing monitor continual monitoring of financial activities, and of accounting. And you know, like I said, it'll eventually trickle down to the smaller businesses, but I think kind of the large multinationals will probably be hit first by the auditors and government and they better stay in front of it in themselves too. So, that's how I see. And I think some of that's already happening, you know, and I just think it's going to be next five, 10 years, not, you know, 50 years.   Closing: (19:35) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Oct 4

19 min 56 sec

About Sylvana Caloni: Crumbles: Savouring the crumbs of wisdom from the rise and fall of Humble Pie: FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05) Welcome back to count me in, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and today you will hear from Sylvana Caloni, as she joins us for episode 142 of our series. Sylvana is a former equities fund manager, a professional certified coach and author of the book, Humble Crumbles. She was an executive vice president when she was privileged to partner with an executive coach. She is now a leadership consultant committed to paying it forward by enabling clients to make an impact at their companies and in their communities. In this conversation, you will hear Sylvana discuss the value of failure, the benefits of clear communication and ways to propel business. Let's head over and listen to her now.   Adam: (00:57) Sylvana, I just want to thank you so much for coming on the count me in podcast today.   Sylvana: (01:01) Thank you, Adam. I really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you and to explore failure and entrepreneurship and all sorts of different ideas coming from our book, Humble Crumbles.  Adam: (01:13) So speaking of your book, Humble Crumbles, you say in that book, failure has a purpose and failure's a part of the process. So can you just start by giving us some more insight into that statement?   Sylvana: (01:25) Yeah, absolutely. So I guess we see across different cultures and across different types of businesses, if you like and academia, that there is a fear of failure. And we, as individuals often are constrained in what we do because of that fear of failure. It may be so great that we prevent ourselves from jumping in taking the leap and starting up a business, or perhaps we have started the business, but because of that fear of failure and because of a fear of not meeting the commitments we've made to our stakeholders, et cetera, again, it constrains what we can do. So if you look at tech companies, for instance, you'll often hear the phrase fail fast, fail often, or if you look at scientific revolutions and innovations and how things have pivoted during this pandemic, actually, if there had not been failures, there wouldn't have been learning. There wouldn't have been multiple iterations. There wouldn't have been new responses to the challenges that are out there. So for Paul O'Donnell my co-author and I, the idea that failure is part of the process is that we do need to sort of remove ourselves from that view that it's first time only time, and we're going to be successful from the get go, because in fact, most successful businesses have started out in some other form in their initial iterations. And it's the ability of the business owners and entrepreneurs to be flexible and to pivot and, you know, take on constructive criticism or take on impartial advice to modify their product or service, which means that ultimately it is successful.   Adam: (03:15) So when you look at these leaders who are having to transition and fail and become more successful, how do you, you know, how do you understand what makes them tick? What do you, what, what can we do to, to look at these people and see what can, what can cause you to fail and keep coming back and keep coming back?   Sylvana: (03:34) It's a great point that I think one of the key points we're trying to make in Humble Crumbles it's that the failure of the business is often attributed to external factors. So someone will say, well, you know, the economic environment deteriorated or technology changed or legislation was too prohibitive. And that's true. I mean, absolutely there can be external factors that impact the success or failure of a business. But what I found when I was an equity analyst and funds manager, was that more often than not the failure of a business was to do with the owners or the leaders, the management of the companies and the problems I often saw were whether they were not self-aware. So they didn't have a sense of, okay, well what makes me tick? What, what are my drivers? What are my motivations? How do I make sense of my world? And in having that lack of self-awareness, they're not then able to engage successfully with others because they take the view that well, it's my way or the highway, or this is the way the world works. So they don't have an appreciation that their own norms, standards, practices, ways of behaving are not universal. They could differ with other people because other people have different cultural backgrounds, ethnic backgrounds, gender backgrounds, it could be a different set of, drivers within an organization. And if at what we show in the book, Humble Crumbles, and it's full title is Humble Crumbles: Savoring the Crumbs of Wisdom From The Rise and Fall of Humble Pie. We share Paul O'Donnell's story. So Paul is my co-author and Paul like me had come from the financial services world. We had both worked at Bankers Trust. So BT co. Us company. In fact, even though we were both Australians and you can hear that in my accent. So we were working in Bankers Trust in Sydney, Australia, and Paul eventually left BT and started up a couple of his own businesses. So he's a serial entrepreneur and his first couple of businesses were in what you might call financial adjacent. So they were similar types of businesses, you know, financial advisory or publishing a financial material, fundraising, that type of thing. And then he wanted to go into a business that was more real in the sense of making something so humble pie was a business that manufactured pies for the retail sector. And then ultimately also he got into wholesale. So it was, it was pies that we eat sweet and savory pies that we eat. And he came from that financial services background with the number of ways of seeing the world behaving and business traditions, if you like, or business practices that certainly worked for him, but there were others that were more relevant to financial services, but not so much to a factory where he had people in the factory kitchen making the pies or sweeping the floors or delivering the pies to the shops, et cetera. So what we found Paul was blindsided in that he just assumed for instance, that the factory workers would, like him, have a view around equity as a way of incentivizing behavior or around bonuses as a way of, you know, promoting work, et cetera. Whereas these people had different concerns, different cares, you know, for them the weekly pay pack. It was what was really important, not some notion of equity or a bonus at the end of the year. So the blind sidedness or the lack of Paul's self-awareness, which he courageously, I have to say. I mean, he fesses up basically in the book and looks at some of the errors he made with. I think, I think he's very generous and very courageous in doing that because what he's doing is he's demonstrating how sometimes the very things that we think are our strengths, if taken to an extreme can actually turn into a weakness or can turn into a vulnerability in a negative sense.   Adam: (08:00) That almost makes me think of too much of a good thing, becomes a bad thing when you say that.   Sylvana: (08:06) Absolutely. Absolutely. And to your point earlier, and I guess I went a little off base, but you're asking me, how do we know if managers or leaders are likely to have failures or create phase? And my point about the self-awareness was that often what I would see when I was an equity analyst is when a manager or leader of a company got onto the front pages of Newsweek business week, wall street journal, quite frequently, thereafter, the company would go down the tubes or at least would not do as well. And that was because those leaders were very egocentric. They were very much about, you know, puffing their own chests and they weren't necessarily engaged with their own teams and succession plans and understanding the different communication styles or the different working styles, or, you know, what were the values of the firm? How did the employees feel aligned with the firm, et cetera? So where there is a high likelihood of failure, because as I say, the leader or the business owner, the entrepreneur isn't sufficiently self-aware to know that his or her way of seeing the world is not universal. Other people respond differently. Other people have different standards, different norms, different practices.   Adam: (09:29) That's really interesting that you say that, there's even in the sporting world, there's a video game called Madden and the person who would be highlighted each year, the next year after they were highlighted on the cover of that one would have a very bad year as in terms of their performance in the game. And I wonder if it's that same kind of, thing that you're mentioning about that, where they're so focused on themselves that they lose sight on what they're supposed to be doing from day to day. And that, that self-awareness.   Sylvana: (09:57) Yeah, I think so. And sometimes they can generate a sort of a false sense of security or a complacency actually, often you find that people become, and we mentioned it earlier about too much of a good thing. Sometimes people become so confident in their strengths that they just think they're infallible, you know, that they walk on water or that, that particular way they've done something works in all situations. But again, going back to that key point of self-awareness, if you're self aware, you'll recognize that the model you use or the way you solve a problem is relevant to a specific set of circumstances and may not be relevant across the board. And if you are self-aware, you're more likely then to be curious and ask other people, well, how do you see it? You know, how would you approach this problem? What am I missing out on? Where am I blind here? You know, I've been successful in this thing before, but tell me what you think might be different this time around. And, in fact, that's another point we make frequently in the book, Humble Crumbles is that, you know, for you to succeed, you need, you, you clearly need conviction. You know, entrepreneurs believe their stuff, right? They believe that their product or service is going to solve a problem that exists out there, and they can become again, too much of a good thing in that they can become so stubborn about that idea, that they don't do the testing, learning, and tweaking, or the, you know, the shifting in, well, how could this product be better? Or how could this service not be working here? You know, what are the nuances of this particular market or this sub segment of the market? So that idea of continually testing and tweaking, being curious, asking for impartial advice, not being offended, if someone sort of mentioned to you that there's some aspect of your product or service that, you know, just doesn't work or it's complicated, or, you know, doesn't really meet the demand.   Adam: (12:06) So it's almost like I hear you saying that, like, things like clear communication and connections are like a very essential part of business. So how can you like nurture your network to make sure that you have those people that you can have those almost fierce conversations with to, to be brutally honest, to help your business succeed and go further?   Sylvana: (12:25) Yeah, absolutely. That's, that's a great point. So the networks are really critical and, you know, often people talk about someone's who self-made millionaire or a self-made entrepreneur, or self-made something else. And I get that point to the extent that they may not have inherited their business or, or whatever the successes they're millions, but they're not self-made in the sense that they don't do it on their own. Nobody does things on their own. They will have been someone who's advised them, someone who's supported them, someone who's championed them, or for that matter, there may be someone who's been an obstacle who's criticized. And, you know, sometimes we hear of great leaders or great entrepreneurs who sort of had a grudge match as it were, it was a teacher, maybe in their youth or a, you know, a stern dad or someone who sort of told them that they were never going to succeed. So they went out of their way to prove them wrong. And that gives them the catalyst or the impetus to go out and, you know, keep working at it and improving the product or service. And as you say, you need a network, you need to cultivate a network. And I mean, that from a positive sense, I don't mean it from an manipulative sense, but ideally what you would do within your network is it you'd go out and find people who sure, are like you, because it's easier to communicate with people who have a similar view of the world or a similar sense of values or similar things that they're passionate about, but you also want to find the naysayers or the people who have very different lived experiences from you, because that will actually help you in terms of testing your idea and testing your blind spots and helping you with risk. Because if you're only mixing with the people who had the same ideas as you, then you're like, it's like group think, right? The financial crisis of 2008, 2007, 8, 9, to me, a large part of that was everybody was on the same merry-go-round and people weren't listening to the signs that things were going astray. And there were too many yes people. So the idea of cultivating a network and making sure that you find people who are very different from you and have very different lived experiences, I think is critical to success and minimizing failure, or more importantly, finding that failure much sooner, because you can, you can rebound if you like from a smaller failure, like a series of small failures, rather than a massive failure, you know, where you put your house at risk or you've put your business completely at risk.   Adam: (15:07) So I have to ask, was Paul able to rebound from his failure in his blind spots, in the factory floor?   Sylvana: (15:16) Yes and no, I mean, I guess in some cases it's tough when your business fails. I mean, we can't take away from it. It, it, you know, it does deflate your sense of self-worth or your sense of what you can do next. What I'd say has been a real strength for him in a real rebounding is that he purposely used those experiences to share his story and then write this book. And in this book, we do a sort of, he says, she says, in a way, so Paul narrates the story from A-Z or soup to nuts to some of your compatriots might say. So he gives that story of starting up this business from having previously a financial services background to moving into the retail pie, making business. And then he, through sharing those experiences starts to eliminate or reveal some of those blind spots. And then I use my lens of both that equity analysts background, and also the coach and mentor to dig a little bit deeper. One of the examples we use is that, you know, clearly Paul could do spreadsheets. In fact, he had amazing spreadsheets. He did the three scenarios of positive, negative, and neutral. What he wasn't aware of was that he has a tendency to be incredibly positive. He's always looking on the bright side and, you know, as a previous salesman, he has what some people might call happy years. So even when he did his spreadsheets, the negative scenario, frankly, was still very positive. You know? So the sales that he had projected even in negative or neutral environments were still overly optimistic. And so again, that opportunity to dig deep and start to notice, okay, so frankly, I'm always positive. So who could I go to? Who could I ask? Where could I get some impartial advice or a different set of eyes to look over my plans, to look over my assumptions, to sort of poke holes in the argument and not take it as I say, as an offense, or become defensive or become even more convicted in terms of your stubbornness around your idea, but taking it on the chin and sort of thinking, okay, all right, well, what could I do differently? And where might that chink in the armor be?   Adam: (17:41) So as we wrap up our conversation, I wanted to come back to that word failure. It's clear that you embrace that word. So can we just talk about why should we not be scared to fail? And, you know, what are some things we can learn from it? And, you know, cause there's gotta be some positives in the actual failure.   Sylvana: (17:58) Yeah, absolutely. And, and so I personally call myself a recovering perfectionist. So I'm someone that historically would have, you know, revised a piece of work 12 times, you know, wouldn't have wanted to put out something that had typos in it, or wouldn't want to lead a group until I had the argument inside out upside down, and I was the expert, et cetera. But what I've found is that if you look again at some of the greatest successes, be it in science or in business, they often did start from what were failures or from an idea that didn't reach its completion in its first iteration. So the thing about failure is if you start to see failure as just part of the process, it's, you know, part of the, the tweaking and the finessing, if you like of the idea, it's just, it comes with the territory there. If you look at Netflix, Netflix, these days is so phenomenally successful, you know, the pandemic obviously has helped. And people being glued to box sets has definitely been a positive for them, but Netflix in its current iteration is not how it started out and its founders and CEO's and management. We're able, again, to tweak, we're able to take advice or at least test the market and make adjustments, modifications, et cetera. So if we can look at failure as part of the process and the more we fail in a managed sense, right? So again, not put the whole house at risk, but you know, grow our capacity, grow our comfort zone and take it on the chin. Then we're more likely to have longer, longer success down the track. And we go to build in, in ourselves and in our businesses, a resilience that you don't have if you always been successful. You know, if you see that with university students, for instance, Paul and I mentor a number of students at entrepreneurial schools or in entrepreneurship, and they may be a star students and they're so frightened of not getting it right. That again, they don't get out of their comfort zone. They don't have resilience. So learning to take small steps coming back from the failure learning well, okay, so I didn't get it right. What could I have done differently? What have, what do I now see was the thing I missed out on? Or what do I now have experience on, or who could I go to, who can give me a different set of eyes that builds resilience that builds a new way of adapting.   Adam: (20:50) It sounds like it does. And you know, you mentioned Netflix was able to adapt itself. And then you think of the opposite of Netflix, which is blockbuster, which didn't adapt itself and ended up not being able to continue or redevelop into a new company.   Sylvana: (21:03) Yeah, absolutely. And see to me, and it's, again, something we speak about in the book is that, you know, being a successful entrepreneur or business person is about managing opposites in some ways, right? Because you have to have conviction, you have to have a sense of competence in the idea. So in a way you're stubborn, but you can't be so stubborn that you're blind and that you don't take on new information or you don't take on legitimate concerns or things that people point out to you. So it's that balancing if you like of, yes, I have conviction, so I'm not going to be swayed from my idea just from, you know, someone who doesn't believe I can do it because they don't know me very well because they're fearful, you know, they wouldn't put themselves in those shoes versus well, actually what they're pointing out to me has some real legitimacy because they have a different experience. They've seen some risks that I'm not aware of. They have had a similar business or whatever. So again, you, you know, you want to reach for the stars, but keep your feet on the ground. You want to have conviction, but not be stubborn. You want to pivot, but you also wanted to develop more in one line as well. So again, it's balancing those opposites.   Closing: (22:26) This has been count me in IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA’s website at

Sep 27

22 min 47 sec

Contact Anders:'s Count Me In Ep. 45: Anders Liu-Lindberg - "Insight x Influence = IMPACT": Resources from Anders: Link to book: Link to the ebook: Link to blog: FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05) Welcome back to count me in IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson. And this is episode 141 of our series. For today's conversation, we welcome back Anders Liu-Linberg. Anders is an advisor to senior finance and FP&A leaders on how to succeed with business partnering. He is a partner, the chief operating officer and the chief marketing officer for the business partnering Institute. Back in episode 45 of count me in Anders talked about how insight time influence equals impact when it comes to business partnering. In this episode, he focuses on the influence piece of that equation and shares how business professionals can increase their influence across the organization. Keep listening to hear more about business partnering and contributing to overall impact.   Mitch: (00:58) So first Anders, thank you for joining us again in our first podcast episode, I know we really talked about, business partnering at a little bit of a higher level. You know, you gave us your definition of insights, times influence equals impact, and we really appreciated all that information you shared. So we wanted to bring you back and for today's conversation, we really want to dive into the influence piece of that equation and how, developing influence leads to more effective business partnering. So to start off our conversation, you know, as far as influence goes, what is the first step? You know, what does it take to be an influential business leader?   Anders: (01:36) So if you're a finance professional today and you want to influence business leaders, I guess the first simple step that you need to take is to identify who are those business leaders that you're most likely to be supporting, because that are always clear to people, right? So who is, who's my stakeholder, who is this person or these few people that I need to influence? I think that's, that's really step number one. And then step number two, once you have intensified them is really to reach out to them and say, Hey, you know, I used to work in accounting and finance, and now when I get closer to the business and, you know, help you drive your agenda, can we have a talk about what you're doing and how it can maybe help, right? So then you can have the first conversation and of course, then you build on it from there, but at two steps, identify and engage and then, you know, we can get it into the more details.   Mitch: (02:33) And then the business leaders that you work with, they're not always just interested in data and reports, right? There's a little bit more of a relationship, I think that has to be built, especially when we talk about business partnering. So as far as influence, how can I become part of the team?   Anders: (02:49) Yeah. So, so key for someone to send to you is obviously that they trust you and in any kind of human relation, you know, we want to get to know people before we start to trust in them, of course, from a finance and accounting perspective, we come often with the numbers and with the data and, you know, the foundation is that they can trust those, right? If our accounting is not working so well and the numbers keep changing, I mean, we need to fix that foundation first because otherwise there's not going to be any trust. The second bit is then to develop the interpersonal trust and build the relationship that can best too, by spending as much time as possible with your stakeholders. So today many finance teams, you know, they sit on their own floor in the building and they sit together and they do finance stuff. But if you want to build relationships with business leaders, you got to get out from that cubicle and move your desk and your chair down to those people you want to support and sit with them, if not for a full week, then at least three to four days a week. And then maybe you can one day finance because that's the best way to build trust, to be around them, you know, have the coffee side chat and all those small info and sometimes follow up is that we need to do, because that's how you get to know people. And if you don't know people, they probably don't trust you either.   Mitch: (04:09) That's a great point. And it is a lot of times I feel some of those more casual conversations as well, where you kind of learn about each other. So putting yourself out there and kind of forcing that opportunity, I think is a great recommendation, kind of building on this, you know, a little bit more, as far as the steps, is there a proven structure, you know, that could help me to really start influencing these business leaders and the decision-making, you know, beyond the relationships. Now let's get back into the business a little bit.   Anders: (04:36) Yeah. So we generally have like a three-step process you could follow. The first step is what we already talked about is to identify your stakeholders or the business leaders that you want to support. And then do a small, let's say a desktop, a biography of analysis and say, how strong is my current relationship with these stakeholders? How much influence do they have in decision making? And what are the currently thinking about, right? Because then you sort of know, you know, that the important ones where the relationship is maybe not so strong and then maybe they don't have such a good impression of you. That's where you need to start to identify the person and say, Hey, I want to sit down, have a lunch or talk with you. So at that talk with our coffee or lunch, or virtual, whatever it might be, you sit down and talk about three things, introduce yourselves if you haven't done that already talk about how their business is going and then, you know, get an idea about what do they think about finances right now, because that tells you one of their priorities and what do they think if you. Then you had, when you've had that talk would be half an hour, an hour, it doesn't have to be long. Then you go back to them and say, thanks for having that chat with me. Now, I know more about your, let's say your top three priorities. Now I want to try to help you. So, can we discuss how it can be a part of that? And so maybe they have some priorities. Some are maybe very far out in terms of this transformation or some very customer centric things, but some of it could be very relevant also to finance and accounting to get involved in. So you might pick one of that top roads and say, I'm going to spend some time analyzing the numbers and figuring out, you know, what could be some good insights that can help you make better decisions in this area. So you spend the time, you know, then you sit behind the desk, you do analysis. Maybe we still have to work with data reports and analysis, just not as much as we do today to generate those insights. And once you have looked at it and probably have talked to some of the team members and that the business leaders team and develops a business context around it, you put it on the meeting with the stakeholder, at the meeting, you present your insights and say, here's what I've learned about your situation, your priority. And maybe you even come with some suggestions of how you can move forward, but then you discuss the insights, you discuss some actions and then you take action, right? That's how you really get involved in the decision-making of these senior business leaders. They want you there, you got to bring the right things to the table.   Mitch: (07:03) And so again, I just want to kind of recap the equation, if you will, that you put out there, insights, times influence equals impact. And I know you were just talking about insights, so tying it all together, a lot of times, as you said, finance professionals have the insights, right? They have the numbers, they have the data, and we're talking today about developing that influence. So even as you follow this proven structure, these three steps that you just summarized for us, I think it's pretty often that you'll see the decisions that are made from your insights are often relayed to you after the fact, right? So a lot of people interested in business partnering, you know, that end piece of the equation, making an impact. They want to get ahead of the curve. They want to be a part of the decisions. So how do I get ahead of that curve and how do I become, somebody who can be consulted for these decisions moving forward?   Anders: (07:54) So I think, I think it's important to state that, you know, Rome wasn't built in a day. So just because you start to come with some great insights, they might say, thank you might have a discussion with you, but there's decisions might still be made behind closed doors with other senior stakeholders, but what's high as you consistently show up with great insights. And you're a great discussion partner and the insights you give these great decisions that leads to great financial outcomes. At the end of the day, the business leaders, they will pull you in more and more. Suddenly, you're not just part of operational discussions where the budget once a year, suddenly you are in part of the strategic discussion to say, what are we going to do in three to five years from now? What do you think business partner and the gold standard of course would be that no business leader would make any important decisions without consulting you the business partner first. But to be honest, I think few people have arrived at this, this stage here. But that's the gold standard you can even go further than, but let's, let's say that for another conversation.   Mitch: (08:58) Okay. That's great. We're again, trying to go full circle here with this conversation and business partnering is such an important topic. It has been for a long time, but it's really top of mind for many finance individuals today. So let's just say I'm often involved in these business leaders decisions. Now, you know, once the decision is made, maybe I don't get the progress, the results, right? The what happens afterwards, then what's really my role. How do I continue to maintain and be a part of that conversation?   Anders: (09:28) I think that that's a great point, right? Because we often talk about business partner as a means to making better decisions in the company. But we also know that just because the decision is made, it doesn't mean that action or the right action is taken, or it could even be the right action is taken, but it doesn't lead to the desired outcome. Right? So the execution part of it while the business partner is not out there moving the nuts and bolts of things that needs to be done, he or she can follow up on these things, be the catalyst that ensures action is taken. And then once action is taken, you follow up on the results, did we achieve what we wanted? If yes, maybe you can push for more, but if, no, you should be part of the conversation to figure out why maybe you would do that independently and come with new suggestions for what to do instead. Right? So business partnering is an end to end activity, starting with, you know, getting hold of the data and the numbers, true to making the decision and going through the whole execution and feedback loop where, you know, so it's, it's a circuit and I think that's very important. It doesn't stop once the decision is made, right. You have to be part of the whole thing.   Mitch: (10:36) So I do want to ask one more question if that's okay, and we can maybe use this as a preview for the next conversation, like you said, but, the end result being impact, right? So if we develop this insight, we follow this full circle of the full feedback loop. And after a decision is made finances, such an evolving function right now, what does impact really look like? And what should a business partner really kind of be focused on when it comes to analyzing the results of the decisions that have been made?   Anders: (11:04) Yeah, so I think, you know, if we talk about the outcomes that we want to create business partners, or, you know, the fan is functioning in general and how we want to measure ourselves. And we firmly believe there are three things to look at. The first is, are we as a business achieving the goals that we want, you know, could be a relational, tactical, strategic goal, and, you know, you name it, but how are we reaching our meeting of beating those goals? That is number one, because we were failing business, we also failing in finance. We cannot succeed in finance by improving a process or, you know, making a nicer tool or something like that. We can only succeed if the business succeeds. So that's, that's number one. Number two is then are you part of it? Are you part of the success and a good measure to look at there is customer feedback or stakeholder feedback. So as a finance function or an individual with multiple stakeholders do you actually ask for feedback, am I part of creating these results here or am I just the person that comes to the report, because obviously those are two different things. And, you know, by all means it could be that the stakeholder says, yeah, you're a great support, I love the report, and I can really use it for a lot, but then you're still just doing the report. That's probably half the third step. The third step is to sort of document what have you been doing to help create this impact? And we use a simple formula there called SCRI most the situation pose the challenge we face as a business that we needed to overcome. What resolution did we come up with and what was the impact? So you sort of, as a finance professional to try to have not a few of these impact stories documented throughout the year. So at the end of it, you know, finance get some power for ourself and say, we have these 35 fantastic impact stories that we were part of to help the business succeed. And boy, did we have a good year this year? Right? So we were also part of the success finance, but those are the three things, you know, how we succeeded in the business, how are we getting good customer feedback? And can we actually document and articulate what our role was in that success?   Closing: (13:09) This has been count me in IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Sep 20

13 min 30 sec

Contact Dana Pascarella: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05) Welcome back to count me in, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson. And this is episode 140 of our series and today's conversation. You will hear from Dana Pascarella, VP of finance at Wesco International. As she talks about staff development. Dana is a finance executive with extensive accounting experience at a global publicly held fortune 500 organization. She is particularly skilled in mergers and acquisitions, debt, financings, business growth strategies and technology upgrades, among other areas, but she is especially passionate about developing our finance staff to ensure organizational success. Let's head over to the conversation and hear more about it now.  Mitch: (00:52) So Dana, from a finance perspective to kick things off here, what are some of the key areas you focus on when it comes to staff development?  Dana: (01:01) Yeah, so ultimately I'm focused on providing my staff, you know, a foundation that will allow them to deliver solutions in the future. So, obviously that's, teaching them the skills to become an expert in their area. Right. I want them to become an expert. I need them to have the basics, the fundamentals, the technical skills, but also I think it's so important, especially with the younger staff that they really start to understand and learn those softer skills. So organization, adoptability, communication, you know, those soft skills are so important and can truly take years to learn and you want them to be able to really be able to draw upon that, that total foundation so that the technical skill plus the soft skill will really provide them something, to draw upon as they move forward in their career.  Mitch: (01:59) Yeah. You know, it's interesting at IMA obviously we focus on management accounting, you know, accounting and finance and the technical skills, the emerging skills are obviously highly important, but we also really try to make sure that the foundation, you know, the, the leadership skills and the ethics, all of that is equally emphasized, I would say, and a lot of the things that we do and now granted it's for members as opposed to staff, but I think the focus is really there. And, it's all about developing that pipeline. Right. And I think that's kind of what you were touching on. So from your experience, from again finance and staff, when it comes to developing your staff, what kind of methods or types of trainings have you attempted, implemented? You know, what kind of training has been the most effective for you and your staff?  Dana: (02:50) Yeah, so definitely every year always focus on goal setting with a couple of stretch goals, right? I want to, I want to challenge them, pull them out of their comfort zone a little bit. But you know, something as simple as regular communication, having one-on-ones and being clear and providing constructive criticism to really help them, you know, improve if you're not providing constant and regular feedback, I don't think individuals know where to begin or what to improve on. So I really think that communication is super important, cross training, getting folks into, maybe areas that aren't their area of expertise, but, allowing that cross training to really build out their, their expertise, involving folks in a new project or a responsibility for a short period of time, if something comes along again, that's part of, kind of pulling them out of their comfort zone, but also seeing how they do with these new projects and give them that role, you know, obviously guide them, but let them be the decision-maker to an extent, obviously, you know, the leader I'd have to provide guidance, but let them participate to understand the different perspectives and see how they would answer the questions. And let them feel kind of part of that process. I also think anytime you can provide a staff an offsite experience, I think that, especially in finance right, we're just the behind the scenes books and numbers. So when you can give an employee an opportunity to kind of better understand the business, the operational side of what's going on, you know, be it visit a branch, an office, accompany an internal audit to a site visit, visit a customer, a vendor. I think that really helps, especially some of the newer staff really put the full picture together. So not only understanding the numbers, but also understanding the why, the how, and how the businesses is running. I just think it helps to put that full picture together and is just so much more valuable as they move forward in their career.  Mitch: (05:10) Yeah, I totally agree. And a lot of great practices there from my own personal experiences, I can say, you know, a lot of what you've shared that I've been through, it certainly works, and it really helps with that stickiness and makes everything kind of make sense, big picture, like you were saying, but I do want to kind of just follow up on what we're talking about here. You've mentioned a few different skills, but when it comes specifically to finance, what are some of the skills you see that are most important? You know, when it comes to staff development, we talk a lot about upskilling or reskilling. Where is the focus today?  Dana: (05:43) I mean, clearly you have to have that mathematical analytical skill set, right. I think, you know, today also having pretty strong IT skills are pretty important and that's all part of kind of that technical skill. But I also think persuasiveness, decisiveness, interpersonal communication skills are, it's all part of, of finance, right? It's more than just that technical skill. It's how do you, how do you deliver that technical answer? How do you, how do you provide that with confidence? Right. It's one thing just to give a number, but if you provide it with confidence and decisiveness, then your audience is, they have comfort in you and what you're delivering. So it's, again, it goes back to, you know, not only those technical skills, but, but having strong, soft skills.  Mitch: (06:35) That's great. And, again, I can really see how everything you're sharing comes together. I can relate personally to some of my experiences. So, like I said, a lot of great ideas, perspective here. I'm curious when it comes to thinking about these ideas and trying to put a plan together, how do you go about mapping out these needs? How do you go about picking these different practices to implement? Is it an individual basis? Is it by department? You know, how do you go about planning your staff development?  Dana: (07:08) Yeah, so I think it is important to kind of first understand the individual's career aspiration, their personality. You know, you want to make sure you're stretching and challenging the right person and the person that you're giving them challenges that fit their personality. Right, so you want to align project and work with those desires because if there's a mismatch, it won't be effective. Right. But it is about understanding that person, their career goals, their personality, and providing challenges and, and stretch goals to kind of push them outside of their comfort zone and see how they perform. You know, some people they're just, you know, you're steady Eddie, but, but some people have a desire to continue to move up in their career. And so you would align projects and responsibilities accordingly. So for me, it's always been understanding that individual person and their desires and their personalities, and then aligning the working accordingly.  Mitch: (08:10) So I will wrap this conversation up in just a minute, but, you know, I want to tie everything together first, before we get to our last question. Obviously so much has changed in the last year and a half that the whole, you know, global business environment. But as far as, you know, your experience in finance over multiple years, how have you seen the skills, the training methods, the different staff development plans change over time?  Dana: (08:38) Yeah, well, I think, I think last year was an interesting example of some of that change, right? We had a, we saw a macro economic environment that could quickly became unstable. There was a tremendous amount of uncertainty globally. Companies' goals and plans changed pretty quickly. We in finance had to be flexible in our, in our approach. I think the basic skills were still important, but we quickly saw an emphasis placed on IT skills and the reliance on technology to stay connected and be successful in our day to day challenges. So, I mean, to some extent we have to change our approach. We had to figure out how to use our apply kind of those historical methods, but in a virtual environment. So I really think the skills are kind of always the fundamental skills necessary for finance, but I think last year was a great example of how we kind of had to change our approach to teach those skills and to stay connected in a day to day virtual environment.  Mitch: (09:42) This will be my last question, I promise. But, as far as the different skills that you've mentioned, the different methods that you've, again, implemented, plans you've put in place for individuals, what are some of the benefits? What can somebody expect to, what kind of rewards can they reap from effective staff development? And what does that really do? Not just for the individual, but for the organization as well.  Dana: (10:07) Well, I think when an employee feels supported, valued, cared for, they feel that the company's investing in them. I think, you know, in return, you get, you get employee engagement, you get an employee that's willing to work for a company and help to drive results. You get that loyalty, the reduction in turnover, and all of that increased employee engagement, I believe leads to improved performance. So also from a company's perspective, you have a trained up employee, if you will, that can easily be slotted within different roles in the company. So it creates not only opportunity for employees looking to kind of grow, advance in their career, but it also provides an organization, the ability to be able to look within to hire before going external. So, you know, it's beneficial for both, both the employee and the organization and it overall it's, it improves morale. It just creates a strong, healthy environment.  Closing: (11:15) This has been count me in IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit I

Sep 13

11 min 36 sec

Contact Jennifer Booth: Booth’s bio: information on LeaseQuery’s 2021 Lease Liabilities Index:

Sep 7

19 min 19 sec

Contact Donald Scherer: about Donald Scherer:

Sep 2

19 min 16 sec

IMA Website: the CMA Certification: nearly 50 years, the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification has been the global benchmark for management accountants and financial professionals. Why? Because CMAs can explain the "why" behind numbers, not just the "what." And that can give you greater credibility, higher earning potential, and ultimately a seat at the leadership table.FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam (00:05):Welcome back for a special bonus episode of IMA's Count Me In podcast. As you know, this series is dedicated to bring you the latest perspectives and learnings on all things affecting the accounting and finance world, as told by the experts working in the field and thought leaders shaping the profession. Well, IMA is pleased to announce that it has continued to shape the profession through its CMA certification and has just officially certified it's 100,000th. To celebrate this milestone IMA has planned a month long celebration to promote the impact the CMA has had on the accounting and finance profession. To kick off the celebration, IMA's brand content and storytelling manager, Margaret Michaels, spoke with IMA's senior vice-president of certifications, exams, and constant integration, Dennis Whitney, about the state of management accounting profession and the trends impacting its future. Keep listening to hear this insightful and celebratory discussion about IMA's CMA program.Margaret (01:08):Great. Well thank you Dennis for joining the Count Me In podcast. The first question is about the certified management accountant or CMA program that was launched in 1972 by IMA. Can you tell me a little bit about what the impetus for creating a certification program like this was?Dennis (01:30):Yeah sure Margaret, thank you for having me today. I'm very happy to talk about the CMA program. Yeah, it's interesting, back in the 1960s, IMA started seriously thinking about a certification program. The impetus behind that was that rightly so they believe that management accounting was a distinct profession from public accounting and that the competencies needed inside organizations were different from public accounting. There was quite a bit of overlap. You know, financial accounting is necessary both for public accountants and accountants working inside the company, but there are distinct competencies, cost management, financial planning, and analysis that are very important for accountants working inside organization. So they identified that need and they started the planning process to develop the CMA program. And it took several years of planning, but they had their first Board of Regents meeting in the beginning of 1972 and rolled out the first exam in December of 1972.Margaret (02:44):Wow. So the CMA has a long history and how does IMA ensure that the program is relevant to the profession right now and evolves alongside it?Dennis (02:56):Yeah, the CMA program has evolved quite a bit over these, almost 50 years now. You know, when we first developed the CMA in 1972, there was more of a focus on cost accounting, but today the focus is more on a planning, analysis, decision support, and also technology and data analytics. So the way we keep up with the profession is, you know, we're constantly scanning the environment, reading research papers, talking to CFOs, corporate controllers. But what we also do is every six years or so, five to six, seven years, we do what's called a job analysis survey. So with that, we identify the tasks that management accountants do every day and what they need to know to do their job efficiently and effectively. And so from that research, we're able to develop the content specification outlines and the new exam and keep up to date with the profession.Margaret (04:02):And how does continuing education fit into the CMA program?Dennis (04:07):Yeah, well, you know, it's interesting that you use the word program because the CMA is a program. It's not just the exam. When you finish the exam, you're required to do 30 hours of continuing education every year, including two hours of ethics and the reason for that is management accountants need to stay on top of the latest trends in the profession. They need to develop new skills, new techniques. You know, if you got your CMA 20 years ago, you know, most of that knowledge is still relevant, but there are new skills and in order to maintain your relevance on your job and add value to your company and also help you develop your career, it's very important that you keep your skills current. So that's why we have the continuing education as part of the program.Margaret (04:58):That makes sense. And I'm sure that continuing education aspect appeals to a lot of professionals who are looking to stay current right now. In looking at the growth of the CMA program, it seems as if the CMA has been growing most significantly in the last five years with 50,000 CMAs added from 2016 to the present. And for perspective, it took 50 years or from 1972 to 2016 to reach the first 50,000 CMAs. So what trends do you think are contributing to the CMA's astronomical growth in the last five years?Dennis (05:39):Well there are a couple of factors that go into that. First of all, for most of our history, we were pretty much a US, primarily a US certification. I mean, we are still a US certification, but our candidate growth has expanded beyond the US. So about 10 years or so ago, we started seriously looking to develop markets overseas. So we've seen tremendous growth overseas. Now we're still, we're growing actually quite well in the US, but we're actually growing very, very well overseas, especially China. We've seen tremendous growth in China. But we've also seen growth in Europe, middle east, very strong growth in the middle east over last 10 years. And India, India is a market now that's really growing quite a bit. And also Southeast Asia, for example, in the Philippines and Vietnam. So it's a global growth and that's attributed, contributed a lot to the growth of the program. The other thing is that we've, we really work hard to communicate the value of the CMA. And for example, we have every year now for the last, I'm not exactly sure how many years, five years or so, we've been doing a commercial and an ad campaign where we make sure that we tell the public, not just our CMA's and our candidates, but tell corporations through business development and tell the public through marketing, how relevant the CMA is. So that increasing exposure has more people who know about the CMA and more people who realize the importance of the CMA, particularly hiring managers. So we're seeing, for example, more ads saying CMA preferred and I think those are the reasons primarily for the growth. Well, one other thing actually is a bigger exposure on the university campuses. So more students are interested in the program as well.Margaret (07:54):That makes a lot of sense and clearly now more than ever, hiring managers and organizations are faced with challenges revolving around rebuilding post COVID and the talent war that we hear about where there's fierce competition for CMAs in particular. So as organizations look to build a more enhanced digital capabilities and transform their finance and accounting departments, how does the CMA specifically prepare them for those types of challenges?Dennis (08:35):Well the CMA has a very unique set of skills. So, you know, for example, over the last year we all had the terrible challenge of the pandemic. A lot of companies struggled, but it really was the accountants working inside organizations, many of them CMAs, who were able to help companies manage cash better, to implement strong internal controls, to identify risks. And those risks also extend to information technology risks like cybercrime, cybersecurity is a big risk these days and management accountants, CMAs, can help in identifying those risks and identifying ways to mitigate those risks. So that's on the one hand in maintaining a company, as stewards, good stewards of the company, financial stewards, but also as we move out of the pandemic into a new world where technology as you say, will be more and more part of our lives, particularly artificial intelligence. Management accountants, CMAs in particular, have the ability to work as strategic business advisors to senior management. So they can sit at the table, help them to identify new opportunities for growth, ways of adding value to the company, because they have the critical thinking skills, the strategic insight skills, and these strong financial analysis skills to help companies create competitive advantage and become successful for the long-term sustained success for the long-term.Margaret (10:22):And sustain success for the long-term definitely involves strong competency in technology, data analytics, and other emerging areas. And so the CMA exam has to reflect those competencies and has to make sure that people that earn the CMA are entering the workforce ready and able to handle those types of challenges. And in 2020, ICMA introduced a revised CMA content specification outline to include new competencies in technology, data analytics, and other emerging areas necessary for management accountants to do their job. So what was involved in updating the CMA exam?Dennis (11:08):Yep. Well that's, you know, that's a big job and it's, you know, it goes back to what I said a little earlier about doing a job analysis survey. So, you know, we want to make sure that our exam stays relevant and as you say, you know, technology is impacting all professions and it's having a big impact on the accounting profession. So technologies like RPA, blockchain, artificial intelligence, they are currently impacting the jobs and will do so even more in the future. So, you know, we want it to reflect that in the exam to make sure that our management accountants or our CMAs have the skills that are needed now and in the future. So what we did is we surveyed all of our members around the world, plus other management accountants around the world too, you know, we had a very long survey. It's almost, it takes about 45 minutes to complete. So it's a big commitment of time on the people who participate, which is a great benefit to us, but we asked them what they do on the job basically. And when we did that, we saw that technology and data analytics is becoming more and more and more important in their everyday work. So that's why, what we did is we took those results and work with the Board of Regents who did say, a committee of CMAs who helped govern the CMA exam. We work with them to identify the actual skills and the learning outcome statements that they need to be up to date with those technology and analytical skills. So we created the new content specification outline along with the learning outcome statements, which go into a lot more depth. And then, you know, from that there's a lot more work too, because then we have to develop new questions, which is a long process. We have to make sure that we communicate the changes to our stakeholders, including our candidates of course, and our CMAs, but also our review course providers. They need to know what's going to be on the exam. So it was a big process. It really takes about, you know, from the beginning of starting the job analysis survey to actually coming out with the new exam is probably close to a two year process.Margaret (13:40):That's a really long timeframe and it certainly makes sense that you have to take into account all of those various stakeholders that you mentioned. Earlier you talked about students and how they oftentimes just learn about management accounting in either entry-level jobs, or maybe if they're lucky a professor mentions it. And they then enroll in the CMA program and take the test and study for it while they're in school. What is IMA doing specifically to help students and make them workforce ready, able to succeed in an environment where technology skills are as important and as foundational as finance and accounting ones.Dennis (14:32):Yeah, we're actually doing quite a bit. We have, for example, we have the campus influencer program, and this is a program it's managed by staff, but basically volunteers go out and they talk to students. They give presentations to students about a rewarding career in management accounting and also about the CMA exam. We have a, every year we have what we call the Student Leadership Conference, where students, really from all over the world, come to learn about the profession and in particular, they can go to sessions, for example, on data governance, which is actually a section on the CMA exam and they can learn about those skills and then apply them when they go back to school in their classes. We also have, we just started what we're calling a student series of bi-annual panel, where we invite professionals, successful management accountants, mostly CMAs, or CFOs, or corporate controllers and they talk about their career, their job and explain how interesting a career it is and what skills they need to do their job. And I mean, in terms of resources, it's a long list of resources to talk about one, is the CMA. So we actually give scholarships to students to take the exam for free. So each college and university can give up to 10 scholarships to their top students and they can take the entire exam at no cost. And that's been very successful. In fact, I think there's been close to 16,000 scholarships granted, and these are granted throughout the entire world. So it's been a very successful program. The thing about the CMA is you can take the exam while you are in college, you know, generally should be junior or senior to make sure you have the coursework and then you have seven years to get the experience to earn the CMA. So it's a great way to show that you have mastered these skills when you're looking for new jobs and including those technology skills, which you mentioned, you know, and then also just with the student memberships that we have, it's a very nominal fee and you have access to our strategic finance magazine, which has articles on technology every month. We have our research reports, you know, we did a recent report on RPA. So I think, you know, we do quite a bit for students and the future, I think, is going to be bright for the CMA program because there's a lot of young people interested in it and they're getting the skills they need to have successful careers.Margaret (17:34):It sounds like IMA puts a lot of weight on making sure that there is a pipeline of talent and grooming future leaders through all of these kinds of student initiatives. So it makes perfect sense also when we're celebrating the 100,000 CMA to talk about the future as lying with undergraduate students and making sure that we're preparing them to be workforce ready and able to handle the challenges that will come with the future.Dennis (18:09):Yep, absolutely. We look forward to the next 50 years. I certainly won't be around for that, but I look forward to seeing much success for the CMA program in the future and another 100,000 CMAs.Closing (18:28):This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at 

Aug 30

18 min 49 sec

Contact Demetrios Frangiskatos: at BDO: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch (00:06):Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 137 of our series. Today's conversation is between my co-host Adam and the co-leader of BDOs SPAC assurance practice, Demetrios Frangiskatos. The SPAC, Special Purpose Acquisition Company market has long-term implications that cannot be overlooked. Demetrios joins us to explain factors currently driving the market as well as other considerations and risks. To learn more, keep listening as we head over to their conversation now. Adam (00:48):Demetrios, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today. To start off our conversation, where's the SPAC market now and what factors have been driving its activity and is it still a viable option to going public today? Demetrios (01:02):Thanks for having me, Adam and looking forward to our discussion. Yeah. You know, the SPAC market has been on a roller coaster ride over the last probably 18 months and all of it is sort of been going up just at different speeds and different levels. The market right now is probably a little slower than it has been, you know, earlier on in the year with regards to initial public offerings and raising capital through the pipe market, but there's been no indication from, you know, whether, the bankers,, attorneys sponsors, what we're seeing in the marketplace that it is still a viable option. We're still seeing activity. We're still seeing SPACs raising money. We're still seeing spot sponsors, which include asset managers and strategics and high net worth individuals who have had a lot of success in doing M&A, looking to raise capital. So I don't see it slowing down. I think we were sort of in an unprecedented market at the beginning of the year and that incline had started from the year before, and that might've been a pace that was difficult to continue following. But it still seems like it's going strong and you're still also seeing even the traditional IPO market go strong. So they both seem to be viable, options that are continuing in the marketplace, as well right now. Adam (02:51):So back in April of this year, the SEC issued a new guidance regarding, related to warrants that seemed to shake up the market. Can you talk about what happened there and what implications were for sponsors and target companies alike? Demetrios (03:08):Yeah, of course. Yeah, that was, that was a bit of a splash in the market with respect to the accounting behind warrants was dealt with in a certain way for a long period time and with the SEC statement it changed the direction of that accounting from what was fairly easy to account for the warrants as equity instruments, to if the warrant instruments had certain clauses they would have to be reclassified as liabilities. And what did that do, that caused, you know, there was at least 400 SPACs out in the market that raised capital, that had to reevaluate it. That was de-SPACs that occurred in the marketplace, where the warrants carried over from the original offering into the new operating company that became public that had, restatements. So it caused quite a bit of noise. And, you know, the timing was interesting because the statement came out in April and then in March, I shouldn't say then, but prior to that in March, we had started seeing a little bit of a slowdown in the market. I think the pipe market was reaching a bit of a capacity point in how much private investment was going to go into these SPACs and the combination of those two really, really put a pause in the marketplace. And it took, it took about, you know, maybe a couple of months for the market to start getting back up and going and enough time for the companies to evaluate what the rules mean with their current equity instruments, you know, attorneys to evaluate the structure, including the bankers. And initially there was a lot of hesitation and what to do, whether to file new SPACs with, you know, the legacy terms and my ability accounting, try to restructure these agreements so that they have equity accounting, and that started shaking itself out and initially we saw mostly filings of you know, saw the restatements on the old, on the existing companies. We started seeing filings of SPACs with, warrant instruments with liability accounting, and now we're starting to see a shift where the sponsors and the bank community and the attorneys are working on instruments that will, get these warrant instruments to equity accounting and you know, we're working through several within our firm as well, so you're starting to see the market evolve and address some of the concerns that the SEC presented in their statement. Adam (06:06):Can you maybe touch on the regulatory focus that continues to increase, such as the current chair's Gensler's the statements that he's made? Demetrios (06:14):Yeah, no, of course. I think, you know, you're going through changes in the administration right now, because of the presidential change so that's, we'll probably gonna see some shifts in regulatory focus and, you know, the appointments that are being made and coupled with, you know, Gensler's comments, maybe a month, month and a half ago, he was talking generally about the capital markets and there's been an uptick both in traditional IPO's, and that there's an expectation that will continue. But did talk about SPACs, and their sort of their resurgence from, you know, these were vehicles that existed several years ago, or much longer than several years ago, but they just weren't, they weren't being used as often and obviously now the activity is tremendous. And he was, you know, he was focusing on our investors protected appropriately with these SPACs specifically. I think his focus was on retail investors and them getting the appropriate information, that they need both on the initial IPO stage and in the de-SPAC when the target is the operating companies identify and the DSPAC occurs and I think he was cuing that there should be some focus on this and make sure with the volume that's going on that the disclosures and the information flow that's getting to investors is at the right level. And, the second point he raised, which I think has always been something that's been a focus is, just generally speaking the efficiency of the vehicle and whether, you know, is how it compares to traditional IPO. Obviously, the SPAC sponsor is the ones that are raising the capital and are the ones that are looking for the operating company. There's a certain level of dilution and costs that they bring to the table. The SPACs that we're you know, in the current market, maybe several years ago, they didn't have pipes, but now they have pipes which are private investments in public equity. So there's significant capital being raised through that and that they're getting discounted pricing. So the combination of all that is a concern that gets brought up, are the retail investors aware and, are they properly, being, you know, evaluating their decisions with the information for what's going in? So it's clear that there's going to be some heightened focus on SPACs, disclosure, the right level of information for investors, and then ultimately I think when these operating companies de-Spac into the entity and become new public companies, just that there's a right level of a bigger focus on the financial reporting side. I think you had seen several statements from the SEC earlier on in the year just about things that investors should be aware of with these vehicles and some of the risks that they pose. So there's no doubt, there's no doubt and we're seeing it as well. There's a very heightened focus on these vehicles and where they're going. And, I think more to come, right, I think with the change in the regulatory body, or the individuals in the regulatory body, and some of these statements it's clear that there's going to be a, there's probably going to be more focus obviously like I mentioned, and probably some changes come. Adam (10:13):Definitely. Now you just mentioned the sponsors of a SPAC transaction. Could you maybe break down everyone that's involved in the SPAC such as like the target, the auditor, et cetera, just so we can get a full understanding of what that takes? Demetrios (10:25):Yeah, no, of course. So typically, what you see in a situation where a SPAC, is created and wants to raise capital is certain individuals that are viewed as the sponsors of the ones that are effectively driving. They're going to drive this SPAC to buy a company, formed together and come together and generally speaking, maybe they think about, you know, their expertise, areas of focus that they've had in the past, whether it's healthcare, financial services, technology, and they combine certain individuals that are viewed as the sponsors because they're the ones that have the experience and sort of having the vision of what they want this vehicle to do. And then once they do that, they get together and come up with sort of their strategy or their plan and what they want to do, you know, what kind of company they want to buy, how much money they need to raise, and what markets they want to chase that because they also want to use their experience in order to help, you know, execute on this transaction and potentially help the company in the future once that these SPAC happens. So they get together, then they identified a banker, an attorney, and an audit firm to work with them, to work through the initial process, they come up with a dollar amount, they identify who they want to raise through the counsel of the banker, that process, you know, beginning to end, probably it takes about two months, maybe two and a half months, sometimes sooner, but that's the approximate range. They raise the capital, a hundred million, 200 million, 300 million, and then they start the process. They have, the vehicles usually have 18 to 24 months to complete the transaction. If it doesn't get completed in that timeframe, the capital that was raised gets returned to the investors. So they do have a clock that they have to work on and during that period of time, they go out into market and try to identify the right target, that they wanna invest in and that wants to de-SPAC and reverse into this company and become the new public company during the process. And that usually, doesn't have a set timeframe because it could take, you know, four or five months, or it could take a year, to get to that point and figure it out. Deal gets announced and then there's a process to go through a registration statement filings with the SEC, and then ultimately once the de-SPAC process occurs, then the, that operating company that was being targeted becomes the new public company, that goes forward and changes their ticker symbol and runs the operations from there. The board, which I didn't mention initially, there's a board that's set up with the sponsor is when the initial offering happens, that carries over, but there's sometimes there's transition planning and things of that sort, after the de-SPAC happens, some board member stay, some don't in where the new operating company goes. That's the short, that's a really short summary of the process, at a high level. Bankers obviously helping the sponsors raise the capital, attorneys are working with the sponsors on various elements of, you know, structuring agreements, working through the legal and regulatory issues around initial filing, and the audit firm, which is us, we do the audit work around the sponsor company audit that's needed for the initial offering. Sometimes we'll do the audit work for the operating company. The accounting firms also help, if they can't, they can't do both there's independence issues, but they could help on financial reporting. They can help on due diligence, they can help on tax structuring. It's a fairly complicated process, and involves multiple parties to get to the ultimate execution of the operating company going public. Adam (14:47):Definitely. so what kind of considerations should that operating company be thinking about when it's time to de-SPAC? You were just talking about de-SPACing, but what should they consider? Demetrios (14:57):You know it's a big, big change for these operating companies to, go from a private reporting environment, to a public reporting environment and I think there's a lot of things they should be considering, you know, from various elements of the business, marketing timing considerations, you know, when should they be getting ready? How quickly can they be ready? If the de-SPAC happens in a short period of time, will they have the right infrastructure in place, financial reporting considerations, right? Like what type of people do they have, processes? Do they have the right technology to be a public company? The reporting timelines are dramatically different, so they need to be thinking about that. Internal control considerations. Do they have the right control processes and, you know, do they need to evaluate anything from an accounting standpoint, as well as an operational standpoint, because there's just greater consequences to getting things wrong obviously when you're a public company with shorter timeframes to get things finalized. I think corporate governance and committee considerations are super important. Do they have the right board members? Do they have the right committees? Have they set up the right audit committee to work through, you know, all things that are critical when you become a public company is something they should be thinking about. And then ultimately just an operational standpoint, have they set themselves up as well to manage through a transition like this that's going to have sort of, you know, regular evaluation over their earnings and reporting and obviously that the information their flowing to the public is, has got a high degree of quality and accuracy as well. So there's, you know, from a governance standpoint, I think there's a lot of considerations from a control standpoint. There's considerations as well, although some of those may have existed already and then, you know, financial reporting and controls are, I think, extremely critical because I think those are the biggest leaps in transitions for a company that's private to go public in a short period of time. Adam (17:33):So how can that same operating company avoid financial reporting risks? Demetrios (17:38):I think, you know, when, before they think about going public, I think they really need to sit down and have a clear plan on, you know, what does the timing look like for the financial reporting needs of a public company. You know, so if they have to do 10-Qs, they have to do a 10-K, a proxy, all those things need to go out within set timeline. What is their financial reporting department look like? Do they have adequate resources, to be able to report? Do they have the right cutoffs and things of that sort so that they can have a financial report close process that could manage through that? And then I think while they're working through that, I think they also need to evaluate some of the complexities that go with being a public company which includes, you know, if their domestic or international, or whether in the GAAP standards, IFRS standards, public company disclosure requirements, you know, which include issues related to identification predecessor entity, form accountant and financial statements, just various things that need to go into a 10-K or 10-Q that they may not have to include before. There's a various gap that may be different from them being a public company to a private company. Application of certain gap that just applies to jus public business entities like earnings per share, segment disclosures, you know, other disclosure requirements, and just various assessments I think as well. There's also considerations with respect to certain things having different timelines for private companies and public companies with regards to accounting standards. So a private company, it may be due two or three years later, for them to adopt it, for public companies sooner. So really having a detailed plan walking through all this I think is extremely important for these operating companies, because I think they'll face a lot of new challenges from a financial reporting standpoint or, you know, just differences that they have in their current structure. Adam (20:13):That makes complete sense. You briefly mentioned the board earlier when we were talking about the roles, but what role does the board play during a SPAC? Demetrios (20:24):Yeah, that's a great question and I think that's a big consideration for the sponsors early on in the process and I think, you know, when they're working through evaluating who the right board members are, I think there really needs to be a thought on their skill sets, experience, industry knowledge, have they dealt and been on public company boards before and, you know, evaluating all those skillsets, I think is extremely important and making sure that aligns with the strategic approach of the SPAC. So I think there's a balance of operational focus with strategic oversight, and needing some experience with the SEC, with the PCOB and frankly, I think there's also a lot of value in having, you know, board members that, and obviously the vehicle has gained its momentum and, you know, the period of time it's been around is long but the number of people that have had experience with it is probably within the last few years, but getting board members that maybe have some experience with the SPAC process and de-SPAC process, I think all those things can be extremely valuable with the board and because I think there's just challenges that you run into and, you know, whether it's obviously initially raising the money, compensation structure is identifying the operating companies and whether they have the right, you know, infrastructure. So a lot of that, you know, guidance is important and experience is important from a board perspective and balancing, you know, different types of experience to help the SPAC and that de-SPAC process of course. Adam (22:30):Definitely. Now when you think about all the volume of SPACs that are coming into the market, what kind of pressure do you think it's going to feel? Demetrios (22:39):Yeah, it's an interesting point, right? Cause I think when you originally asked me about the vehicle and is it something that's still viable. I think, there's no doubt that it's viable and it's going to continue being used, but I think we will see how this market plays out once you start seeing the 18 and 24 month windows start expiring and how many of the SPACs actually execute their plan to de-SPAC with an operating company and with the volume of activity that we had between last year and this year, I think there's, I don't know where the last count is, but there's at least over 400 I think out there right now chasing operating companies and I don't know how many filings are with the SEC right now. It could be in the hundreds. There's going to be a significant amount of SPACs that have capital that need to be deployed. And, I think that saturates the market with capital that needs to go to work and the question is, you know, are, you know, are there enough companies out there that are ready to go public and have the right business model and maturity to be a public company? You know, that's a big question. You know, you're seeing some of these SPACs starting to focus on foreign entities, because maybe it doesn't have the same level of saturation as the domestic markets do. So I think you may see some refocus there. You know, I think if you look at the second quarter there was definitely an uptick in that part of the market. So there's, I think it'll be very interesting and I think that's one of the challenges the market may face is, are there enough companies that can actually be public companies and ready to be public companies for the amount of SPACs that exist in the capital and I think that's gonna put a little pressure on the system and something to watch over the next, you know, 6 to 12 months. Adam (24:57):So speaking of the next 6 to 12 months, you know, as we wrap up our conversation, what's kind of the outlook for SPACs for the rest of 2021 into 2022. Demetrios (25:07):You know, I think, in all my conversations and from what I'm seeing in the marketplace, I think these vehicles are here for that timeframe. At least I think they'll probably, you know, continue to be around after that. The conversations I have with sort of the market makers, everyone views them as a viable vehicle. So I think there's still strength in, you know, the approach that they're taking. Obviously the regulatory environment may shift some of that and change some of the direction. We're seeing an increase in activity now and we actually expect based on the conversations we're having and the dealings with our sponsors that I think, you know, September, October, November timeframe, we'll probably see a bit of an uptick just cause, you know, there seems to be interest in the marketplace to start, you know, raising capital at a higher level and if some of the, it seems like there there's an intention to develop warrant instruments with equity characteristics so that could simplify some of the accounting there. So I think you're going to continue seeing momentum in this space. I think, I don't think that there's going to be, I don't think you're gonna have the same pace you had at the beginning of the year. I think it's hard to do that, but I do think you'll have a steady pace and you'll see this vehicle here next year as well and, I think it just, it seems to have found a part of the market that that's very receptive to it and feels it could really be effective in deploying capital. Closing (27:06):This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA’s website at 

Aug 23

27 min 27 sec

Continue the conversation with David! EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch (00:05):Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 136 of our series. Many would describe the global business environment over the last year and a half as rather turbulent. From accelerated growth due to technology, followed by the effects of COVID-19, burnout has become a very common theme in the workplace. David Shar, business psychology expert, and founder of Illuminate PMC joins us to talk about what businesses and people can do to avoid burnout and find real meaning in their work. Keep listening as we head over to the conversation now.Adam (00:49):So David, thanks so much for coming on. Burnout is a word that I've been hearing a lot lately, especially with people coming on the other side of the pandemic and coming out of their homes a little bit more, but so many people have been stuck in front of computer screens in their homes for so long. Can you just kind of talk about what is burnout?David (01:07):Yeah. First of all, thank you so much for having me Adam. So burnout is definitely becoming a little bit more of a popular topic. Fortunate for me, unfortunate for everyone, I guess. And it is, becoming more and more universal, especially with what everyone has gone through and were not done, like you said, as we are now leaving our homes and going back to work and, many of us will be teleworking and be on fully virtual teams, but whatever that means going on to that, and I know it's a horrible term because it's used so much, but to that new normal, we're not out of the weeds yet. This is when, we're all going to have to start to really cope with what we've gone through and burnout by definition is typically defined as having three pieces to it. The first one is this emotional exhaustion and emotional exhaustion is often misunderstood. It's not physical exhaustion, it's not mental exhaustion, but it does lead to those things and even lead to physical ailment, but it starts as emotional exhaustion. The second piece is a general cynicism of work and, that's where we start really putting up barriers between ourselves and our coworkers and our clients and if we have employees between ourselves and our employees, we have this general sense of cynicism and we separate ourselves from our work as much as possible, mentally. And then the final piece of, burnout would be a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. And what that is, is that we feel like we're turning our wheels twice as fast and getting half as much done, or we feel like we're putting in the effort, but not getting the reward and maybe that means the compensation, dollars and cents compensation, or maybe it just means the recognition or the positive feelings or whatever it is we're putting X in and we expect to get Y out and there's an imbalance there, which is either real or just perceived, but either way it will take you to the brink of burnout.Adam (03:48):So as you described all of those three things, I know that I've been there, I'm sure you've been there, I'm sure many of our listeners have been there. What can business leaders do to prevent that burnout?David (04:01):Yeah. Another great question. So, right. We've all sort of been there, especially over the past year and a half. You know, who hasn't felt extremely cynical, who hasn't felt emotionally exhausted as they're trying to learn to do their job, in a new reality and, you know, within accounting, a lot of your work could be done virtually and a lot of you may have been already working primarily virtually, but even those individuals didn't necessarily have their children at home trying to homeschool their kids, you know, at the same time, that's incredibly difficult. There are, there were incredible barriers that we made work harder. And, so there's a lot that can be done from a leadership perspective, as well as the individual's perspective. But the biggest thing that I would say from the very beginning is we need to reconnect with what it is that we do, right? Like, we need to reconnect with our proverbial why, like what is our firm all about, what is our business all about? We need to be able to reconnect with that because that's what we've gotten away from. We get so lost in the weeds and so overwhelmed and distracted that we lose sight of maybe it's the client interactions, maybe it's the mission of the organization, maybe it's a difference that we're making and suddenly instead of all of those things, it's just spreadsheets on the computer and it becomes very easy to lose sight of those other things and so we need to take away the noise and create the sense of why again, and we need to be able to do it in a way that, brings people, brings people back mentally and also gives them a sense of control in their lives again. Work during the pandemic, could have been part of the problem, or it could have been an escape from the problem, depending on how much control employees felt when they went to work or virtually signed into work. If they felt in control of their work, then when their entire lives felt out of control work was the haven where they were still in control. But if that wasn't the case, then work was just part of the problem.Adam (06:37):So let's dig into that, finding your why a little bit more, you know, sometimes people have very mundane jobs, when you're first starting out in accounting, you know, sometimes you just, you know, kind of crunching numbers. How are people supposed to find meaning in that work and connect with that why, if they're so far down?David (06:55):Yeah, it's really interesting. So my first job, my first real job was, I was a kennel worker. I wanted to be a veterinarian and, turned out that, to be a bio major pre-veterinary you needed chemistry and physics. So I'm like, nope. And ironically, I switched to the business college and the very first class I took, I'm like yes, I'm getting away from all the math and the very first class I took was accounting I. So you gotta be kidding me, but suddenly when you took moles off the end of a number and you put a dollar sign in front of it made a lot more sense to me. But yeah, so my very first job was working in these kennels and I was pre-veterinary, I wanted to be a vet and I remember one day as a young man, I was literally pooper scooping, like picking up poop from the floor of a kennel. And I was doing this, I was working on alongside a coworker and I remember looking over and seeing her face and realizing that the two of us were doing completely different jobs, the same exact tasks, but completely different things. She was picking up poop. I was, I was creating a cleaner and safer environment for these sick animals. You know, I was caring for animals while she was cleaning up poop, you know, and it was just in the mindset. It was in how we saw our jobs and when you're in accounting or any profession, you have a choice in how you see the actual why of what you do, how much you connect with that. And we typically find careers where we have some sort of role model that we look to somebody that we see that we're like, yeah that's what I want from my career. And there's usually not that much of a separation between our career and life outside of our career. We look for significance in our lives, we look for significance in our career, and that might mean something different to each of us. Maybe want to make a difference with the organizational mission. Maybe you want to be able to, you know, afford to travel around the world and work from wherever, whatever it is, you're looking for something from your work. Burnout occurs when you suddenly don't find that anymore. When you realize, oh my God, there's so much bureaucracy and interpersonal conflict, which by the way, over the pandemic working virtually it's like, how often are we distracted by the amount of commas that our coworker uses their emails, trying to figure out if they're angry or just crazy, you know, like we get into these things that distract us. So just because elements of our work are mundane, does not mean that they are trivial, right? Just because something is mundane does not make it trivial. It is only trivial if we can't connect the dots to how this ultimately affects the final user, the client, how are we helping our client in the end? Because while you may be just crunching numbers in Excel or working your way through QuickBooks or whatever you accountants do, right? To me as my accountant you're not doing that, you're helping me and my family survive and thrive through and through helping me manage by my budget and my taxes and my business. I need that. And if you can connect with that and understand the difference you're making in my life and what that advisory role means to me as your client, that's very different than just picking up poop. It's very different than just putting numbers in a spreadsheet.Adam (11:07):That's so true. So if we take a wider look, you know, from a leadership perspective. What signs should leaders be looking for to see, you know, are my employees going through a burnout problem?David (11:20):One of the leading signs of burnout would be turnover intention. There are a lot of reports coming out on turnover intention right now. Microsoft, I believe just came out with a study, a global study that suggests that 41% of employees are looking to leave their employer within the next year globally, 41%. That is an incredibly scary number. Most of the time when leaders look at intent to turnover or turnover intention numbers, they think that's a scary number because that's going to be an indicator of how many people leave. I would argue that the people who intend to turnover and then leave, those people are the least of your worries. It's the people who intend to turn over and stay that you should be really worried about. Because we know that turnover intention is related to burnout and related to both of those, is this decrease in productivity and efficiency. This increase in toxicity, right? We know that burnout is incredibly contagious and so when you see people are trying to leave the organization, but they're handcuffed to the organization maybe you're paying more than any of the competitors and you think that's a great thing because you're holding on to people, but is it a great thing if people that want to leave can't afford to leave. So we need to look at things like turnover intention. We need to look at things like increases in conflict, like people taking much longer to get back to you, you know, via email or whatever messaging services that you use to communicate with your people. Absenteeism, presenteeism, people who start not showing up, taking more sick days and also people who show up, but in body only. There's a lot of warning signs. The number one thing leaders need to do is to listen. They need to actively listen and when we go through crises, oftentimes our reaction to that, we think that we have to take action, right? And we have to do, but again part of that burnout recipe is this loss of control. It's this learned helplessness, which is also a leading precursor to depression, right? And so what that means is that our actions don't seem to have the reactions from the universe that we expect. And so we feel helpless, it's learned helplessness. So what leaders should be doing is empowering their people and listening to their people, as opposed to trying to do all the talking and the doing, you know, they really need to be taking the calls of their people right now.Adam (14:31):Yeah, listening seems to be that key element just for any leader, are you hearing what your people are saying? Because if you're not listening, how can you know what's going on? And how can you be productive? And if you're not listening and burnouts happening, it's ultimately affecting your bottom line, but it's also affecting people. And if the people hurting, then the business will fail.David (14:54):Yeah, absolutely.Adam (14:56):So after listening, what's the next step you take? Cause you're listening, you're seeing, okay people are burned out. What do you do after that?David (15:02):One of the things that you can do, which I highly recommend is to set up boundaries. One of the things that we saw over the past year and a half is that, people are really horrible at setting up their own boundaries, right? You know, I used to talk about work-life balance as something that was a myth that couldn't exist after the invention of the iPhone, right? Because, I mean you take work everywhere with you as long as your iPhone is in your pocket and you take family life and all the other outside elements with you to work as long as your iPhone is in your pocket. And so work-life balance has not been, an actual, you know, attainable thing forever. But especially when you're working from home, if you don't have barriers set up between your home life and your work life, if you don't have boundaries, then it's all going to become intertwined and there's going to be a lot of stress and eventual burnout there. What employers can do, what managers can do is don't trust your people to set up these boundaries on their own and don't trust them to do it just because you suggest that they do it, there's a big difference between, you know, policy and culture. We can tell people what the policies are, that's not what the policies actually are. How are the policies lived? You know, so we can tell people, you need to set up boundaries, but if we don't push that and not just push it, but, live it ourselves, model it by putting our cell phone aside between certain hours, et cetera, our people are not going to do that themselves and we know this because the early data coming out from the past year and a half is that people have been working extraordinarily longer hours since the pandemic started. Since they've been working from home, they've been putting in more hours, not less. And so, and later hours of working into the night. And so we need to protect our people from that. They need that time to psychologically recharge. So that is one of the many things we can do. And then beyond that, we need to show support. We know that both emotional support and also more instrumental support are extremely important. You know, being able to support people by being a sounding board for them, listening to them when they're stressed out, listen to what they have to tell you, giving them advice, but also jumping in there and helping them with their workload if they need it, helping them figure out, you know, how to balance things. All of that is incredibly important and highly correlated with burnout. If people are not getting support, they're much more likely to burnout.Adam (18:10):So David, I'd like to just kind of wrap up our conversation and if you could just kind of give your insight of what you think the long terms effects of this whole COVID-19, people working from home and this burnout, what long-term effects will it have on the world of work in general?David (18:28):Yeah. So I think that, we're already seeing it and what's being termed the great resignation that we're looking at these 41%, you know, some industries are way over that in terms of turnover intention. People are looking for change and, you know, as somebody who goes into organizations and helps produce change within organizations, I can tell you that it is a rare day that people are looking for change. Usually people will push up against change, but change came and found us and we don't want to go back to the way things used to be. And so people are looking for change in their life because they've been able to reevaluate their lives and their relationship with work over the past year and a half. And so I strongly believe that we are going to see a lot of turnover and a lot of churning with employment. Leaders need to invest in their people now and when I say invest, I mean emotionally invest in their people now. Give them a reason to come back and to be productive and to reengage with work. And what is that reason? It depends on your organizational culture and on the needs and wants of your employees and only they hold that ultimate answer. And so, again, it comes back to listening and understanding that now with so many people going virtual, you're not just competing with the firm down the road, you are competing nationally, if not internationally, because so many other firms have entered your marketplace because now they are looking to build fully virtual teams of people that can work right from your backyard. And so it's incredibly important to be investing in the well-being of our people and to reconnect with the ultimate meaning, that meaningfulness of the work that your organization does.Closing (20:52):This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at 

Aug 16

21 min 12 sec

Contact James Burton: Capital: services are offered for a fee by Personal Capital Advisors Corporation (“PCAC”), a registered investment adviser with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. Investing involves risk. Past performance is not indicative of future returns. You may lose money. PCAC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Personal Capital Corporation (“PCC”), an Empower company. PCC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Empower Holdings, LLC. © 2021 Personal Capital Corporation.Personal Capital SRI portfolios are powered by Sustainalytics.FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam (00:00):Welcome back to Count Me In. IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Adam Larson, and I'm here to bring you episode 135 of our series with featured guest, James Burton. In the wealth management space, a few can claim to have accomplished more than James, a 20 year veteran of the industry, he has held executive, management, and C-level positions at some of the most respected financial institutions in the world. He now serves as Chief Growth Officer at fintech trailblazer, Personal Finance, and joins Count Me In to talk about how to turn a crisis into opportunity. Keep listening as we head over to the conversation now. Mitch (00:50):So James, obviously the global pandemic of 2020 caused a crisis for many businesses. A lot of our listeners felt this impact. For you personally, I'd like to start off our conversation by just having you explain, how did you help clients and organizations navigate through these difficult times, particularly in the beginning? James (01:09):Yeah thanks, Mitchell. You know, something like a pandemic and the initial market slump that it caused, that really, that really makes you reconsider everything, right? All your assumptions about your business model, your strategy, your growth opportunities, trying to see into the future. And naturally many of our clients went through very similar reflections about their goals and their financial situations, and they had a lot of questions about the future too. And the demand for advice, financial advice and expert support definitely increased. And in this case, it turned out that our company, Personal Capital, we were highly prepared for the crisis because we already had a hybrid digital and human model advisory model is technology enabled to operate remotely. So in a very general sense, we just stuck to our knitting. That's a British term, I think, meaning, we stayed on strategy and we continued interacting with our clients and supporting them through their financial concerns during the pandemic, particularly in those early, very stressful months. But we also made a very crucial pivot to getting everyone to remote working, from home literally overnight. And we could do that because of how the company was designed and built. So, you know, the result was that despite the initial market slump that we went through, we actually saw strong growth last year. People want advice. They want to holistic advice and they mostly don't want to travel to a brick and mortar building or office with wood panels, you know, nice little offices. They certainly didn't want to travel during a pandemic, right. And now, you know, a year later they know that in fact they don't need to go any further than their kitchen or the home office, to work with us. So we were able to help them, right away and we were able to help them remotely, which was great. Mitch (03:14):And now, you know, kind of building on this conversation a little bit, in leading up to our recording today, I was told that you follow a quote from Winston Churchill. It's a bit of a mantra and if I can just read the quote, "never let a good crisis go to waste". So, to help explain for our listeners here, why, what does that mean to you? How, do you go about using that as a mantra? James (03:37):Yeah, so Winston Churchill, he certainly produced a lot of great motivational quotes and I do particularly like that one, "never let a good crisis go to waste". I find myself using it a lot actually. And, you know, a good crisis, is very often a great opportunity. And that's because it's when you're forced to reconsider everything, you know, all your assumptions, your business model, your strategy, your opportunities, even your very survival sometimes. A really good crisis puts all of that in the picture. And as a result, it's often when meaningful change is initiated and it's when we move forward from the past, you know, to the future way of thinking. And in the case of our company, as I mentioned, we found that as it happened, we designed and prepared very well for the lockdown and we could commit to this virtual first approach. And as a result, we've proved beyond doubt that virtual financial advice works very well. If you have the right technology and business model and it's here to stay. So a great crisis here, which it really was, and in many ways still is, you know, helped us prove that and move into a future where, you know, advice can look very different for Americans. Mitch (04:55):And now we are, you know, roughly 16, 17 months through this, you know, it's been a year and a half and, you mentioned going into the future a little bit more, not every bad thing that happens is a crisis necessarily for business, right? We don't always face something like the COVID-19 pandemic. How can this mantra, this quote still apply on a daily basis, you know, once we kind of returned to normal or the new normal, however you want to refer to it. Can you give us some examples and some response options for the daily ups and downs of business and responding this way? James (05:31):Sure, sure Mitchell, and look, you know, certainly these have been some strange and scary times in the past year. But you know, it's exciting to look into the future and see things improving. I'm definitely happy to share some examples, but, you know, as I've thought about this, as you point out, you know, real crises and real opportunities, they're not exactly daily events, you know, thank goodness. They tend to come along just when you think everything's going great in your business, like maybe early 2020 for example. So every few years you may get a really good crisis, you know, something really challenging or bad happens in the environment or, you know, in your business. I've got some examples of how to put, you know, a good crisis to work, but I have to mention that they're not really day to day examples, they're how to really harness the big situations. So if you'll indulge me, I'll happily proceed, but, you know, I generally wouldn't use an expression like, "never let a good crisis go to waste", in the day-to-day environments, right. That's just doing our jobs. So I'm happy to proceed with, you know, let's just say longer term, bigger picture examples. I'll go for it. Mitch (06:48):Absolutely. Yes, please do. James (06:50):That's great. So, first of all, I could go back in the time machine, maybe about 20 years. And, at the time I was working for a well-known stock broker based here in San Francisco, and the company had experienced huge growth in the late 1990s. And then along came the crisis, the tech bubble burst in 2000. For anybody who was active in the markets at that time, you'll know that the market just bond and, you know, trading activity and the interest of people investing in their financial accounts, it just fell off a cliff. And there was a lot of revenue pressure for businesses, like the one I was part of. And here's the thing, clients were asking, what should I do? You know, they wanted help. And at the time the company was known for being an online stock broker that would execute your stock or fund trades, but it wasn't known for giving advice. And here we were with a situation where, you know, the markets had completely changed, the revenue dynamic had completely changed, there was a lot of pressure in the business and there was pressure from our clients to help them in new ways. So there's the opportunity right there. So we responded by building out new financial advisory capabilities to meet this demand for advice that was emerging from the client base, you know, when the markets turned. And what we started back then in a period of considerable adversity, now in time it became a major part of that business. So that's, I just wanted to provide kind of a historical example of how some of these, pivotal market events in the financial industry actually could really generate a significant positive change if you can get through them successfully. So that was one example. I've got another one, which is about, the company I work for now, Personal Capital, and it's a little different. And I'm gonna, explain what I mean by that. So Personal Capital came out of what I think of as an industry crisis, by the way, it also came out of the financial crisis. It was, founded in 2009 and, at the time of the great recession and financial crisis that started in 2008. And at that time, most of the industry was really falling behind, in terms of, you know, not providing the kind of experiences that other companies, digitally based companies were providing. So, Mitchell, let me ask you a question if I may, just to, you know, break it up for myself a little bit here. Could you, just give me a, maybe a company or a brand that you use pretty regularly in your life, that has a digital component to it. Mitch (09:50):Oh sure. My wife always gives me a hard time of all the Amazon packages that we show up at the front door. It's almost a daily delivery for us. So I'm a prime member and Amazon is definitely something we use regularly. James (10:03):That's a great example I expect, you know, like my home, your driveway is probably like a FedEx or UPS shipping depot some days, right. So thank you, great example, you know, that's the kind of service that many of us have found that, you know we wonder how we do without it having gotten so used to it. And if you think about some other brands, like, I dunno, TripAdvisor or Uber, or Sonos or Stitch Fix, and some of those brands we haven't used much in the pandemic, but before that, they were, you know, very prevalent. These are brands and companies that cross the physical and digital worlds and you know, what they've done in their spaces as they've leveraged data and technology and in turn, they provide us the consumer, the customer with information and control and choice, great convenience, often great value as well. They undercut the existing pricing in the industry, and frankly they transformed our experience as consumers, right, and as a result, they grew exponentially. So I just wanted to remind us of that background because I can't trust sort of meanwhile, 10 or 15 years ago, you know, I think household finance, personal finance was having its very own crisis, you know, when it came to the user experience and it was really ready for transformation. Let me explain a little bit. I'll try and make this kind of, pretty real, because I think it will resonate with you. So, you know, at Personal Capital we have, almost 3 million users on the platform and as a result we can see a lot of, what they do and how they organize their lives and we can understand quite a lot about their financial situation, which is how we can then help them. But one of the things that's really notable is that we see that the typical household that's using the platform has about 15 financial accounts, which is a big number, right. And just, you know, think about your own situation. Maybe this will resonate. Probably you've got a bank account, you may have got, I don't know, maybe at high school, maybe at college at some point you've got a bank account, you've got a debit card. Maybe you've got a savings account too. And then maybe you went to work for somebody after college and you got a 401k or something like that. Maybe you changed jobs, so you've got another 401k. Maybe you were smart and you opened an IRA as well, and perhaps you got some credit cards along the way and maybe a mortgage if you bought your first home yet. And, maybe you have an awful loan, maybe you have a Bitcoin account, you know, it goes on and on, right. So you know, typical household has this great sort of array of financial accounts and, you know, it's a lot and it's, you know, the question is how do you really understand your financial situation when you've got the stuff spread all over the place? And that's, you know, think about the, all the different logins you have to know, all the different statements you might be receiving, put in whatnot, it's just a lot to really put it all together. So most people don't truly understand their financial situation and they don't have that control and understanding that you would expect them to have with the digital revolution that occurred, you know, 10, 15, 20 years ago. So how do you deal with that? Well, maybe you can use a spreadsheet if you're motivated, I've tried it, it was kind of fun for maybe an hour, right? And then, you know, and that's only if you really like numbers, which I do. And then it gets really tedious and it gets hard work to update it and pretty quickly it's out of date, it's dragging, you know, your, whatever you put in for savings and investments and values is old, whatever you put in for your debts or borrowings, it's old, it's very hard to keep it up to date. I think, you know, even very accomplished accountants would find that pretty tedious and probably give up pretty quickly, right? So that was essentially what we saw as the crisis in financial services, which was that just when life was getting more and more complicated, particularly with the financial crisis, people didn't have the resources they needed and that was an environmental crisis. So in this case, looking more from the outside, we saw the opportunity, the founders of the company saw the opportunity to really address that and change the way the industry works, by bringing everything together for you in a dashboard where frankly, with a few minutes, you can enter your financial accounts, it's safe and secure, it's very important to people by the way. And then you can see your net worth, you can track your savings and budget and you can really understand what's going on in your life. So that was an example of where, you know, what is essentially a crisis at the personal level for people and turn it into a really great opportunity to help them. I'll make a quick plug, by the way, if I may here little cheeky of me, but I'm a believer. So, Personal Capital is by the way free. So the tools on the platform are free for everyone to use and I would, you know, I would encourage people to give it a try if you find it complicated to track your financial life. I'll pause there. Mitch (15:35):Well, thank you and the examples you shared certainly do resonate with me. I can certainly relate to a lot of the examples and situations that you discussed. So, you know, definitely a conversation I think is very relevant to many of our listeners and the more we talk about finance and personal finance, you know, this is certainly the audience. So I think that resonates very well. I do want to kind of continue on this track, but bring us back to the whole idea of, you know, crisis management a little bit and a lot of what we talked about is opportunity recognition from the organizational perspective, right? We're talking about businesses and recognizing how to persevere and then come out on top, you know, never letting a good crisis go to waste. So how about from this individual level? You know, you talked a little bit about individuals being able to take advantage of these opportunities, but how does it relate to the individual and, you know, even if it's a supervisor managerial perspective, you know, understanding what an individual can do during and following a crisis, what do you have to say about that kind of perspective? James (16:40):Yeah, thank you. It's a great question. That's one I've reflected on a lot because I do feel that some of the most challenging situations I've been in, in my career have also been, the greatest opportunities. And so we talked already about how, from a company perspective, you know, you shouldn't waste a good crisis because it's when you get a chance to reconsider things. It's when change is initiated, it's when you start to move from, you know, the past into the future. But I think at the personal level, there's also a lot to this. I think it's when people are tested, they can test themselves and they get tremendous personal growth opportunities. Obviously it can be in a very stressful situation, but, if you can survive that, you know, that can be full of opportunity. It's also when teamwork, your teamworking skills, your resilience and attitude, your work ethic, they really count, you know, when things are difficult. And as a result, I think it's when, many careers are actually made. That's certainly been my experience. Oftentimes the crisis is a really a great career opportunity. And in the financial industry, you know, in years, like 2000 to 2002 or 2008 to 2010 or 2020, and we're not fully out of the woods yet either. You know, you can already learn and grow, you know, at greatly accelerated rates relative to what you would generally be doing day-to-day when things are going relatively smoothly. Because you're solving for so many problems and issues. And also, you know, I think it's very exciting you get to work in different ways. Now, sometimes you may work very intensely with people you don't usually work with, you know, teams are reformed, new problems have to be solved so people come together in different ways. New leaders emerge and you forge new relationships with colleagues or business partners, that can be very deep and can carry forward for many years. And that can be very exciting and very rewarding as well. So, you know, these situations can be many different things. They can be a big strategic place such as, an acquisition or merger deal. It doesn't matter which side you're on, it's going to be a very intense time. You know, and you may be an owner or an advisor, but still you're going to be super busy and you're going to be working with new people. It could be a legal issue. Those obviously come up in businesses from time to time and it can be very stressful, but again require the same discipline of focus and teamwork and getting the right people together. And also it could be a market crisis and it doesn't matter which of those it is, my advice is to lean in and make the most of it in terms of, you know, what you bring to the table and the people you get to meet. Mitch (19:40):Well, thank you. I know from an IMA perspective through all of this, we really emphasize the importance of upscaling and rescaling through all of this, right. We looked at this, you know, the last year and a half as a great individual learning opportunity for many of our members, you know, many of our listeners here. What can we do to better ourselves during this difficult time so that when you know, that next phase does come about, we're prepared to take advantage of it. So, you know, to kind of wrap up our conversation, I do want to kind of build on that a little bit further. I'll ask you to take out your crystal ball if you could and if you had to offer up some advice to our listeners, as far as crisis management, managing others, personal development, anything we've talked about so far today, when it comes to preparing for the future, what is your stance and what would you like to share to wrap things up? James (20:32):Thanks first, Mitchell. That's a great question and I'm, you know, I'm very fortunate to have learned so much from so many great colleagues over the years, and I try to distill it down and simplify it in terms of, you know, any perspective I would share to just really three things. And those three things are, your customers, your purpose for your mission and the people you work with. And let me just say a few words about each of those. Starting with customers. You know, so I've personally, I've spent most of my career working in direct to consumer businesses and, but I think the same would apply in that business to business environment as well. And I think the thing is to be as up close and personal as you possibly can be and remember that, you know, your customer is a person or a couple or a family. They have hopes and dreams and fears just like everyone and they're really busy people. So we need to do everything we can to understand them, what they need, what they think, what they experience, and particularly in a time of crisis and particularly a time of crisis for customers, really understand the problems they face and why they face them and get to the root causes. And if you can get to the truth as experienced by your customer set, that's incredibly valuable in helping you, frankly at any time. It should be something we all work on all the time, but it's particularly valuable in a time of crisis or stress. So that's customers. I think, you know, if we do a good job of that, we can develop and refine our purpose, our mission, you know, what are we here to do? What are we trying to achieve? How do we help our customers address their challenges and do better? And so a strong purpose is obviously very inspiring to us and to others, and it galvanizes us to make things better, drive for change. And, you know, if you have a really strong mission, it makes work so meaningful and it makes your time incredibly valuable because you'll never have enough of it, right. You're just so focused and busy all the time and so I do think that, and it's advice I give actually to, you know, younger folk who are starting out on their careers, is to find an organization where you feel very onboard with their purpose and their mission and you will find you are inspired by it and your time flies by. And so that brings me to people, my third thing that I always focus on in times of crisis, but also any other time, which is, you know, for me at least, the people that we associate with, they're the single most important decision you can make, or maybe it's accidental, but they're still the single most important factor, in how, you know, how things are going to go career wise and so on. And the sort of questions I would ask is, you know, do we share similar values? Do we believe similar things? Do we have a similar ambition to make things better and to drive positive change in the industry we're in or the world? Do we love to collaborate with each other and team up? Are we going to be courageous when faced with a crisis and obstacles? And frankly, you know, when you're thinking about joining a team or a company, are these people that we're going to enjoy spending potentially years working on something very difficult and challenging, is that going to be a rewarding experience? And if the answer is, yes, that's really fantastic. And the chances are, you know, these are the sorts of people who are going to see opportunities and they're going to be motivated to strive after them, rather than just seeing difficulties everywhere, which is the other way of seeing it, right? So that's what I would really try and synthesize down as customers and purpose and people, and then sure, you know, you need to have the right kind of talent on the team. You need to have the right technical skills and expertise. I'm kind of assuming you have that. I'm more focused on, some broader things. I would also say you need to have the right planning and operational discipline, but again, if you have the right people, those things will come. Closing (24:52):This has been Count Me In. IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at 

Aug 9

25 min 13 sec

Contact Karri Callahan: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch (00:00):Hey everyone. Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 134 of our series. In today's conversation, you will hear from Karri Callahan, CFO of global real estate company, Remax. Karri spoke with my co-host Adam about the role of the CFO and shared some tips for finance leaders. From strategy and technology to diversity, equity and inclusion, Karri has great perspective on many topics business leaders should be aware of. So to hear more, keep listening as we head over to their conversation now. Adam (00:47):So Karri, thanks so much for joining us and as you know, the role of the CFO is become very multifaceted and how can aspiring finance leaders better prepare themselves for providing a strategy and insight? Karri (01:00):Great, thanks so much for having me Adam, I appreciate it. And I think there's a couple of things to consider. First and foremost, I think it's important that you always keep learning, making sure that you continue to build your network, connect with peers and think about joining the right organization for you so that you can hear from different speakers and industry leaders on a regular basis, I think is really helpful. Some organizations that you can consider and that I've found helpful include Financial Executives International or FEI, and also the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, so the AICPA. Since I've been the CFO of a publicly traded company for the last five years or so, I've also found, NIRI or the National Investor Relations Institute, a great resource, they offer some fantastic certification courses and trainings and have just a tremendous library of events and programs that they offer. So I think that's also another resource for you. And then of course, last but not least, IMA definitely I know you all have a lot of resources to help professionals. I think the last thing I would say is just read things that are of interest to you, so that you can stay current either on recent economic trends, trends that might be impacting your business or your industry, or just business leadership in general. But I think some of the best advice I've gotten is that it's important and critical to really be intentional about how you spend your time. Your time is truly invaluable and making sure that you get the most out of every minute is critical, but if you keep really absorbing information, learning from others, the better prepared you're going to be as life and your profession throw you curve balls. Adam (02:53):Yeah, definitely. So, you know, speaking of time, we know that time, technology takes a lot of our time and technology has changed how finance and accounting operate with how, many routine tasks or many, many routine tasks are now automated, freeing up professionals to focus on higher level tasks. How well acquainted should today's accounting and finance professionals be with technology like intelligent automation or RPA? Karri (03:21):Yeah. So it's a great question. Remax LLC, president Nick Bailey, who I work closely with, he oftentimes tells our agents that if you know that technology won't put real estate agents out of business, but agents who don't embrace technology will put themselves out of business. And I think that advice is applicable to so many other professions, including mine and accounting and finance. And so I think as you think about technology and as all professionals really think about technology, it's important that we're always learning and evaluating and studying new trends from a technology perspective, that makes sense for your company and the finance and accounting operations within your organization. Our teams are constantly evaluating how to incorporate new technologies and software into our routine accounting and finance processes and the reason why that's so critical is because it frees up our team's time to really help analyze trends within the business, evaluate business opportunities and really work strategically with other leaders within our organization so that we're contributing to strategic growth initiatives. And so technology is a key point to that, you know, as part of that transformation within our business, our company now has more in-house technology expertise and firepower than we ever have. We have now about 50% of our workforce that's directly involved in technology and we've recently announced an organizational change to really create one technology team comprised of all of those professionals so that we can really maximize collaboration, focus on our customer and end user experience and operate with purpose, passion, and excellence from a technology perspective. And I think what that does over time is, you know, we expect it really will benefit the entire corporate team, including everyone from an accounting and finance perspective, as well as other services function by really enhancing the delivery and supportive technology and data to all areas of the business so that we can continue to drive the business forward. Adam (05:28):Definitely. It sounds like Remax is doing some wonderful things to, be a leader in the industry. So what do you do to stay ahead on the technology curve? Karri (05:39):Yeah, great question. So I think, you know, fortunately the piece of change in the real estate industry, it's incredibly exciting and incredibly dynamic and because of that, our leadership team has really a front row seat to the latest technologies as we implement our MNA strategies as well as just continue to focus on our organic growth as well. For example, you know, despite a global pandemic in September of last year, we announced the acquisitions of Gadberry Group and Weenlow. Gaderry Group specializes in building best in class products that help clients solve geospatial challenges through accurate and precise location data. Weenlow is a Florida based startup that is reshaping the mortgage loan processing, process within the mortgage brokerage channel and they have developed the first service cloud for mortgage brokers effectively combining third-party loan processing with an all-in-one digital platform. And so those are just two really exciting opportunities that we have been able to execute upon as we really look to stay ahead of that technology curve. You know, we're always assessing the latest technologies and innovative companies with in, in the space and in our business pursuits because we are the worldwide leader and we want to make sure that Remax, stays in that position from a real estate technology perspective is clear. That mission is hugely beneficial to my knowledge of what's currently out there and what the space is, is truly lacking. It sounds simple, but another way to stay ahead of the curve is really by surrounding myself with a healthy mix of like-minded individuals and people who really stretched me beyond my own constraints. We have a fantastic network of about 140,000 real estate agents, more than 600 headquarter employees, and we operate in over 110 countries and territories globally and I'm so fortunate to be able to work with and network alongside people who have very similar core values and yet challenge each other to continuously improve and innovate. And I think that collaboration really transcends across our headquarters organization because I think staying connected with leaders on the technology side is really important. I have a standing weekly meeting with our chief operating officer who oversees all of our technology and am integrated with other leaders across our product and engineering teams as well. And I think that's really helpful because getting their perspective helps me stay ahead and stay current in terms of what's happening from a technology perspective. Adam (08:27):So to shift gears a little bit. Recently, business leaders have become more attuned to the need to actively promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, not just because of public pressure and what's been happening just in society in general, but because there are also tangible business benefits, how has Remax supported DE&I broadly and staff members who are women and or people of color? Karri (08:49):Thanks, Adam. I think this is a great question and part of the reason I think that it's important and one of the things that I think is critical to note in response to this, is that at our core, our business is a business that builds businesses. We provide a platform for entrepreneurs of all different backgrounds and more than 110 countries and territories, to be as successful as they want to be. And our approach to supporting entrepreneurship across all of those different dimensions has really been ingrained of the fabric of our company for nearly 50 years now. However, specifically over the last year or so, we've built on this cultural foundation and taken steps to promote actionable change both at our corporate level, as a franchisor and through our network of independently owned and operated franchisees across the globe. So from a corporate perspective, we've done a number of things. First, we conducted a 10 week racial equity and social justice challenge open to all of our teammates to build more effective social justice habits, particularly those dealing with issues of race, bias, and privilege, and really by having an open dialogue around these very difficult issues. It's our hope that we can each find ways to be part of the solution. I was excited to participate in it and I found the dialogue and the engagement very satisfying from a personal perspective. We also held multiple listening sessions across our employee base to hear from teammates on these topics, including their feelings on what we're doing well, what we can improve on, and what actions they'd like to see from our company on a go-forward basis. We've also enlisted an outside consultant to help us take an inventory of what we do around social governance that spans the spectrum in terms of our sustainability efforts, diversity, philanthropy, and our governance and what we do well and what we can improve upon. And then a couple of other things that are just single points in time. We did take a stand and issued a statement in the wake of the George Floyd killing last year, we closed our headquarters on Juneteenth, both in 2020 and again this year, and then our motto mortgage division also dedicated the month of April to advance homeownership fairness with their product, "one motto, one vision", which was an educational campaign that was focused on efforts to advance equality in mortgage lending and increase awareness of these issues within our motto mortgage network, as well as the consumers that they work with. In terms of our franchisee networks, we've also done a lot in this area, not only in the last year, but really throughout our history. We've been actively promoting, the national association of realtors at home with diversity training to our membership in all of our weekly communication that goes out to our network of real estate agents and this course addresses issues of diversity, fair housing, and cultural differences. Last year in August at our spring convention, we also announced the introduction of some additional training, which is through the National Association of Realtors, which is a fair haven training through our Remax university platform. And that's a course that really tests all agents on all things, fair housing. We continue to promote diversity and inclusion at our large scale events, including securing diverse group, a diverse group of speakers. One example of that was Baratunde Thurston who gave a popular Ted Talk at our franchisee owner conference in August of last year and the topic was, "how to deconstruct racism one headline at a time". And then we also use social media channels to champion diversity and also leverage a lot of relationships that we have across the real estate industry with housing advocacy groups, like the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals, or NAHREP, the National Association of Black Real Estate Brokers, or NAREB. And then the Asian Real Estate Association of America, AREAA and the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, and we offer a lot of trainings to our franchisees and agents on our platform in support of those programs as well. Adam (13:25):That's really great. Again, just sounds like Remax is doing some great things to be a leader in the community, to stand up and to make sure that there is change in our society, which has been needed for a long time. So that's just wonderful to hear. Karri (13:40):It's very exciting and I think for me as a leader, it's something that I'm just really proud of in terms of being associated with an amazing brand and an amazing company like Remax, both professionally and personally. Adam (13:53):So as a female CFO, I know that CFOs, to be a female CFO, hasn't always been a trend, for many, many years in the accounting profession. Have you ever experienced gender bias and what did you do to overcome those challenges? Karri (14:11):Yeah, it's a great question and I think from a Remax perspective, we are so fortunate because Remax was co-founded by Gail Liniger and historically gender bias is just not something that we've seen at this company. I think the gender diversity at Remax makes us stand out even more so because it's truly ingrained in who we are. In 1973, Dave and Gail Liniger, who are co-founders, they were two very ambitious professionals and they set out to build a new company that would truly operate differently than the competitors who existed at the time and ultimately disrupt the entire real estate industry as a whole. But central to that disruption was the fact that Remax was truly built on the back of female entrepreneurs with Gail Liniger at the forefront and really because at the time female real estate agents struggled to have a prominent role in the industry before Remax was introduced to today. So if you fast forward to today and you look across the Remax franchisee and agent network, we're close to 50/50 in terms of the male/female split amongst our real estate agents and franchisees who own franchises across our networks. Two of our five executives are female and 40% of our board members are female. So we don't really talk about it being important, I think we demonstrate just in those statistics, that it truly is important. And our proven track record of elevating women to leadership positions across the company, really combined with some progressive maternity and parental leave benefits is really highlighted because Forbes recently ranked Remax at number 11 on its list of America's best employers for women. And so in general, I do think that there can be a stigma and a lack of credibility associated with female leaders. I feel extremely fortunate that I haven't experienced this in my current role, but I am always intentional about establishing myself and my credibility because I know it's something that other female leaders have had to overcome in their workplaces. Closing (16:27):This has been Count Me In. IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA’s website at 

Aug 2

16 min 48 sec

Contact Hilla Sferruzza: Homes: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam (00:05):Hey, everyone. Welcome back to Count Me In. IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. Adam Larson here with you again, and I'm pleased to introduce today's featured guest speaker Hilla Sferruzza. Hilla is the CFO of Meritage Homes and spoke with my co-host Mitch about the role of today's CFOs. In their conversation, she explains why future ready executives must have a holistic view of the business and possess four lines of sight. Keep listening to hear more about finance, strategy, technology, and more. Mitch (00:42):So in today's episode, we are talking about the role of the CFO becoming more central, more complex. Let's start broadly, and then we'll kind of work our way into some more specifics. So first, what is it about today's business world and the way organizations are run that requires the CFO to have a more holistic view and a better understanding of the business. Hilla (01:05):So, thanks for having me on Mitch. In today's world everything is moving at an accelerated pace. So change digitalization, everything is causing technology to just move really fast. So the risk of taking a wrong turn can be really expensive. So I think the CFOs have to take a step back and kind of look at the entire landscape of a company and really understand all of the interconnectivity of what we're doing as a company, as an organization, and make sure that decisions that are being made really impact the organization appropriately. So whether we're looking at it through the financial lens or risk assessment lens, a technology lens, an investor stakeholder lens, you know, more recently ESG and DI lens. It's really important that we understand the implications of everything that's happening. We're much less siloed than we used to be. I think we were kind of along this path anyway, and then maybe the pandemic and working from home accelerated that where decisions are being made real time very, very quickly. I would say in the public sector, where I am the CFO, it's maybe even more accelerated and CFO is having to answer live, you know, kind of on the go conversations, whether it's from investors or from analysts, you really have to have that broad knowledge of what's happening in the market, as well as all your competitors. So you kind of are a co-leader of all this data and you have to bring it back internally and make sure the guidance that you're providing the rest of the executive team and the initiatives and strategy that you're driving as a CFO really encompass the entire company's organization and operations, not just, you know, what are we looking for on the bottom line? What's the EPS going to be, of this decision, the consequences of this decision. Mitch (03:00):Now, with this deeper understanding, this broader understanding as well that you just mentioned of the business, how are you better able to lead the strategic planning, the risk mitigation processes for the organization? We have a lot of these individual conversations about, you know, the role of the CFO, but what is it about the CFO of the finance team that really allows them to work cross-functionally and ultimately make these important strategic business decisions? Hilla (03:26):So I love to say that the finance team is agnostic, right? Our only goal is the success of the company as a whole. Every other functional area, maybe has a little bit of a different spin. Maybe it's conscious, maybe it's subconscious, but they're all driving to a different objective. Maybe if you're in sales, you're focused on a different metric and if you're in operations or in purchasing or in marketing, everyone's got a little bit of a different spin on what they think is most important to make the company successful. I think finance is agnostic, right? So we can maybe take a step back, see the entire picture, not get lost in the forest or the trees and then give counsel that is best for the organization. So I can share an example. So I work for a home builder. We always have a little bit of a push and pull on timing and on dollars. We break our teams between the folks that do what we call horizontal work, which is land and vertical work, which is the actual construction of the building. There's always a little bit of a tug of war between those two departments. The finance team can take a step back and say, well what's actually most beneficial for the organization is to take this approach. Sometimes it breaks or it's one department, other times it breaks towards another department, but maybe, you know, I keep on saying agnostic, maybe a different word is also arbiter, right? We're kind of the one that maybe can help negotiate between all the different departments and through dollars and cents explain why certain decisions are the best decisions for the organization as a whole, even though there may be not an ideal state from one department versus another. Mitch (05:06):I think that's a great way to put it, the arbiter at the end that you mentioned, it really is, you know, just the understanding that we're talking about here from both sides of the equation and making sure that things balance, you know, when it comes to accounting, making sure that everything makes sense and works out. The way you explained it right there, the push and pull really helps clarify things, so thank you for that story and that analogy. I think, another interesting part of your role as we talk about these different decisions and different teams working together, obviously you have oversight over the finance team as CFO, strategy, operations, all the regular things that the CFO has a responsibility for, but you I understand also have oversight over IT. So what are some of the advantages of having IT under your umbrella when it comes to these cross-functional teams, cross-functional conversations and things like that? Hilla (06:00):So, obviously I'm a CFO. My first love was always numbers, but I will say that my current passion maybe almost bordering on obsession is the IT function. So I kind of inherited the IT function as I think a lot of CFOs do because the underlying system of record, the accounting system is kind of my general umbrella. And IT is a role that I guess it could sit with the CEO, the COO, or the CFO in a regular organization, but they're a little bit of a, you know, they kind of get tossed around. Nobody really wants to own it. It's a little bit intimidating to have a function roll up to you that's maybe not your core level of expertise. So when the IT team became part of my CFO team, I was nervous and excited. It's been a long time since I kind of didn't know something from soup to nuts, but I really dove in and the more I dove into the IT function, the more I realized that IT was going through a metamorphosis, right. They had kind of been the back office, keep the lights on part of the organization. Nobody even knew where they sat and call them if your password didn't work. And then they've really morphed into a key contributor and everything operations. Sure we still help you with your password, right. But the real core of what we do is operational efficiency, operational excellence, and, giving us that edge, that next differentiator. So for me as a CFO, this is the lens into the business. This is the lens into ops, all of the projects, all of the requests, whether it's a wholesale change where we're pairing with the business on providing self guided tours in our models during COVID or whether we're partnering through an accounting function, but still to help the business, obviously during COVID folks were not coming into the office, so we had to figure out how to process all of our accounts payable without folks coming in and signing checks and actually not even approving invoices. So we automated the entire AP cycle, so we're constantly pushing the envelope on how we can help the business. Number one, it's good to make the company more efficient, but on the operational focus initiatives, we're really gaining some insight as to how the business itself functions and I always say, IT shows us the art of the possible, right? Their brains maybe work in a different way than our brains work. They kind of see the world as a what if we can do right. If there was an unlimited amount of money, they could do a lot of really crazy stuff. So I think it's really interesting from my perspective, it's my window to the business, but then kind of layering in the finance piece of it. We have to pull back a little bit and say, okay, but what's the ROI. Cause there's a lot of really fun things that we can do that are certainly going to help the business, but maybe the return isn't there, right? I'll give you a silly example. There was a process that we wanted to automate. It was going to cost about half a million dollars. The person that does the job costs us about $50,000. So it's literally 10 years worth of work for that individual to automate something. I don't know if that makes sense, right. But probably not a good ROI on that investment. If we look at it in two or three years, it's probably going to be significantly less expensive to take on that project and just having one person do this process is probably not too detrimental for the company and it opens up the IT team to take on other projects that are probably more beneficial. So you have to be careful when you have IT, not to just take on projects and initiatives because they're going to make things better because they can, but also to appropriately look at the return and the efficiency, which is why I think, IT teams frequently fall under the CFO umbrella because we're always thinking of that, "Okay, but what does it cost and what is the return to the business of, of this proposal"? Mitch (10:04):Yeah, absolutely and, you know, just kind of backtracking a little bit. We did say in the very beginning, we were going to start broadly and kind of look at the holistic view of the business and work our way down. So as we take a look at some of these examples that you've shared is between finance and IT, I would like to go a little bit deeper if we could, you know, I think you mentioned the ROI and some opportunities that are there, obviously emerging technologies, you know, everything surrounding data continues to evolve at a rapid pace. So there may not be a definitive answer to this question. I'm just wondering if you have been able to implement anything or there are some innovations, opportunities that you're interested in pursuing, when it comes to digital technologies that do or will have that significant ROI for you, in the end. And you know, how does that really impact the finance function? What are some of the things that the listeners might be able to, you know, bring back to their organizations possibly and say, you know, can we do this also? Hilla (11:08):Sure. So we look at the world maybe in kind of three buckets, one from an IT perspective or a digitalization perspective, one is fix what's broken, right? So that you just have to do, you know, the report's not working, the data's not pulling through correctly and there's a team that does that. The next is how can we automate administrative tasks and free people up to do what they're supposed to do. So we have, you know, over time jobs evolve and they kind of become a little bit bogged down and have teams of folks on the finance group who just kind of data enter or their job is finance analysts, but they're doing no analysis. So my big driver, is to focus people back onto their role functionality and let's take all the administrative routine tasks and automate them through RPA and free people up to do their core functionality, whether it's a finance role through, APIs and having systems talk to one another so we're not literally just data entering, or maybe through something a little bit more sophisticated on our website. Putting a chat bot feature allows our sales teams to sell homes, versus I call them human Googles, right? They literally just read what's on our website. Well, the chat bot can read to our customers or potential customers what's on our website too. So let's take those routine tasks and move them into a computer automated process or robotics process and free up our teams and make the company more efficient. And then the third area is transformative. What can we do that's going to give us that leg up operationally, competitively that's really going to be a game changer. So, for us, again, I mentioned I work for a home builder. It's taking the design studio process and automating it. So that technology of course exists and, you know, in a car market you can go online and click here and there and look at what your car or a new part is going to look like, but it's a pretty complicated technology for home construction and interior design because of the variability in what you can select to put in your phone. So that is a big initiative that we're looking at, as an organization that's really going to drive it forward. So specifically what you do in every organization is of course going to be different. Every organization is in a different place in their life cycle, in their adoption of digitalization, of course, I mean, every industry does something a little bit different too, not everyone's going to be the digital design studio like we do, but I would look at that low hanging fruit to automate and give your team back the freedom of doing their job, especially in today's tight job market. It may facilitate a more efficient workforce for you if folks are actually doing their functional jobs rather than administrative jobs or being human Googles, and then keeping that long-term eye on the bigger vision, what do we do to move the ball for, for the entire company? Mitch (14:15):So I just have, you know, one more question and it's a little detailed lengthy question here, but I think it ties everything together really well. I think everything we've discussed so far kind of goes back to this analytical maturity curve that I know, you know, IMA has talked about and we've had some episodes, I know you contributed to an article talking about the different lines of sight and all of this really goes together. So to wrap up, I'd like to get your perspective and have you kind of explain how finance operations, strategy, risk, and now technology, everything we've talked about today really go together. When you serve as a CFO and for the organization, you have your hindsight, oversight, insight, and then ultimately foresight. So can you just tell us a little bit about what all that really means and how it comes together? Hilla (15:04):Sure. I love this question, Mitch, because I think that we probably do this all the time, but maybe we don't take a breath stop and think about it and see how it all lays out. So let's kind of attack them one at a time. So hindsight to me is really based on data, whether we're getting it from our system of record from county, we buy data from research farms that's just the aggregation of data. And I guess that's one part of the CFO umbrella. It's the data aggregation, it's the actual results, it's pulling all the information that we have available to us. And then that's really the what of the business and then you migrate into the why, which is really the kind of insight diagnostic phase. And for me, this is probably a marriage between operations and finance, right? They work together to kind of analyze what happens, say, well what were the drivers, why did this occur? Is it something unique? Is it a one-off? Is it within our control? Is this what we wanted? Is this what we thought was going to happen? So that insight is kind of ops and finance, holding hands. The next phase, I think is the real fun part, which is okay, well, what are we going to do about it? Now we have all this information and we know a lot of stuff about the business. How do we use it to a competitive advantage, right? We're a for-profit business. We're in a very competitive landscape in the home building area. We compete against other builders. We compete against existing market, existing homes in the market. So what do we do with that? And I think this is really where we harvest the power of data analytics, whether it's predictive or prescriptive. We're really kind of taking that strategic thinking that happens at the executive suite and marry it with all of the technology that we have at our disposal and how do we collate and aggregate that data, in order to help us make those decisions. And, you know, I want to make sure I'm driving home this point that the proactive foresight piece has to be a joint collaboration of the functional areas. So for us, our executive team is comprised of operations, finance, which obviously is also IT and technology, legal and HR and those core functions have to work together. So those, you know, function heads take all of that data, take all of that analytics that we've done and then we try to say, we call it internally skate where the puck is going, right. You don't want to be where you're at today because other people are going to overshoot you. You got to have that vision to say, well, where is the puck going to be and start to position yourself to be in that right place to accept it and score. So that's the foresight piece kind of underlaying it all from my perspective, I guess, is oversight. And, you know, the easiest throwaway answer of course is internal audit is the oversight, but I think that the answer is probably a little bit deeper than that. And that's just making sure that all of the data that we're using in making coming to our conclusions and making our analysis and decisions is good, right, cause it's garbage in garbage out. So if that integrity of what you're looking at is not solid, if the thesis that you're building on that data is not solid, the whole, you know, to use a home metaphor, if the foundation is going to break, the house has got to fall apart. So we really have to make sure with that oversight piece and we have a lot of controls in place, and they're not just controlled on the accounting side, it's controlled on the cleanliness and accuracy of the data, so that all the decisions that we make off of that data, you know, our predictive analytics are gonna hold true. Closing (18:57):This has been Count Me In. IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at 

Jul 26

19 min 18 sec

Contact James Stark: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam (00:00):Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson and today I will be previewing a conversation between my co-host Rouba and her special guest, James Stark. In this episode, James shares his insight and views on the challenging global landscape and the must have skills for CFOs. He is active in Egon Zehnder's financial officer's industrial board practices and is well-versed in the financial leaders need to evolve and optimize their careers and their organizations. Keep listening to hear more from James and Rouba now. Rouba (00:42):So I want to ask you a little bit about your career in the finance and accounting industry for so many years, I mean, throughout your career you've facilitated a lot of peer to peer learning within the finance and accounting profession itself, and you're a huge advocate for creating lasting value. Can you tell us a little bit more about what it means to drive that kind of level of value in today's very volatile globalized marketplace? James (01:13):Yeah, of course. So look, I tie this to the rise of the strategic CFO, which is something that's been written about quite a bit over the last decade or so. What that means, I think in practice is that CFO, senior finance leaders are becoming much more forward looking to help drive business decisions and not just kind of the backward looking scorekeeper that they might've been 20, 30 plus years ago. I think elements of that would also include scenario analysis and how you translate corporate strategy down to business unit or functional or even product strategy. So there's much more of a focus on commercial outcomes and driving the business forward. I also think finance leaders are really well equipped to help drive this value, given their position in the organization. Especially if they can broaden their skills beyond just kind of whatever that core part of finances they kind of came in or came up through. So, you know, rotations can help with that as you think about moving around between controllership to FP&A or treasury or investor relations or strategy and corporate development, et cetera. I've had CFOs tell me over the last, maybe five plus years that, you know, technical skills now are really just more like table stakes and what truly differentiates finance talent and helping to drive value creation, is having greater impact via, you know, better strategic thinking, being both deeply analytical, but also pairing that with a willingness to embrace new technologies and then also strong leadership and interpersonal skills can really help motivate and organize and energize the broader organization and I think specifically to that peer to peer learning piece, and I think part of that is also, you know, if you're a lifelong learner, you're going to be kind of more adaptable and you're constantly being incorporating best practices that you learn from others outside your organization, or even outside your industry. Rouba (02:56):Yeah, I'm all for the life learning approach, that's really a big value, at IMA. So when you look at, when your focus in recent years has been a lot on innovation and organic growth, but let's look into this new era, this new normal that we're in, the COVID-19 pandemic pre, during, and post, and as organizations are crumbling, some are succeeding, some have completely remodeled their entire business model and they're struggling to survive. What role does innovation play, I mean, and organic growth play at this time, if at all? James (03:35):Yeah, great question. It's certainly very timely, right. So I've been talking to senior finance leaders for almost two decades now and when I asked them about their top priorities, innovation and organic growth is always at, or near the top. And that's both for the company, but also even within the finance function, right? How can you improve your operations and processes within finance? So I think there's always a role for innovation, but it's important as well of course, ebb and flow, depending on what's happening both within the company, as well as the broader macro conditions. You know, in times of crisis it's well-known that R&D spending is typically one of the first line items that gets cut or at least drastically reduced, right. Cash is king and so, yeah, totally get that, that's going to happen in a downturn. But you know, but once that storm is weathered and you start seeing a return to normalcy, I think then it becomes time to quickly pivot and identify new opportunities for growth again. And I think the earlier you can make the pivot, you know, the better the odds that you can beat your competition at it. I'd also, you know, even use Egon Zehnder as an example in terms of what we did during the pandemic. You know, as the pandemic was ramping up, we didn't lay off anyone globally. You know, it was, we did stop, we did stop hiring, but we didn't lay anyone off and, you know, given our values, we didn't think layoffs were the right thing to do at the time, but also strategically, we didn't think layoffs made sense, and I think, you know, some of our competitors actually did lay off staff and, you know, as a result now that we're seeing this strong rebound in some markets, we feel like we're in a great position. Rouba (05:02):Yeah I don't think many anticipated the pent up demand and how it's going to see them scramble to get their business back to normal. So if we look at automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, they've already begun taking serious inroads into the professional realm and not just in the finance and accounting sector, but every single industry. So digital transformation is now the conversation at every boardroom, every discussion and it was extremely accelerated by COVID. I mean, whatever was in the works a few months ago just became a priority all of a sudden. So when you think of this post pandemic, new normal per se, what are the skills that the finance and accounting professionals are going to require in order to maneuver with this new normal? James (05:49):Yeah, you know, I think some of these kind of core skills will get amplified given what we've seen over the last 16 months or so, right. And so that's around adaptability, resilience in being able to lead through ambiguity. I think we'll see likely an acceleration of some of these pre COVID trends as we move to the new normal. I think many have already, as you said, many have already been focusing on advanced analytics, bots, robotic process automation to improve performance within the finance function. As we, move to the post pandemic normal, I think those areas are going to remain robust. I'd also expect to see many people turning to artificial intelligence, machine learning, advanced data visualization technologies, and of course, digitalization to do things better, smarter and faster and who knows at some point maybe blockchain may eventually even live up to it's hype. Rouba (06:38):Hopefully. I mean, it's the biggest conversation right now, blockchain and cryptocurrency taking over the world. So we've seen companies around the world undergo major digital transformation efforts in the region. Some of the most notable are, Emirates NBD. I mean, these guys spent 1 billion dirhams, on, their own transformation. You're talking about roughly a quarter of million dollars, and just to enhance their performance, Coca-Cola says that they were able to reallocate 40% of their finance team's resources, at their time. I mean, allocated their time, thanks to automation. How does a company go about this process in the first place and what is the role that finance and accounting professionals can play to kind of facilitate, or maybe even drive and lead that change? James (07:27):Yeah, I think this one can be a little bit tricky to answer, because I think the term digital transformation can mean different things to different people. I do, as we mentioned before, I, you know, many finance executives have been turning to bots and RPA to automate what are typically known as kind of rote or repetitive tasks and they do that in order to free up talent, to focus on some of the more higher value add or judgment intensive activities, but you know, it's not just a magical switch that you turn on. There's a lot of effort and blocking and tackling that's required to make that happen and notably that's really focusing on fixing your existing processes first. But it's also part of a mind shift, a change as well, right. You know, you need to kind of change your mindset and be open to trying new things and not just say, "Hey, you know, this is how we've always done it". And that transition is not always easy for finance professionals. I think those who are unwilling to make that pivot do risk being left behind. Rouba (08:21):And by the way, I mean, I think COVID really has given nobody choice. I mean, it's now a mandatory process. James (08:27):It's imperative. Absolutely. Rouba (08:29):What's great about it is that we've seen CFOs step up and the whole strategic direction of companies and they've, they've really taken on more of a leadership role from a finance perspective. And they're being looked at for governance, risk management, business change, business resilience and technology advancements. I mean, these are way more advanced than we've ever been in the finance sector. Are the inherited skills of finance and accounting professionals, I mean, the ones that they've been trained to the way we've done this, as you noted, are these sufficient to make such big decisions based on data and all of this reliance on RPA and all of digital transformation and what are the crucial skills that they must evolve? James (09:11):Great question. And I think, you know, what we typically see in the market place, focuses on core competencies as well as elements of potential and I'll tell you a little bit about both. I think we might be a little bit unique in that regard and that we don't just look at past performances and experience to assess a candidate's ability to succeed in a role or a particular mandate. So, you know, depending on the role, we typically see a desire for finance executives who have several, strengths in these various competencies. So one is around results orientation, you know, how well can they drive performance, make improvements using fact-based analysis. A second one's around strategic orientation, which we already discussed a little bit, but you know, how well can you articulate evolving priorities over the next three to five years? And it also, how well do you consider scenarios? A third competence is around team leadership. So do you encourage new ideas from the team and do you embrace the differences across the organization? And then you use a range of management styles to really help enforce productive behaviors within the team. And then a final one is around collaboration and influencing. So how well do you seek out input from other stakeholders, do you share best practices and you invest in building strong relationships throughout the organization. And so when we look at, candidates and assess finance leaders, you know, we have a detailed scale and kind of how we rank them across these competencies. You know, those are on the lower end are really more reactive. But then those who are very proactive and influence beyond just even the finance function are the ones that will score, kind of the strongest. So that's the competence part. Another other piece that we look at is what we consider kind of the four key elements of potentials, what are kind of the big predictors of future success and growth over the course of a career. And we have four of those that we narrow in on. One is around insights, so how well does someone gather data and connect dots to discover new ideas or new thinking for the organization? A second one is around engagement. So it's really building that connection and winning the hearts and minds of others. Third one's around determination, very straightforward, right? How well can you overcome obstacles to drive results? Do you have tenacity and grit to fight through challenging times. And the final ones around curiosity? And we don't just view it as intellectual curiosity, you know, how much are you curious about the rest of the world around you, but it's also, you know, how much does someone actively seek feedback to improve upon their self? And so that also goes back to that lifelong learning piece we talked about earlier. And I like to think that that framework would really help prepare finance leaders to thrive in kind of the ever-changing macro environment. Rouba (11:45):No, these are amazing skills I think, and kind of pandemic proof as they sound so far. James (11:52):One hopes. Rouba (11:53):And one hopes that, but this brings me really perfectly into my next question because there's, and I don't know if this is a global issue, but in the region we're seeing less and less interest, in the finance and accounting industry today as a profession. So according to this study that EY conducted, 74% of CFOs surveyed, and it's called The Changing Role of the CFO, finance organizations are really facing a talent crisis. So even though there's so much encouragement towards bringing in driving the numbers, only 25% of people in the profession say they will stay. Why do you think this is happening and what can organizations do to drive the situation in an opposite direction and keep and retain people in the profession, make it more appealing? James (12:40):Yeah, it's a very interesting question. I think we all know that the war for talent is real and that's kind of across industries and functions. I think the follow-up question I'd ask in that EY survey is if only 25% plan to stay in finance, where are the other 75% expecting to go? And is there anything about the evolving role of the finance leader that can be used to help counter that? And so, you know, I may be biased, but I believe, you know, as the role of finance leaders continue to evolve, so will the attractiveness of the function, as a potential career path. And I'd also add that the opportunities are really increasing. Even though the CFO role is becoming more challenging as CFOs are being required to kind of take on more and more capabilities and functions. But you know, with greater demand for strategic CFOs, the path to the seat has evolved quite a bit, right? This is a pretty well-publicized that now that only, you know, less than a third of Fortune 500 CFOs have a CPA, right? That number was much larger 10, 20 years ago. I'd also add the average tenure of the CFO role is actually decreasing. It's now just under five years, at least within the Fortune 500. At the same time, CFOs are getting hired later in their careers. If you've got the average age of a first-time CFO, it's much older than it was just 10, 15 years ago. And then finally they are retiring earlier. So the average retirement age for a CFO is coming at a younger age. And so, you know, I think to sum up what we've covered, that the finance function remains an exciting and an evolving place to be. One where you can have even greater impact on the success of the company and from my perspective, that makes it much more attractive. Rouba (14:18):Well hopefully, we need CFOs. I mean, if the pandemic taught us anything, is that we need them to maneuver. James (14:24):Absolutely. You know, it's a big driver of value creation for organizations. So at least from a hiring perspective, you wanna make sure you hire the right one. Closing (14:33):This has been Count Me In. IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMAs website at 

Jul 19

14 min 54 sec

Contact Marco Otti: Revisited: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 131 of our series. For today's conversation my co-host Adam spoke with Marco Otti about possible solutions in different approaches to budgeting. Marco is a group controller who acts as a finance business partner to support the decision-making of Autoneum, the global market leader in acoustics and thermal management. In their conversation, Marco discusses some of the common issues with traditional budgeting and explains why CFOs need to rethink how they plan and execute their budgets. Keep listening as we head over to their conversation now.Adam: (00:50)So let's start by talking about some of the issues with traditional and better budgeting. Why change?Marco: (00:56)Yes, why is innovation in budgeting needed, right? I mean, as a group controller, I contribute to our company's annual budgeting, monthly forecasting and three-year financial planning process, and I often ask myself, how can we as management accountants do a better job at budgeting, right? Kind of process be simpler or different. I'm sure most listeners have been involved with the budgeting process in one way or another. Maybe ask yourself as well, what do you consider the most significant barrier to improving or changing your budgeting process? There can be many barriers of course, for example, organizational attitudes towards budgeting, time, cost, inflexible IT systems, or the process being controlled by another group/department, or maybe you think there are no barriers at all, then that's great. One thing to remember is that traditional budgeting is still used in the maturity of companies. At the same time, many of these organizations identify agility as their strategy, which is quite surprising because traditional budgeting is too rigid to support agility well. And if you read Kaplan and Norton, they say that the ineffectiveness of many budgets also comes from the fact that almost 60% of organizations don't link budgets to their strategy and only 25% of managers have incentives linked to the company's strategy. Most of us are aware of the limitations of traditional budgeting. So it can be a very time-consuming exercise with limited value, as assumptions are quickly outdated. Also decisions are often made too early and other to senior level. And based on my own experience, having been involved in a budgeting process, the issue with traditional budgeting is really the amount of work compared to the benefit. I mean, having annual and detailed discussions with cost centers can be quite time-consuming and usually the complaints come from us, the finance function, finance organization who manage and execute this process. So depending on how lean and improved your process is, it can be an efficient exercise as well. With better budgeting you can substantially reduce the planning effort, for example, with less meetings, less reporting requirements, more top-down guidance, shorten the process to maybe one or two months every year. However, process improvements are still a continuation of the traditional budgeting approach and does not bring fundamental changes of instruments.Adam: (03:30)So then what are the essential functions of budgets and what are they used for?Marco: (03:34)That's a good question because, the functions and what budgets are used for, are quite relevant and important, like translating your company strategy into targets, which refers again to the strategy execution, Kaplan and Norton are talking about. Budgets are, if you will, the tactical implementation of the strategy, they are about resource allocation, which again, starts with developing and validating the company strategy. Therefore, I would say you cannot just remove the budget with its functions and manage your costs and business because planning is still important to coordinate activities, in your own organization. As an example, let me share some of the different functions the budget has at my company, Autoneum. We use the budget for setting absolute targets for the year and to support the performance management throughout the year, for example, every month. So the budget really serves as a reference point for performance and based on many assumptions, it gives a prediction of the next year and how we plan to control costs. Also it is used for resource allocation and managing continuous improvement initiatives. In any organization, traditional and better budgeting is really a mix and let's say a compromise of some of these and other functions.Adam: (04:57)Okay, then, so in the context of traditional budgeting and VUCA environments, how did your company respond to the crisis last year?Marco: (05:04)Yes, I mentioned agility before, of course, in a VUCA environment, like in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional budgets were not very useful to compare performance against because they were basically irrelevant by the end of the first quarter. So how did we respond? On the top line we planned for different scenarios and updated them weekly. In terms of costs, we used the most recent rolling forecasts, which are updated monthly. And in discussions with the business unit locally agreed on how to best cut costs. In some cases we instructed some top-down adjustments, based on the revenue levels. So for a time really stopped focusing on a budget, right, and shifted the attention to the monthly forecast and came up with intermediate targets based on the circumstances. This is also something to think about when you put yourself in the shoes of the decision makers. What did you or your company do to respond and manage costs during the pandemic? Did you empower your local teams because they know best how to manage costs. Or on the other hand, did you centralize decisions as much as possible because in a crisis there is a need for strong leadership, right? Actually, I mean, this spectrum of self-control versus command and control is relevant when thinking about new budgeting approaches. You can manage costs with detailed annual cost budgets or increase autonomy and flexibility by using absolute or relative KPIs, or even no targets at all. Of course, this then needs strong company values and a clear direction.Adam: (06:45)What are the possible solutions for more business agility and changing to different budgeting approaches like beyond budgeting?Marco: (06:52)Actually this question, was the reason why the president of the IMA Switzerland chapter, Hessel Brouwer and myself, reached out to CFOs and academics in Switzerland to learn from their experiences of moving to more modern and agile budgeting techniques and then also publish an article in strategic finance. One of the main ideas of the beyond budgeting theory is to separate the budget functions as outlined before. The key budget functions, are target setting, forecasting, and resource allocation. So instead of having one compromised number for all these functions, you would in a first step separate targets from forecasts and from resource allocation. With that, you would have three different numbers serving different purposes. A key tool is forecasting or rolling forecast, which supports the ongoing planning and forecasts are used for the purpose of better decision-making and not as a target or application for resources. Forecast should reflect the best estimates with as little details as possible and be again, decoupled from target discussions. Forecasts, again are not targets, you don't want to hit them. They measure and correct the gap with the strategic target or your ambition and the frequency and time horizon of forecasts will depend on the business cycle. And actually the best way to start to try a different approach is by changing the target setting. This means to introduce more stretch targets that are VUCA robust as we call it and reflect the comprehensive performance evaluation. For example, by using relative instead of absolute targets, this means comparing actuals with actuals of previous periods. And it also means the focus is more on midterm relative calls, where you analyze the trend or the improvement rather than an absolute figure. Another element would be the use of benchmarks that could be external or internal instead of working with fixed targets and for resource allocation of operation expenses, again use relative KPIs with trend monitoring. The same thing can be applied to compensation using relative targets based on group performance while comparing to benchmarks. And if you look up the 12 principles of beyond budgeting theory, what I mentioned so far are mostly changes in management processes like targets, forecasts, resource allocation, performance evaluation, but it is important to be aware that management processes can influence and change your company's culture. And what is needed is really a comprehensive approach that reflects leadership principles as well.Adam: (09:49)Okay. So then did you find use cases of companies that have successfully abandoned the budgets?Marco: (09:56)Yes, there were several actually, for instance, the case of the manufacturer Hilti, which has also highlighted in a strategic finance article, so let me share some details on how they manage their business more dynamically. Hilti’s former global head of finance initiated the changes during the same time as beyond budgeting came around in the early 2000s and Hilti’s model is very much based on beyond budgeting, but it also differs, especially with respect to the focus on leading with strategic targets. And the company's current global finance director, told us that being able to adapt quickly as an organization has really become a competitive advantage in today's environment. So what's particularly interesting is what motivated Hilti to change to an innovative approach, to measure performance. Because they noticed that their financial control system was working against Hilti's company culture. So the company had invested a lot in culture development and for example, with high transparency being one of the cultural principles, the leadership saw that traditional budgets weren't really supporting building trust in the organization. So Hilti decided to replace traditional budgeting with flexible planning. First, they changed the target setting and realigned to their bonus system, linking it to the company's progress towards strategic targets, instead of linking it to short term budget targets and individual targets. And with the implementation of a rolling forecast, they were able to replace the annual budgeting process as their measurements switched from budgets to actual comparisons, to monitoring actual to actual trends. Also Hilti defined a simple financial KPI structure that fits their business model. Ambitions are derived directly from the strategy to give the organization a long-term top-down orientation and to keep the system lean and flexible. Costs are seen as an input factor to achieve those strategic targets and are managed on a continuous basis and decentralized using the rolling forecast process. Coming back to culture, Hilti believes by setting a few relative strategic targets and delegating decisions and trusting their employees while ensuring a high level of transparency on progress also creates a culture of performance. And the overall financial planning at Hilti really starts with downhill strategy review they call game planning and then the cycle of the flexible planning follows with three rolling forecasts per year. This means that they don't wait for the next budgeting process to start in order to calibrate their planning. And again, as the COVID pandemic hit, it was impossible to plan for the next quarter while having to act and respond quickly. So management at Hilti at the time had to decide whether to implement short term measures or structural adjustments. And to guide their actions, they used the updated rolling forecast as a pulse check, and they're beyond budgeting, bottom up approach and empowered the regional markets to make the decisions. This self-control mechanism helps them to take the best actions tailored to each market. Also, it isn't just about transparency, but actively engaging and moderating the decision-making process of the management. At Hilti, the finance function is very much involved at the outset of the strategy review and the finance people take part in business discussions. This really helps to improve the overall alignment within the organization.Adam: (13:43)So Marco you've made some really good points as you've been going through this whole process. And we've been talking through these questions, but I have to ask why is now the time for CFOs to rethink how they plan?Marco: (13:54)Well, if we take the case of Hilti, that decision wasn't against budgeting, but rather challenging the assumptions of how performance was measured and looking for a comprehensive approach that's in line with the company's culture. And then in the process, traditional budgets became obsolete. And again, the main idea is to incentivize the organization to achieve long-term targets and measure the progress by continuously improving towards those targets. Success ultimately depends on how well such high-level target setting is aligned between the top management, the department and the team level by using our channel methods. To answer your question what I can say is that all CFOs we spoke to conveyed a new urgency to change the budgeting process and for any CFO, it comes down to a fundamental decision whether to make incremental changes to their budgeting practices, to lower the burden on the finance organization or alternatively to reassess everything and to try innovative budgeting. And the key question to answer is not only how well your present planning and budgeting approach fits the business environment, but also how committed the company is about transforming to agile ways of working.Adam: (15:14)I mean, that makes sense. So just to kind of wrap up our conversation, could you summarize the main lessons you've learned?Marco: (15:21)Sure. We already mentioned several aspects and I can summarize them with let's say six major lessons learned from our interviews. And overall business agility is really the biggest challenge for companies continuing to operate with traditional budgets. But whether your approach can or should be changed depends on the business environment and the culture readiness of the organization. This means it might be very challenging if you have a strong existing budgeting culture so the culture aspect must be addressed first. This also means that getting buy in from the top management and board of directors is crucial. So thinking about corporate culture is really the first lesson learned. Then it also needs to be a comprehensive approach aligned with the compensation and bonus system by replacing individual bonuses with team or group bonuses for example. So lesson two would be to go with an integrated performance management system for your planning and budgeting approach. And three, adjust your compensation and bonus system to share the company's success. And next I would say is relative target setting. Using relative instead of absolute targets for the key KPIs combined with long-term financial targets. Also implementing flexible planning with frequently updated rolling forecast that are most importantly decoupled from targets. And the last lesson is conducting rigorous scenario planning to review your strategy and include the finance function in the process. The CFOs were also clear about the need for finance professionals to take the lead and become true business partners.Closing: (17:06)This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Jul 12

17 min 26 sec

Contact Keith Terreri: Corporation of America:  FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05)Welcome to episode 130 of Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host, Adam Larson and today I'm pleased to introduce our featured guest speaker, Keith Terreri. Keith is the Chief Financial Officer and Senior Vice President of corporate operations, and IT for NEC Corporation of America. In his double role of CFO and CIO, he has developed a wealth of skill and knowledge necessary for effectively overseeing and managing accounting, FP&A, supply chain management, corporate operations and IT. In this episode, Keith describes the convergence of these two pivotal roles and explains the value each team brings to the business regardless of the organizational size. Let's head over the conversation to learn more.Mitch: (00:57)So our listeners are well aware of the changing role of the CFO. It's something we talk about all the time, you know, the need for a strategic foresight decision-making business partnering is something that's very popular. A lot of this is due to the evolution of technology, but you have a unique role. You have a double role of CFO and CIO at NEC. So what does this convergence of the two roles really look like to you on a daily basis?Keith: (01:22)Thanks, Mitchell. That's actually a great question because it's certainly different than when I was just CFO. The convergence of these two roles, it's actually been a very eyeopening experience to say the least. So the convergence has come with some great synergies, and also a significant amount of risk management. From a synergy perspective, obviously our back-office functions of OTC, which is order to cash, PTP, which is procure to pay and record to report, or RTR have been greatly enhanced, right? So finance corporate operations, and IT are all one team now and communicating regularly. The interaction in visibility for both groups has been fantastic as one team and under this scenario, we work on a daily basis to make sure not only our ERP is running smoothly, but also our network and data is secure. For a risk management perspective, obviously cybersecurity has become a major part of all IT team's responsibilities over the last several years and now it's a part of daily operations for companies. However, in this dual role it's been becoming increasingly clear to me that cyber security is everybody's responsibility, not just the IT department. As everybody knows, ransomware attacks are very prevalent right now making cybersecurity the utmost importance on a daily basis. So we constantly monitor our network for security purposes and many companies are moving towards a zero trust approach from a cyber security information perspective and so that is also part of our daily discussion. Customers are also getting much more stringent, you know, on their contract requirements, requiring information security clauses in the contracts with us, so that we have to be very cognizant of that as well. So now we are very involved as we continue to make contracts with our customers. So, I mean, all in all it makes for quite a different daily routine than just finance.Mitch: (03:32)Well, as far as finance goes, you know, I know much of your career prior to this role, prior to taking on CIO also was specifically in the finance function. So talk a little bit about how those experiences and those skills helped you prepare for the responsibilities you just discussed and what you've taken on involving IT.Keith: (03:51)That's another great question, Mitchell, thanks. I mean, primarily, it was really my training in risk management that has helped me the most. Always concerning myself with the downside of either operational or finance issues has been very helpful throughout my career and now with that, the added responsibility for IT, thinking about the downside, or any type of issues from an IT perspective, has really been a good mix for me. Also having had experience in cyber liability insurance probably since it started, or when it was first offered, I've almost kind of grown up with that. So as a CFO, financial risk management is very important and frankly cyber risk has become, definitely become a financial risk to everybody these days based on all of the cyber activity that's out there in the world. I mean don't forget, I mean risk management is not only for services you provide to your customers, but also for your own network and your data. So you've got two things you have to look at from a risk management perspective and we do this frankly, on a regular basis. So when you think about all the, you know, traditional finance experience, most of the times the CFOs are responsible for risk management insurance. I think that the cyber liability insurance, which is changing rapidly as we've seen in the last month or so is very important for both the CFO and the IT guys to understand completely. I particularly, if you have a chief information security officer, that employee needs to be very familiar with how the policy works, if you should ever have a claim.Mitch: (05:34)Now, oftentimes because of the risk management perspective, you were just talking about how that falls on the CFO's shoulders. They're usually responsible for forging a relationship with the CIO because of the cyber security, cyber liability, things like that and the joint relationship is responsible for handing the priorities of finance and IT individually. We spoke a little bit your role prior to this call and, you know, you serve both. So how do you really communicate the needs and further support the relationships of two different teams as one person?Keith: (06:08)So this was definitely something I wanted to focus on when I took over IT three years ago. And I really think, you know, as a CFO and being able to look holistically at the financial statements and also preparing our annual budgets and forecasts, it becomes slightly easier to allocate resources for cybersecurity and for IT initiatives. There's no longer in my mind, right? In the way we have things set up a competition for funds or resources between finance corporate operations and IT. So it really makes for a more collaborative approach on resources so that when we prepare our annual budgets, we go together as a team and we've already kind of vetted out, you know, the priority of funds and funding for resources. The entire team discusses and ranks the needs so that we're all in sync. You know, one of those slogans I adopted early on with the finance team was “we're all IT now”, and that has really helped kind of change the mentality and increase the collaboration between the two groups. I mean, under this type of scenario, there's no longer any finger pointing and everybody accepts accountability. You know, in a traditional scenario where you have the two teams separated, in a traditional scenario, there separation of these two teams can create friction, which is not necessary in today's ultra fast paced business world. The entire leadership team of finance and IT, and corporate operations meets once or twice a week. They think that's an update from my perspective, but really it's for them to interact and update each other so that we're all on the same page and so no one person can say, “I didn't know IT was doing this”, or “I wasn't aware of finance wanted to do that”. And this communication has brought foresight and respect, into the team's relationships and I think once you have that, if you didn't have it previously, it's almost like a revelation and I've been really proud of the team's efforts to collaborate together. So for us, it's really worked beneficially and having both of these groups together and we're definitely one team all in sync.Mitch: (08:25)So I just have a quick follow up on that and two parts, the first one might be a bit of a layup, but the, you know, what I'm interested in is you have these two different teams collaborating and working together, prioritizing, do they have different needs? And, you know, you talked a little bit about that competitive nature in the beginning. What kind of, you know, different communication styles do the different teams need to adjust to for each other?Keith: (08:50)Well I think from a communication style perspective, I think everybody on the senior leadership team, they're senior leaders, right? So they're typically a director, senior director or vice president, and they've, you know, been in their current roles either with us or other companies for a long enough time to understand and respect, you know, other divisions and other departments and I think that once you have the right bunch of people together and everybody's communicating, and there's an awareness, right. So if you have different needs and different requirements, you know, you have to provide a forum for them to explain that. So like, IT may be very focused on cybersecurity when we're putting the budget together and we may need to allocate some money there, but cut some other costs in other areas where we may want to hire a consultant or something like that and it's a trade-off. So we talk about that and you have to, you have to risk review everything and figure out what's the riskiest from a financial perspective and allocate the dollars that way. I think from the finance team's perspective, they are often financial reporting and the ERP system, and really focused on providing services to their customers, their internal customers, which are the business units, you know, being in a traditional shared services group. So I think that the IT group is focused on things from the outside and the finance group is focused on things internally and as long as you have good communication between the two, it can really be a true synergy to have the two together.Mitch: (10:32)Now, again, just to recap real quick, we're talking about the convergence of finance and IT, the role of the CFO and CIO. I think it's fair to assume the underlying need or demand for this relationship to really work, either simultaneously or independently is control, right? And we talk a lot about internal control, you talked a little bit about risk management from the finance side, cybersecurity and cyber control from the IT side. Both of these teams need relevant, reliable data, right? That's really what it comes down to. So with your dual role, you mentioned earlier, you know, who's responsible for cybersecurity and it's really everybody, but from your hands-on experience in both functions, what can businesses do to enhance their control, enhance their cyber security and ensure that the finance and IT departments are effective in doing their jobs?Keith: (11:24)Yeah, it's another great question Mitchell and maybe I have a new answer for you. I mean, basically everyone is responsible for controls and cybersecurity. That's one of the things that we've really been trying to promote, you know, over the last several years, particularly as cybersecurity has become much more of a risk on a daily basis, so that it's everybody's responsibility, not only cyber security concern from the outside and using good business judgment on things you do with your laptops, et cetera, and access and passwords, but also internally and how we provide services to our customers, if they're web based or if you're using AWS or anything like that, making sure that we're following all the policies. On the organizational chart, you know, I'm responsible for control and cybersecurity, but, without the help of all of our employees to use good business judgment, it's really an impossible task, right? You've got to use good business judgment in your daily business as an employee. Internal controls are also the responsibility of everyone all the way down to the transactional level. You know, following delegation of authority, those types of things. A lot of times, cybersecurity it's just common sense, regarding access and such things as you know, multi-factor authentication. All businesses, you know, need to make sure there's sufficient awareness regarding cybersecurity and also the company's information security policies. So continued corporate communication or IT communication however that company does it, about new cyber attack mechanisms is very important. You know, it’s really just about awareness, awareness, awareness, and good business judgment and when we do our quarterly town halls, my last slide is always about using good business judgment and making sure we're protecting our business at the end of the day. I mean, for companies with both the CFO and CIO roles separately, I would suggest a new level of communication, where in the leadership of both departments communicate on a regular basis so everyone knows what everyone is doing, not just as a regards to Oracle or SAP or whatever ERP that you use, which is your traditional interaction. Networking, cybersecurity, and those types of things are very important on the finance and corporate operations side so that people can use better judgment once they're more informed. When changes need to be made, make sure both groups are involved and buy into the change management approach so that they can then be change agents for the rest of the company. For the companies that do not have a specific CISO role or chief information security officer role, I would suggest outsourcing this type of activity. Data classification and those types of things are very important if you should ever have a cyber event and there's a ton of third parties out there that can help you do everything from penetration testing, you know, helping to develop your incidence response plan, if you should ever have an event and often, for companies this is a more economical route to take, because I think I heard a statistic the other day, there's about 4 million open cybersecurity positions across the US and the positions are very expensive to hire, you know, from the outside. So usually bringing in a consultant or a firm to help you with this is awesome. You know, a more economical route to take. I mean, lastly, make sure both senior team leaders understand the cyber risk insurance policy and how it works and don't forget to include the legal folks as well, because if you have an event, all three groups need to be involved and if you have an incidence response plan, obviously you've already worked through all this, but these are very important things that, you know, from a communication perspective between the CFO and the CIO.Mitch: (15:17)Well, those are great steps to follow and thank you for putting that together. I want to take it one step further as we close out the conversation, because I know you did just mention some companies may not have all of these different roles at their disposal, you know, internally. So we want to be sure we provide direction for some of the smaller companies too, our listeners who work at smaller companies. How does today's conversation really apply to them? You know, what can your responsibilities or your experience, you know, the convergence of the CFO and CIO, how can that be broken down so it's more relatable to individuals who might not have this kind of exposure?Keith: (15:51)Yeah, I think that's another great question, because really most likely as smaller companies, maybe you don't even have a CFO, you just got a finance director, they may already have partial or complete responsibility for the IT aspects of the business. I really think today's conversation has just as much relevance to smaller companies because there's still reputational risk to your company if there's a data breach or cyber event, and this can be devastating for your business, for your owners, you know, or if you're venture capital owned or PE owned, or just personally owned by somebody can be devastating. And there's really, there's no way to hide from cyber risky today's world. Many of the biggest companies with significant IT and cyber resources, you know, continue to get attacked and you read about in the paper almost every week, right? So what I've tried to do here is break it down into some steps, whether you're a CFO, a CIO, or a CEO, president of a company, there's four steps I would recommend. First of all, step number one, identify the risk, right? Ask yourself if my network were hacked and data stolen, or my e-commerce webpage got ransomwared, how would it affect my business? If this is a material effect on your business, then you've got to continue to go to these next steps, right? So identifying that risk, number two, step number two, define how much of that risk you're willing to retain and then get cyber insurance for the remainder of that. In any company, any size can get that type of insurance so I would highly recommend that unless you think you can retain the entire risk. Third step would be to hire an outside cybersecurity firm to help enhance whatever internal resources you have, whether it's one person, a half a person or 10 people to be vigilant with your network and your data. And four, I mentioned this earlier, but practice constant awareness with your employees, whether you have 10 employees or a thousand or a hundred thousand, the concept is still the same. Get everybody on board, using good business judgment and these are really, these four steps I think are relevant for any size company, large or small, it can really help you get your hands around what you need to do from a cybersecurity perspective.Closing: (18:19)This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Jul 7

18 min 40 sec

Contact Denise Dettingmeijer: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host, Adam Larson, and I'm here to kick off our conversation for episode 129 of our series. Today you will hear from Denise Dettingmeijer, Chief Financial Officer of Randstad North America. Denise is a dedicated financial leader who is passionate about bringing more women into the field. While she talks with Mitch, she explains what needs to be done and how it can be measured to ensure women are integral part of the future of finance. Let's head over to hear her perspective on the topic now.Mitch: (00:44)Thank you Denise, for joining us. Our conversation today is about bringing more women into the field of finance. I know you said this is something you're passionate about. So to begin, can you please share with our listeners kind of your perspective on the current environment, the gender gap in the industry, and really what interests you about this topic?Denise: (01:02)Yeah, I absolutely can, and thank you for having me here today. You know, starting with the current environment, we can't not speak about the pandemic, so hope everybody's safe and sound. What that has taught us as an industry, as finance professionals that flexibility, the speed, the creativity, just, you know, crisis management was always one of our skill-sets, but nothing at this level before. And putting that into an environment like a pandemic from a past where those skills were always extraordinary for us, I think just exploded, you know, what we can do for the company. When you lay that over onto the gender gap, there is definitely a gender gap as a result of COVID as well in the industry, not just in the industry, in the world with working women. So focusing down on the finance thing, the one word I have is women are definitely underrepresented in the finance worlds. Statistically there's 38% of finance majors are female and 18% of CFOs are female. Those are for fortune 500 companies., it gets lower when you include all companies, 12%. So when you start out at 38, we could argue that's too low and what can we do about the education and having people that look like me and others, you know, getting involved in the finance stream of universities then accountants and other professionals, but regardless, even at the 38%, if we could get to 38%, that would be quite an accomplishment. We're hovering much, much lower than that. So no matter how you do the math, truthfully, we're underrepresented in an industry and in a function that actually suits traditional female traits and so many career pathing for so many people.Mitch: (02:45)Now you are at the forefront of the industry as CFO and through your experience as a finance leader, you talked a little bit about the numbers, but what else have you noticed as far as progress? How have you seen the industry really progress with this topic?Denise: (02:59)Yeah, so, the industry, as I think that beginning entry level has progressed. So you see a lot of women in finance when you do finance in general. So whether it's accounting, accounts receivable, payroll, FP&A, you know, the whole scope of finance, you see more and more women at the entry level. Truthfully, I haven't personally seen it progress in the upper ranks since I've been working, it's still a unique position. There's not a lot of women when you go to CFO events, when you look at panels, it's just an underrepresented group in this area. So while the industry has progressed toward, more soft skills, being able to connect people, it used to be a really kind of a technical function. It's progressed to understanding bigger pictures and teamwork and traits that perhaps are generally more seen as female traits, the female representation and finance hasn't progressed along with that. I think there's things we can do about it, of course. But until now it's really, it's still unique for me to see another female CFO. And every time we join a meeting, we're still counting. We're like, okay, there's 20 of us, there's three, that's more than 10% great. Right. We're still counting and when we can stop counting, I think we've made a difference.Mitch: (04:23)It's very interesting and you know, very, as you just said, minimal change from the target, the goal that you're really looking for. So obviously there's room for improvement. When it comes to, you know, closing this gap, how do you recommend the industry improves? What is, what is still lacking? What needs to be done next?Denise: (04:42)Yeah. So, there's hundreds of things. I think for me, the, the big ones are, it's hard to make this change, right? And I know people talk about unconscious bias and you know, you hire people who look like you or who have the same experiences. We've got to crack that and crack it for so many reasons, not just women, but race and all of the other, you know, gender issues or diversity issues that are happening. We no longer have to, you know, 15 years ago we had to put forth the business case of why diversity matters, how come companies perform better with a diverse leadership team. Those, we don't even talk about that anymore. Everybody understands that agrees with it, it's scientific, it's proven. So I think it starts now with the humans and the fact that we can all learn and admit we have unconscious biases, here at Randstad, we switched that and go, you have to have conscious inclusion. So there's a difference between saying, yeah I'm unconsciously biased, I can't help it everybody has it. To I will consciously include, and in this case women and finance, I will consciously include them at the table. If women have trends when they enter a room of more than 10 people with, you know, eight chairs at the table and five along the wall, they'll sit against the wall cause just don't want to take up a chair. Ask them to take a seat at the table, literally. We tend to when asked what we want to do with our careers, we say, well I want to add value and be happy. Men tend to say, I want to be CFO. And so if you can not let women get away with that answer and instead of, you know, ripping off the bandaid, you can say, well, whose job do you want next? What job do you want to do, you know really help us come to the conversation in a way that will be heard because we don't answer questions the same way, we don't communicate the same way, we don't act the same way. So I really think if you change your unconscious bias, become aware of it, but flip it to that conscious inclusion and really make an effort, it'll make a huge difference. The other thing I have to call out is the elephant in the room and it's money. You gotta pay us the same. And right now for me, you can do all those other things, but if it comes down to a life-changing moment, elderly care, child care, a spouse at home, a partner at home, and somebody makes less money than somebody else, generally speaking, the one who makes less money stays home. And unless you start paying women the same, they're going to stay home. So to me, start with the pay, you're not getting a bargain if your women in your department are getting paid less now they will leave. You will have a brain drain, pay them the same and then consciously include in the conversations in the career progression, speak the way we need to be heard and help us speak so you can hear us.Mitch: (07:34)You know, I really love that conscious inclusion and we have done a lot as far as unconscious bias and we just released a report on, you know, diversity, equity and inclusion. As you said, all of these, everybody's aware of them at this point, you know, everything going on in the world as well, they're all very well known terms, but when you kind of combine those two things like you did, conscious inclusion kind of brings out the emotional intelligence, another big topic, right? We talk about self-awareness and self-management and what can we do to improve? So, you know, that definitely all melts together so well. And, you know, I really appreciate that, that's something to definitely take away from here.Denise: (08:18)Yeah. I'll say as a CFO, you know, and as a finance leader, if you're used to making plans and having detailed numbers and, you know, deployable plans that will yield actions and milestones and ensuring strategic planning outcomes or tactical outcomes, it's the same thing with DNI. If you don't have a plan with numbers and intent and milestones and outcomes and checking along the way if you're getting there, you're not going to get there. So I don't think there's a better skilled person in the company to help with the DNI plan then the CFO or a finance leader, because of how we're trained to think and how we think about the numbers. It's the same process. It's not a HR thing, it's a leader thing and everybody, whether you're a CFO, finance leader or not in finance, needs to participate and really ensure that there's clear guidance, clear goals, and clear process to get us there with adjustments when it's not working.Mitch: (09:25)That's absolutely right and you were talking earlier, I thought about that. You know, many of our listeners here in finance, they're very, you know, quantitative people, it's all about the numbers and how do we make things work, and that makes sense. But a big shift in the profession, the industry as a whole is, really taking on some more of these qualitative features, right? Some of the softer skills becoming the business partner, this is all things we talk about. And this is all part of it, this is all part of that qualitative, some of that, less numbers driven and more people driven perspective. So, really great topic very well said and obviously we have outlined many of the challenges so far, and I think, there has been some action that can be taken based on your perspective and things you've shared. Even if everyone is able to kind of implement these recommended changes and work towards bringing women into finance more and into higher positions, higher pay. You know, even with more, if our listeners decide I'm going to do this, what are some of the obstacles you can still expect to encounter as you go through this process? Even if you buy into it.Denise: (10:35)Yeah there's two angles to that. The one challenge you will have in doing this is the same we have with everything, it's time and priority. It takes time, it takes a conscious effort, it takes a plan and it takes it being a priority. And very often you'll hear people, “I just don't have time”. Well, you do have a lot of time, you just haven't prioritized it within that time. So that to me is always the biggest obstacle is where's the passion, where's the need, again, we don't have to prove any longer that diversity matters, that it makes companies better, it makes companies more profitable. So where can and how come you can't prioritize. So that's my first, is a personal make it a priority and how do you do that? There is time you work 10 hours, 12 hours, however many you have work a lot of hours. There's time. How do you prioritize that? That's for me, the biggest thing there. The other piece though, is that this is a big transition. So it's difficult to work in a world where people, when I say they don't look like you, so they don't think like you, they don't act like you, there's not a role model to look at. If you, you know, I had an advantage growing up as the only female in finance in manufacturing which is like a double whammy. I love sports. So Monday mornings and the Monday management meetings, we would talk about the game, the quarterback, and I could hang with that. I had an early career female who worked for me. We were on a plane once, and I looked at what she was reading. She was reading basketball for dummies was the name of the book. So why are you reading that? She goes, cause you guys talk about basketball, I know nothing about it. I was like, wow. So there's, there's the time and priority, but there's also the adjustment until there is more mass, until there's more percentages, higher percentages. These women are still going to be the only one or the one of a few and that takes a special time conscious inclusion, all the things we just talked about, that isn't a one and done. It's not just the Monday meeting. It's every meeting, it's every project. Don't think for us, let us think on our own. So if you're not giving the job to somebody because they just got married and now you assume they're going to have a baby, let us think on our own, you know, ask us questions and really include us until there's enough of a mass, that it doesn't become a unique situation any longer. It will take a lot of time.Mitch: (13:09)Absolutely and, it's something like we said, it's really that human driven factor, right. Wanting to more or less get to know people first upfront, right. I think that definitely helps with the relationship management and being able to, empathize with people and it doesn't always have to be about something negative, it could be about something positive as well and put yourself in those shoes. You know, a lot of steps to be taken understood, absolutely. So we talked a little bit about the future and what we can expect, but I would also like to, get your perspective on what changes you expect to see and, you know, short-term, long-term, when it comes to bringing more women into finance, what do you think that looks like? Is there enough awareness at this point, what can be done and, you know, how long do you think it takes?Denise: (14:01)Yeah, so I would have, I'll start with the end, I would have hoped by now in my career path that there were, I'm not going to go with 50, let's go with the 38%. Those who have studied it, have a career in it, right. I would have hoped we were there by now and so I'm less optimistic of the time it will take a 17 year old daughter and, you know, I am working hard to make sure her generation doesn't have to work as hard and fight like we did. COVID is putting, you know, that back quite a bit actually, so I'm less optimistic of the time it will take, I think it’ll be another generation truthfully, but if we don't start now, it will not ever be. So that's the by when. Why I think and how we can make this work is the finance world, you know, back in the day you were an accounting technician, you were a hard worker, you worked through the night, you closed your books, you worked weekends. There was this kind of pride in the effort and the energy and, you know, we talk about work-life balance, now our work-life blend, which is what I prefer to talk about, it didn't exist really, you know, back in the day, if you are a finance professional. It is table stakes now. Male, female, people don't want to work like that. So the industry is changing toward automation. It's changing toward the robotics. It's changing toward those soft skills of collaboration, of cooperation, helping the business grow. You still have to close your books, absolutely do, and pay people and do all of the, you know, real core support with your controls and everything in place. But the piece that really adds significant value to the business and the customer is that growth and collaboration, strategic planning, data analytics, insights, that piece and that soft skills that I think you can train finance skills upon. And so in that aspect, if you can find a leader traits of a human being, women as well, that exhibit those EQ type soft skills, we can teach them finance. So don't let the deterrent of the education prevent an opportunity and at the same time, I see businesses in general, switching toward this EQ soft skilled people person, motivating creative need in finance, at the same time, all the rest of the roles need to learn finance. You need to know how a P/L is structured, what you do impacts, what you do doesn't impact and how it all links together in order to be a great business person and a leader in a new organization where the data is at your fingertips, the reports are there and you're interpreting and learning also on your own. So I think as that merges together, we're going to have a bigger ecosystem of business, including finance and numbers then we will have departments. And that only sets the stage for, as I said before, anybody with the great EQ, you know, soft skills that generally are attributed more to the female gender than to the male.Closing: (17:11)This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Jun 28

17 min 24 sec

Contact Laura Boyd: Douglas: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Adam Larson and this episode, “Business Partners Developing Their Soft Skills”, is number 128 of our series. Laura Boyd, Vice President, Corporate Controller at Hunter Douglas joins us to talk about a topic not addressed enough among accounting professionals, the softer skills required in the profession. Everyone assumes accountants are all about the numbers and they are, but without the ability to collaborate across departments, they cannot be true business partners to the organization. Keep listening to hear about the specific soft skills required and how to develop them throughout your career.Mitch: (00:51)So our conversation today is going to focus on the soft skills and everyone typically assumes accounting and finance professionals, they're all about the numbers and we know they are but, I think everyone's starting to realize accounting and finance professionals really must possess and further develop these soft skills. So can you kick us off by sharing your perspective on this and let us know why you think that is?Laura: (01:14)Sure. Well, I think technical skills are obviously very important in our role as accountants and finance professionals. Our ability to analyze numbers and apply technical financial guidance, whether it's cost accounting or manufacturing accounting, or U.S. GAAP, IFRS otherwise goes a long way to supporting success in our careers. However, too much emphasis or rather not enough emphasis on developing and possessing these softer skills will really limit an individual's ability to properly support their business and develop their career in accounting. When we say softer skills, what we're really talking about is our communication style, leadership skills, team building skills, ability to make decisions, et cetera. Many of these skills are people type skills or interpersonal skills and since nearly every accounting role requires engagement with others in some way, shape or form, these become critical qualities to possess as your career progresses. In addition, people don't always think of accountants as customer service professionals, but in some way we are. Our business partners are our customers. They're on the receiving end of our hopefully quality work and we have an obligation to not only support them, but work well with them. And it takes several soft skills to be able to listen to a business partner and really collaborate with them. All of these things make finance professionals more well-rounded partners for the business, which is what our ultimate goal should be as accounting professionals. Well-rounded partner is an ally for the organization. If I could make an accounting pun, a well-rounded business partner is an asset for the organization. So while the technical side of our life is incredibly important and critical, it's becoming more and more clear that the softer skills are just as important for us and for our business’ success.Mitch: (03:29)So you already named a few of them. We talked a little bit about communication and teamwork and things like that. There are many soft skills and they're all important. But when it comes to being a business partner and really taking that step forward as a leader, which of these soft skills do you believe are most important for accounting and finance professionals, and why might that be?Laura: (03:51)Well, if you research around there's many resources out there from many folks that are much smarter than I am that'll tell you what's most important and why and what the right order is, et cetera. For me, in my experience, I think the three most important soft skills are interpersonal skills, communication and adaptability. So for interpersonal skills that's kind of a broad category, but it's a very important one. When I say interpersonal skills, I really mean the ability to build and maintain relationships and develop rapport with business partners and colleagues. Having good interpersonal skills is incredibly important when you're building a team, you need to have a strong foundation of trust and accountability for accountants and finance professionals this is invaluable. We should strive to be seen as an authentic partner for the organization and a person on whom people can rely upon and trust. Without that, we're just a bunch of number crunchers. Another important skill I think is communication. I think many people know there's many types of communication. There's verbal, written, and nonverbal like body language, facial expression, et cetera. But I think the one piece of communication that people really miss is listening. When people are listening to others, this is a fairly obvious statement, but you actually hear what people are saying and what they mean. Without strong listening skills, communication is really just a one-way street and probably not very effective. The better finance professionals are at listening, the better we are business partners because we're that much closer to the pulse of the business. And then finally I think adaptability is critical. If we've learned anything from the COVID pandemic, it's that we need to be flexible and adaptable. Now, traditionally accountants are not usually the most flexible people and I can say that because I am one. But, the ability to pivot and react to an ever-changing environment is critical. Our businesses are making fast and drastic and dramatic decisions practically every day. So we have to be able to switch gears and change direction as needed. In addition, I think it's important to be able to handle tasks and responsibilities that are a little outside the norm. By demonstrating a willingness to get involved even if you don't have all the expertise that's required. It's a changing world and I think accountants are a smart group of people who can contribute beyond the numbers if they're willing.Mitch: (06:57)You know, we at IMA, we have a leadership academy and we put out all these leadership development courses and we focus a lot on these softer skills. We just did one that focused on listening and listening skills, because it truly is so invaluable to just take a step back and make sure you're paying attention, you're listening and really absorbing the message that's being shared. So I can truly appreciate that and we've seen that become more and more important with our listeners here, obviously, but, with the organization as a whole in our members. With these skills, these skills that you identified as being most important, I guess my next question for you is when are they really most necessary or required? You referenced a lot about being a business partner, demonstrating these skills, at what career stage do you typically recognize somebody or maybe whether they do or they don't possess these softer skills?Laura: (07:51)Well in reality, these skills are really necessary from day one of your career. Most people in entry-level accounting roles have the necessary technical skills to do their job as required, or at least they have the requisite education beneath them on which they can build. And in addition, accountants will do continuing education classes or sit for an exam that gives them some credentials that are important down the line. And that is all fine and good and definitely necessary, but the fact of the matter is most accountants don't possess these softer skills right out of the gate and that's unfortunate. As I said earlier, good interpersonal skills are important for accountants and although it's all relative, they’re important at all stages of your career. So what I mean is an entry-level accountant may not be leading a team of 30 professionals right away, but it's still important for that person to build relationships across the organization and likely that's what their peers. At that early stage, peer relationships are incredibly important in building up that trust and accountability that we talked about earlier. The same is true for communication skills and an entry-level accountant may not be presenting a set of financials or a budget to the board in a three hour long presentation with multiple parties involved, but the person is still emailing with others on a regular basis and that's a form of communication, or they're on zoom calls, like we all are these days, on a regular basis and that's a form of communication. So the stakes may be slightly lower on a zoom call than in the board room, but being an effective and quality communicator is equally important in both scenarios. The fact of the matter is, is that as your career progresses, these soft skills become more and more important. At a certain point everyone is good at the technical side, everyone is a smart accountant, but what differentiates you from your colleagues is really your ability to navigate the softer side. If you're both cost accounting experts, but one person has great leadership skills and problem-solving skills, and they're a little more honed than the others, well that person's going to shine a little brighter. So I think that accountants really should strive to develop and possess these skills as soon as possible. I think, a good manager can recognize pretty early on when someone is adept at certain skills or on the flip side, maybe when someone is lacking in a particular area. As a manager, if you have the right critical eye, you can pick up on some of these subtleties fairly easily, because situations present themselves all the time. You also know which of your team members is coachable or not. So even though someone may be lacking a soft skill that you, the manager, think is critical, you should be able to tell if they're coachable in that particular area or not.Mitch: (11:11)Now from a manager perspective, I suppose, or, you know, you were mentioning, maybe you're overseeing a number of professionals, but equally so maybe you are somebody who's just looking to work their way up and develop these skills. To get this message, the importance of these softer skills across your team, across the organization. How do you recommend going about developing them? What are some resources or best practices, that you're aware of? What do you typically suggest to people who are interested or you believe need to develop these softer skills?Laura: (11:45)Well first and foremost, I think you have to take an active interest in your own development. You should ask for feedback from your manager, from your peers, from your team, from your business partners, anyone who knows you well and is willing to give you feedback. You need to listen to that feedback with an open mind as you'll likely learn how you're perceived in some areas that you can use development. The next step in my mind would be to seek out appropriate training for those needs that you've learned about or identified. There's numerous resources out there that provide support and education in all aspects of soft skill development, whether it's leadership training or presentation skills, you know, going back to our communication comments from earlier. The world is ripe with possibilities and in advancing your skills, so some external training I think would be incredibly helpful. In addition, I personally have found that having a mentor or a role model has been incredibly helpful in my career. If you seek out someone or several someones that you admire and aspire to be like, if you pay careful attention to how they conduct themselves in various situations, that can be incredibly helpful. And then I think the last thing sort of relates to the first one, in taking an active interest, is that you should ask for more opportunities at your place of work. You should ask to participate in a presentation to senior members of the business, or ask to run a presentation. Ask to manage a team so you can develop some of those leadership skills. You should volunteer for an assignment that no one else wants to be part of to demonstrate some of the problem-solving skills. Basically I think, you know, it's on you to take some ownership of your own development, whether it's asking for the feedback or seeking out the training or looking for the mentor or asking for opportunities at work. I think there's a lot of opportunities at your fingertips and you need to go after them.Closing: (14:00)This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Jun 21

14 min 21 sec

Contact Carmen Rene: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong, and I'm here to introduce you to our guest speaker of episode 127, Carmen Rene. Carmen is the Vice President of Finance and Corporate Controller at Salt Health. She is a passionate leader who focuses on and emphasizes team management, multidisciplinary work groups, and coaching through obstacles. In this episode, Carmen talks about what it takes to be a leader and build teams around trust. Keep listening as we head over to their conversation now. Adam: (00:46) Simon Sinek said, “a team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other”. What does that quote mean to you and how you interact with your team? Carmen: (00:57) Sure. This is one of my, certainly one of my favorite philosophers, if you will, on leadership, but certainly one of my favorite quotes by Simon Sinek, because of what it really says to me is just because you are surrounded by a group of people and just because you work with a group of people, you don't necessarily have a shared vision and a common goal and a shared interest in being successful. And so without all of those things, I don't really think that you have a team that is focused on the same thing. And my belief is that, that objective or that dynamic comes when you trust each other. If you have a group of people who you know have your best interests and a common objective in mind, then I believe you have a team and you have an opportunity of being successful. Adam: (01:53) So what I'm hearing with that, what you just said is having that common objective, having that common mind, you know, how do you get to that common mind? That seems easier said than done. Carmen: (02:05) It's always easier said than done, right? I mean, I think that's a big part of what leadership is about all day long is a constant reminder and communication and check in about what we're looking to accomplish. It's often referred to as the why. What are we looking to get out of what we're accomplishing? What are we looking to accomplish? What are we trying to get and why? And if everybody understands the why, which I believe is a common interest, but, you know, oftentimes I work in accounting, right? It's very easy for people to go, we have to close the books, or because we have month end reporting, or we have investors, we believe we work for a company that we believe in, we're working towards an objective that we believe in, we have a team of people that we care about and we want them to be successful. So our why, is not the journal entry, our why is not finishing the books, the why isn't even for the most part the day to day. The why is where are we going and how do we know when we get there? And then we all understand that what I'm doing today is a step in that journey so that we can achieve, or, you know, land at the destination at some point. I think that's that common interest. And in many cases in business, we don't know what it is, right. If the common interest is I need a job because I need to pay my bills. That's not a common interest, that's Carmen's interest. But if the common interest is to leave mankind better than it was when we got here, because we work for a company that's working on a health solution or a cancer cure, or we're looking to have renewable power so that we can save the planet, right? Then all of a sudden we have a why that means something bigger than the journal entry. But my role in that big why is this team will be successful to ensure that this company has the financing that it needs in order to continue the projects down the path to achieve the objective. And if everybody on your team and keep in mind a team is very often multi-disciplinary, right? It's not just the, in our case, the team of accountants, the team of FP&A analysts, a team of treasury management, right? It's our executive team. It's our supply chain team. It's our friends on the manufacturing side of the house. It's our, everybody who manages the shipping and receiving departments, right. If we all understand the role that we play in that greater objective, then we show up to work, ready to give people the benefit of the doubt, ready to trust that we're all here at the end of the day to accomplish the same thing. Then I think you have a team, not just a group of people that you hang out with all day long. Adam: (05:17) You mean that makes a lot of sense. And you don't always work in with people who are doing the same thing you're doing. Many times there's people from multi-disciplinary groups who come together within a group and it seems like the things that you were just describing would work very well for that group, that multi-disciplinary group would have to understand the why in order to work well together. What are some steps you've taken to make sure that these types of groups are successful? Carmen: (05:47) You know, I think that the most important thing that you can do is be curious. And what I mean by that is, for example, I just put into place, purchasing policy. Kind of boring, right? But as part of that process, I spent some time with the, Ph.D. scientists who worked in laboratory, and we were having a conversation about how they use pipettes. I’m sorry pipettes and pipette tips in the laboratory. Now, as I mentioned, I'm an accountant, right? I never used a pipette tip in my life, but as members of the supply chain, I've ordered them before. So I was sitting with them for a day, observing them in the laboratory about how they use pipettes and how the process in an experiment is impacted or how the results are impacted by the process and how clean they can keep the sample. So literally every time they would move to a step to a next step, they would change the pipette tip. Now that seemed a little excessive to me for a minute. But then later in that day, or sometime later that week, I was reviewing results of something that had come out of the laboratory, product that we had to scrap, right, we had to throw it away. And I asked the question, well, why are we throwing this stuff away? What happened? They said, well we had some contamination in the processing. And it connected me back to that exercise of watching them prepare samples and changing the pipette tips. So all of a sudden I understand a whole lot better why we need pipette tips, why we need so many of them and where contamination can occur. And I brought that back to the purchasing policy around how do I set up a policy that enables them to have a blanket purchase order, right. A standing order for pipette tips, because they use them all day long, every day, all month. Right? So, because I understand, I have a much better understanding of the why, and this is a very small example, but I have a much better understanding of the why and how these products are used, so I can understand how I need to design a process that accommodates, not just me who happens to hate blanket purchase orders, but I can accommodate my scientists who wants to know that there's just going to be a constant stream of product being delivered to their laboratory so that their experiments aren't in any way altered or impacted. I hope that makes sense as a how you can bring multi-disciplinary teams could together to just have a simple conversation. So why their day to day is impacted by my day to day. Adam: (08:51) It's a simple conversation of being able to turn off your perspective and point of view for a moment and look at things through somebody else's shoes for a moment, and then suddenly your worldview is opened up. Carmen: (09:07) Absolutely. You know, Stephen Covey was right when he said, what is it, seek to understand, “first seek to understand, then seek to be understood”. And that's all I was trying to do here is how do I understand what other people are, what their needs are. It's a very simple, it's a very simple example. What's interesting, kind of the, the by-product of that if you will, is that Ph.D. that I spent the day with in the laboratory so that I could understand how pipette tips got used so I could master the purchasing of them. We're buddies. Right. We got to know, because we spent time together, we just got to know each other in a way that was very different. And now when I have a question about science, she's the one I call. So there's a fringe benefit, if you will. That came from that. Adam: (09:56) I've got another quote that I'd like you to comment on. This one is from Shafi Qureshi. "I expect my team to make mistakes and break things, thereby enabling individual development and process improvements." Carmen: (10:08) Sure. So I work with Shafi at Salt Health and he's the head of our engineering and manufacturing teams. And I asked him, just tell me what leadership means to you, or how do you define yourself as a leader? And he said, I asked my team what they broke today. And so it was a little more refined quote around that, but his whole concept is around, I want to make sure as a leader, that I'm creating an environment that is safe for people to make mistakes. For two reasons, one is we're all people and we make mistakes, right, and sometimes they're, I missed a meeting mistakes and sometimes they're, oh God, I cut the wrong line and all of the power in the neighborhood is down, right, or somewhere in between. We make mistakes, but we almost always, if we're paying attention, we learn from those mistakes and Shafi's idea is when you're creating laboratory equipment, you're creating processes that have never existed before, something's going to break it's never been done before. The question becomes, how do we fix it? And along the way, when we fix it, do we actually make it better? So he is actively looking at processes that, you know, maybe they work, could they work better? And the only way to know is to tear it apart. Let's see, what if we put this process before that, what we put this step in front of that step, what if we instead of, we did this, right. And that's what he wants his team to be thinking about whether they actually physically break something or not, do they have the mindset that says one it's safe for me to break something and two, I wonder what that thing could be today. And then how do I put it back together? Adam: (12:07) That all kind of goes back to the building of trust because you have to trust that it's okay that it breaks and that it, you know, it will be put back together. Maybe not the same exact way, but you're building that trust that we've been talking about. Carmen: (12:20) That's right. You know, I'll add another one on there. One of my favorite managers of all time, Mike Tenori, when I was at Bose corporation, during the budgeting process he used to always say, “I can handle anything except surprises. So no surprises”. And I think about that from the making mistakes perspective as well. That making mistakes comes from, it's going to happen. The no surprises comes from, I want you to be trustful, I want you to feel comfortable knowing that I will deal with any mistake that comes up. Just tell me about it. I don't want to learn about it when I'm presenting to the board. I don't want to learn about it when we've gone to the street, we've missed our targets, right? I don't want to know about it when the customer calls and says, this is broken. I want to know about it when you know about it and we'll fix it. And that's another way of really creating trust that says, if I have a problem, I'm going to let you know. Adam: (13:17) So, you know, knowing your why, building trust, we've been talking about this whole time, these are all elements for building a great team. How have you done that whilst, hiring during a pandemic? Carmen: (13:31) It's a great question. I'm really curious to know how long we're asking questions about, or we're going back and saying things that, well I learned that during the pandemic. I think there's been tremendous learning during the pandemic. I've onboarded three people. Two of whom I didn't meet in person for six months. One of whom I knew and I'd worked with at a different place and so we were able to hit the ground running pretty easily, but to your question about how have I built trust? I have spent a lot of time, it's probably the same thing I would've done with people if we'd been in person, but it was actually easier. I spent a lot of time with these individuals that I onboarded. Oftentimes I was on a teams meeting all day and we would have the teams meeting open, which is, which is great for sharing screens right, here let me show you, I could actually demonstrate like strokes on an Excel file. Hey, here's what I'm gonna do, watch what I'm doing, watch how I'm formatting, I'll show you where I'm retrieving. So you could actually see my screen and see what I'm doing. I don't remember a time really where we did that in person in a way that was as easy as it is when I'm at my computer and you're at your computer, right? We might've done it in the conference room, but somebody wasn't able to drive at the same time that I was driving, right. So being together on teams was really helpful. I'll show what I'm talking about, we can talk it through, I'll give you a task and then I'm going to go, not really away. I'm going to go look at my other monitor and work on something else and give you a few minutes to do the next step. Might ask me questions as you go. All right. So we spent a lot of time together on teams working through projects, but I had a plan of what things I wanted them to master in their first couple of weeks or whatever. And along the way, because of this dynamic of the pandemic and we're working from home in a situation, you just get to talking about other things, right? Like for example, you know I have dogs like the dogs will come in the room and they want to meet the person on the camera because believe it or not, they pay attention. Or, you know, somebody's roommate comes in or whatever happens and you just get to talking to people while you're doing the work. So there's a rapport that gets developed by spending that amount of time with somebody. I have been thinking about how I would onboard in person again, I've never been as successful of onboarding employees as I have been during the pandemic. Something about the fact that we are maybe part of it's that we're captive, but I think my style changed dramatically in that it was much easier for us to be in the same space together without actually being in each other's space. And that's something that I think the virtual platform has really helped us and really enabled us to do. Adam: (16:40) I liked that being in the same space with each other, but not being in each other's spaces, giving that room to breathe in a sense, especially when you're a new hire, it's almost overwhelming. Carmen: (16:51) You know, I saw something on Facebook last night, a friend of mine posted it there. They returned to the office as of June 1st. And, they were given, again, everybody's workstation. There was a custom made cookie and the cookie had a microphone with the slash through it. And that cookie said, “welcome back, remember you're not on mute anymore”. And I think that, that's another thing. I think the mute button is actually really helpful because sometimes you need to, you need to just mute yourself for a minute, not leaving, not disengage. It's a very easy way to take a quick break. Wait, I'm just going to, I need to think out loud for a second I'm going to mute myself. Hard to do that when you're in each other's space together physically. So I am, I'm a little conscientious about what happens when the mute button isn't there anymore. Adam: (17:42) Yeah. So keeping, just to kind of wrap up our conversation, keeping that idea of, you know, the hiring hat. When we had talked previously, you mentioned you'd like to hire directly out of college and I'd been reading an article in a team training and development magazine called "Don't hire skills, hire to skill". And they had mentioned, although college degrees can indicate that a candidate has gained certain skills and knowledge, they don't always paint a full picture of a person's talent potential. What do you look at when you're hiring? Somebody maybe out of college or maybe not even out of college, maybe some use in working in the industry for years, but maybe doesn't have the full college or what, you know, what is your view on that? Carmen: (18:24) It's a great question. One I really have thought a lot about over the years, and I've come to realize that regardless of what position I'm hiring for, you know, whether I'm hiring a staff accountant or a senior financial analyst, I have three questions that I ask. And it's interesting because they're actually the same questions I expect somebody who's interviewing me to ask me, right. And my, so my three questions are, 1. How well does this person communicate? Now I know that's a huge question, but I have a couple of things that I'm specifically looking for. I'm looking for, I'm looking for the candidate to give me an explanation about how he or she varies the communication style. So is this going to be a, I'm really good at chitchat? I get to know this person, or I just walk in and I’ve got to get the work, I just have to get the information, right. Both are applicable, right? Both have a purpose and I'd like to know when you might use each. Some responses warrant a yes. Some responses warrant a paragraph, right. So how do they understand the distinction? I'm also looking for the mode or the method of communication and specifically the ability to vary this. Frequently in my career, I've heard somebody say, “well, he didn't call me back or I emailed him, I didn't get the information”. Okay, cool. How are you following up? Well, I emailed him. Okay. Well call him. So then I'll ask later. Well, did you call him? Well, I sent him an email, right? Like that is not going to achieve the objective. So if you've emailed somebody and they haven’t gotten back to you, then call them. If they still haven't gotten back to you, go see them in person or send them a text, right. Find a different way to communicate. And so as I'm interviewing candidates, I'm looking for those nuances. What did they mean when they say they're a good communicator? Give me some examples of what that looks like. It's a big topic on communication and a lot of times pushing information isn't the same as being able to receive information. So how well can this person provide information and receive information? Did you read what they sent you? No, I just filed it. Well, that's not really a good two-way street of communication. So that's the first thing that I'm looking for is talk to me about your communication styles and strategies, right. The second thing that I interview for is how does this person solve problems? And oftentimes we don't really know that we're, we have a process, but when you're in an interview situation, you know, I really probe about, okay, so here's a task that's been put in front of you. Like, what's the first thing you do. What's the next thing you do? How do you get through solving that problem? And I'm looking for things like, well, first of all, like Google all of the words and the requests so I make sure I understand what's being asked of me. I think that's pretty smart. Make sure you understand, get clarity on what the objective is, right. But I'm really interested in this part. How do they know when they're done? Right? What does success look like? Kind of the same thing, because if you understand what you're going for, then it's much easier to create your path. So the answer to that question, when I asked somebody, how do you solve problems? Describe for me how you solve problems. If they can say to me, I want to make sure I understand what the objective is. I want to know what success looks like, or completeness looks like, you know, the balance sheet has to balance like that's important, you know, something like that. And then I create steps that I think I need to take along the way. Like that's a pretty complete answer. A really complete answer is somebody who can say, and if I get stuck along the way I may need to rethink, or I may need to ask questions, right. That's really what I'm looking for there. None of that is taught in school, right? That's all stuff that you learned. You may learn from doing school projects, but there's not a class that I know of that's on problem solving, right? It's all about, here's a problem go solve it and here's some skills to help you. So that's what I'm looking for. And then the third one that I'm looking for, which is probably the most uncomfortable for people in the finance profession is how well do you deal with ambiguity and specifically what I mean about this is a lot of us went into finance and accounting because we thought there was an answer, right? It's a little bit black and white. It's not so nebulous. Well in the corporate world or in the non-academic world, right. We aren't given the information or the variables that we need to answer the question. So we've got to make a lot of assumptions. We have to create a lot of the information that we need. And so how comfortable is someone with that saying, well, I created a model, these are the assumptions that I made, so here's the answer. How comfortable are they with making the assumptions? Because within those assumptions, there's a lot of ambiguity. There's a lot of unknowns. Yet, they are critical to being able to solve a problem, create an output, right, but deliverable. So that's the first one. One is that the data has a lot of ambiguity in it. The second one and probably the one that we're learning the most about during this pandemic is you just don't know what comes next. And for some people that can be paralyzing, I don't know what's going to happen. No, you don't. I don't know what's going to happen next. And how comfortable are you with that in the day to day? First of all, I'm curious if somebody ever even thought about it, because if they thought about it, it makes for a great conversation. Yeah I really thought about how much I don't like not having the answers. Okay, cool. What does that look like? And then other people, like, I don't know, I never thought about it. Which suggests to me that maybe they're just doing some drifting, drifting isn't necessarily bad, but if you don't know where you're going, right. You're not going to have as easy a time getting there. Well maybe I guess we don't know where you're going anywhere will work, right, so correct that. But, anyway, so back to my thought about ambiguity, if they've given some thought to how well do I thrive in an environment where I don't have all the answers, they've given some thought to that and they say I'm really not comfortable in that. Then I wouldn't suggest they work for a startup. For example, I really want to know what my day to day is going to look like. I think there's some jobs where they might be more comfortable. Finance and accounting in a corporate setting, whether it's a public company or pre-revenue company, the unknowns every single day are pretty great. So how comfortable would you be in this role? I think that's really what I'm, what I'm looking for. Right? How comfortable are they in not having all the answers? It's even not all the answers. It's how comfortable are you not having all of the data, right? Because I don't have all of the answers and I've been doing this for a lot longer. I hope that helps you kind of explain my thoughts on ambiguity. Adam: (25:43) No, I think so. Being willing to admit, you know, I don't know everything and that's okay, but I'm willing to find the answer and it shows a willingness to kind of step outside the box and be vulnerable. Carmen: (25:55) Right. And I don't know of a single CEO or board member or probably President of the United States or any other country for that matter, who hasn't found himself or herself in a position of ambiguity. Right? Well, the question is, how much do you trust yourself and the people around you to help get some clarity, such that you can take action. Closing: (26:20) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Jun 14

26 min 41 sec

Contact Bob Kolodgy: Bob Kolodgy:'s Interview for Forbes CFO Network with IMA's Jeff Thomson: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) Welcome to episode 126 of Count Me In. Thanks for coming back and listening to IMA's podcast. I'm your host, Adam Larson and today's expert guest is Bob Kolodgy. Bob is Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, a national Federation of 35 independent community-based and locally operated Blue Cross Blue Shield companies. In his role, he is responsible for the blue's federal employee program, oversees the national employee benefits administration, and has overall accountability for Blue Cross Blue Shield brand management, and the associations finance, licenser, enterprise information technology, and information security areas. During his conversation with my co-host Mitch, Bob discusses the role of the CFO in building organizations ready for the future. Keep listening to hear his perspective on innovation, data, and value. Mitch: (01:02) So for our conversation today, we really want to emphasize the role of the CFO and making sure that they are capable of building organizations ready for the future. Now, innovation certainly is a term we use often in accounting and finance as organizations seek to create and increase value. So to start off, I would really like to know what innovation means to you. Bob: (01:31) Yeah, thanks Mitch and thanks for the opportunity to address IMA today, it's a great group and I love to be part of your events, so thank you for that. You know, with respect to innovation and accounting, let's put it in perspective and I've always said this at the beginning of innovation conversations with finance people. It's like, well, we don't want you all to be all that innovative, I mean, your accountants after all. And you need to be careful, right? So there's all kinds of, accounting principles and things like that. And we don't want you to be creative with that now, maybe be creative about how you do what you do, right? And so how can you as an accountant, or a finance person in an organization, actually innovate in a way that creates value. And so, when we try to take that apart, I look at value as the sum of three things, cost or efficiency, quality, and service. And so anyone can apply those principles to what they do I think, and add value. And so for me, innovation, particularly in accounting and finance in those disciplines really is focused more on those things and keeping them in balance, right? So innovation can accelerate any one of those things and as long as it does that without detracting from the other two, it's adding value. So for me, it's kind of that simple. And, when you look at what we've been in for the last, 14 or 15 months with the pandemic, it really sort of dots the eye on the need for innovation, right? We had to pivot in so many ways that we never would have expected so quickly and, you know, true innovations have come out of that in many forms and now its a matter of advancing those and in some cases bringing them to scale. There were certain things that came out of the pandemic that were really innovative and they're going to stick whether we expected that to happen or not. The time after the pandemic will be, not like anything we expected or planned on our prior trajectory. Mitch: (03:37) Yeah, I completely agree, among these different conversations that I have, I've certainly seen many organizations who have explained that they will be adapting some of these ongoing principles moving forward and making it part of their business, because of how they had to pivot and adapt in the last year plus. My next question, continuing on this topic, as far as innovation goes and the different components that you spoke about, what is specifically the CFO's role when it comes to initiating this change, enabling innovation and driving the anticipated results, evaluating those results, where does the CFO really make an impact? Bob: (04:16) Yeah, I think innovation and enabling new thinking and so forth is really an area where the modern CFO can differentiate themselves from the more traditional financially focused leader, and if it's done well, the CFO can become the corporation's architect for business value. I saw an article recently from Accenture on this, and I found it very, very interesting and poignant. CFOs are uniquely positioned if they apply certain levers that they have access to, to be able to create this differentiation and be the architect of business value. And just to list off the levers quickly, visibility of the whole enterprise, the CFO typically because they deal with all parts of the company has a view into what is going on in all those parts and the ability to see where synergies exist across those verticals, the ability to do analytics and have access to data across the enterprise is really critical. CFOs, not only have access to financial data, but now more and more operational and market data and, a variety of things that they can bring together to bring insights that are actionable to the organization. Understanding enterprise risk is a critical role that the CFO or critical conversation, or are part of the conversation the CFO can bring, because they can measure risk and they know that you may be able to take risks in one area of the company and balance that off with some protection and hedge and the other areas of the company. The CFO can and should have a strong relationship with all the C-level executives in the company, right? So there should be good working relationships there and the CFO's ability to mentor and discuss things with his or her peers in a way that brings to life this greater business value. And finally the financial authorities, I mean the CFO obviously has a financial authority within the organization and can reinforce the economic basis for investment decisions, right? So the CFO can bring voice to somebody else's idea, in a way that that person may or may not be able to do. And so, these things can really be exploited by better collaboration with C-level peers, by leading in with unique insights, whether it's based on data, unique analytics, perspective on risk, or what have you, and then taking ownership for ensuring that value is extracted from all of the new technology and data platforms. These things are proliferating coming up all over the place. And I think it's the CFO's responsibility to make sure there's a value equation attached to each of those, or if not, make sure everybody else understands that and make sure that expectations are aligned along those vectors and CFO needs to be able to cultivate a good commercial awareness and stay ahead of the curve of the industry, right? So whether it's regulatory change, federal policy changes, the business environment, changing the competitive landscape, changing or just trends and particularly important, I think is understanding what the potential disruptors are. You know, I'm in healthcare, there are disruptors all around our industry, whether you're talking about health plans, providers, pharmaceutical companies, there all kinds of people with great ideas about how to do what we do differently. And so being aware of that is critically important as you try to bring innovation and value into your organization. Mitch: (07:38) That's great and I want to go a little bit further on some of the points you just made right there because many often relate innovation, they hear innovation and think of technology, right? That's one of the biggest things and in the recent year plus we've seen, regardless of the pandemic, some of the biggest technology innovation in accounting and finance has come through automation and the availability of data. So I think aligning our thoughts here on what you were just talking about as far as what innovation really is from your perspective, being able to take advantage of some technological advancements that have become available to us. But really, the value creation that you were just talking about. If it's in healthcare for you or accounting and finance professionals, how do you as a CFO go about harnessing the data, because there is so much of it at this point and truly making or creating value from that data? Bob: (08:31) Sure. You know, health insurance is a huge data business. We have records and you can imagine, Blue Cross Blue Shield provides health insurance for 110 million people in the country. And so we have all the claim records for them, for their medical care and for the pharmacy use. And so we know a lot, but what we know is relatively thin, right? So we know, a person went to the hospital and they went to the ER and had an x-ray and got their broken leg set, but we don't have the x-ray results. We don't have the depth of the diagnostics and stuff that were done in the hospital. So not only are we looking at our own data, which is enormous, but we're bringing in, we call it nonconforming data from other sources, right? So connecting with hospital systems, electronic medical records, for instance, to import data that makes what we have even richer and gives us the ability to do way more with the data. And I'm going to talk about a couple of those things. So just in terms of examples, one of the things that the Blue Cross Blue Shield association strives to be as a thought leader in healthcare. And so we developed this health of America report series that is a data-driven set of analytics and we do publications periodically on different topics. So using our data and the insights from our data to try to identify challenges in healthcare space, right? So last year, maybe it was even a year and a half ago, we did a study on millennials and try to understand their relative health compared to prior generations and what particular health issues were prevalent for millennials and we had some really interesting findings. First of all, millennials are more likely to have some certain chronic conditions and perhaps less likely to live a long and healthy life then the prior generation, which was a startling finding. And then additionally, a lot of behavioral health issues from millennials were evidence which enables us to say, okay, well, if that's a population cohort that we want to take care of and take good care of, then we need to adapt certain things, we need to adapt certain chronic care management approaches that are particularly important for millennials and we need to build a better behavioral health or mental health system to accompany the physical health part, right? And so it's things like that and our ability to take huge data sets and study different population cohorts within them, come out with findings that are creating actionable insights that we can build into our products, build into our service set and so forth to achieve our mission of taking better care of people for the health of America. This whole thing rides on, as I was describing earlier, the ability to combine data from disparate sources, right? So interoperability is a huge issue in healthcare. Interoperability in healthcare is really kind of scarce right now, right? So what I described, it's really easy to say, oh, health plan, it's going to just go to the big hospital systems in their network and they're going to connect with their electronic medical records systems and they're going to import all this deep rich data about people, we're going to go out and buy a market data prism clusters, whatever to understand the socioeconomics of a population and we're going to combine all that stuff and come up with all these rich insights, but there's not a standard and we're working on it. And, again, with our footprint in the industry being pretty big we can help drive interoperability solutions so that data is exchanged in a consistent way that when you particularly hit on data elements and a report, it means the same thing no matter what system you're in and that it's safe and secure. So those things are critical to interoperability and that's one of the underpinnings that we're working on, in terms of our data approach. Finally, I'll call out a few companies, the Blue Cross Blue Shield companies, and there are now 35 of them domestically and hundreds internationally. The 35 domestics that joins to do corporate venturing. And so we're in our fourth corporate venture fund right now with a total of about 900 million of assets under management and I'm just going to highlight a couple of the companies that are in the blue venture fund portfolio that are doing really interesting and relevant things with respect to data. So advocacy insights is a cloud-based data management and interoperability platform that's specifically built for healthcare. So it's able to connect the payers and the providers and the other participants in the healthcare ecosystem in a unique way. There's a company called Alacura, which provides data analytics and network optimization for services about aeromedical transport. So, you see the copiers and the airplanes that are taking people either, with respect to the helicopter, it might be from what they call a scene run. So if there was an accident on the highway, someone's really in bad shape they’ll call a copter instead of an ambulance so that they can get to the critical care center more quickly. And there are a lot of, transports of critically ill people for, transplant operations and high level things where they have to be moved from place to place really quickly. So this platform matches up air medical transport and medical capabilities. And then finally, a company called Prove. Prove provides, mobile focused identity authentication and data management platform, which improves member engagements. It reduces operating costs and streamlines digital processes. The origin of Prove was this two-factor authentication. So, Prove has tons and tons of cell phone numbers in it. So it knows if you're in a call center and you've got Prove kind of bolted onto your inbound calls. It can tell you who the person is and then your system can match that to a member record so that, that call center operator is click, click right into the information about the person calling. So really valuable and it alleviates the need to do some additional authentication when the person calls, right? So, a lot of times you call and they say, okay well, what's your mother's maiden name? Or, you know, what's the name of your first pet you had when you were a kid or something along those lines. So, Prove is another platform that the venture funds have invested in that are really helping us move in this data space. Mitch: (15:05) So it sounds like you have a tremendous amount of data, truthfully more than I could think of, but it obviously makes sense as you're explaining where it all comes from and how it all works together. As a CFO of the organization in being able to share insight like this, it sounds like it's just a tremendous amount of opportunity, right? There's a ton of opportunity with data, but just for our listeners, I think everybody also recognizes with opportunity comes challenges. So when it comes to innovation, this data, taking all of this opportunity and creating value from it, how do you navigate really through these different challenges? And, just thinking back to one of the first points you made in that last response about the health of millennials. The findings that you have from your research must prove to kind of contradict maybe some of the initial forecasts that you've had. So things like that, what goes into really leading your organization for success into the future? Bob: (16:07) Yeah. When you think about that, and particularly with financial people, it's a lot about forecasting. And so we do a whole bunch of financial forecasting, but we do all kinds of other forecasting as well. And I guess for me, the best go-to here is, our industry, right? Health insurance, and I'm going to talk about health insurance in the context of the pandemic. And I think it'll point out some things that we knew and some things that we didn't know, and probably one of the most impactful externalities that we've ever experienced in our professional careers, right? I mean, unless you're a hundred years old, you haven't been through a pandemic before. So, you know, we're not a hundred years old. What happened to us last year, when the pandemic hit was a really, a series of conflicting headwinds. So we had headwinds with our customers and our customers are the members, who subscribe and the employers who generally buy the insurance for that person, right? So it's sort of a two level customer set and what people needed because of the volatility and loss of jobs and uncertainty for business was premium relief, right? So they're asking us, “Hey, look, cut us some slack on premiums for a while”. And we did, we extended grace periods and things like that, in some cases we forgave premium for people that were in certain tough economic times and things like that. So on the customer side, that was one of the first things that came to us. So, from a financial person's perspective, oh, okay, well we're not going to collect this quickly, or we're not going to collect it all. And so what does that mean, and how much is that worth? Then it was, okay, now let's make sure that everyone has access, right? Because the last thing you want when you're a health insurer is for people, your members not to be able to get care when they need it, okay. Because that's what we're here to do. We're here to make sure you can get care when you need it, and it gets paid for. So the ability to accept access testing for COVID, the vaccines when they were available, and just services in general, right? Because the hospital system kind of shut down when COVID hit with all the elective procedures and things like that. And so we needed to make sure that people understood if they were really sick, you can still get in. You need to be protected, you need to be this and that. So it was a matter of waiving copays and some of the economic barriers in our benefit design so that people could get all of the testing and COVID treatment that they needed. And so we spent a bunch of time on there. So that's the customer step. Our supply chain, so to speak, in health insurance is the providers, right? It's the hospitals, the doctors, the drugs, the air ambulance companies, you know, all those things, the PT providers, the surgeons, et cetera. And the way we generally pay our supply chain in the industry is based upon volume, right? So they do something, we pay them, we call that fee for service, right? You go to the doctor, he checks you out, he bills us, or he or she bills us and we pay the doctor. That's called fee for service medicine. But when volume goes through the floor, like it did in March and April of 2020, we're not paying them because there's no service being provided. So providers got cash short pretty quickly and they needed help. So we put providers in some cases on interim payments, we'll pay you a certain amount per month based on what your historical spend has been, for us and we'll settle up later. So we're getting less cash from our customers and we're needing to front cash to those providers who were in kind of a tough spot. And fortunately we have the wherewithal, particularly blue plans are very well capitalized, had the wherewithal to be able to do this at least for a while. So then it's like, okay, well, what does all that mean to us? So I described with that shortage of cash need, we ourselves had COVID related costs that were new to us, right? There didn't used to be that diagnosis, there didn’t used to be treatment, there didn't used to be Regeneron use for people that are impatient, all the ventilator use that was early in the pandemic and all those things were new costs for us. On the other side of it, there was this huge downdraft in terms of the cost of medical care. And so because people were deferring care and delaying elective procedures, there was an enormous amount of reduction in our expenses. And so you put all those things together and try to make a forecast. I mean, uncertainty was just more than it's ever been before, and we'd need to look to the future now and figure out, well what's next. We know what happened in 2020, the big piece of our boss went down, some pieces went up, we also had costs for ourselves because we put our workers remote. So any employer who went remote, we had to add bandwidth, we had to have people get here to set up at home and all those kinds of things so we had all of those costs. But as we look to the future and healthcare health insurance is a long-term play, you need to know what's going to happen because of all the deferred care this year, when we look at the procedures that were deferred, they were largely good preventive medicine. People weren't going to get the care that they typically would get the routine diagnostics and stuff like that, to make sure that they don't have some underpinning chronic condition or some underpinning acute event on the way. So without having that preventive stuff, that good spend going on what is going to happen to people next, and probably what will happen to people next is there'll be more acute episodes, that'll be more expensive and probably damaging to people's overall health status. But we don't know what that is yet because we're still just coming out of the pandemic and the medical consumption while it's kind of at a normal level, it's comprised of a different distribution of things, more COVID stuff and less typical elective and diagnostic stuff. So there will be long-term implications that we just don't know what those are yet, but we're still doing forecasts, it doesn't stop us from doing forecasts. We're taking our best guess. We've got actuaries all over the place, trying to figure this stuff out and understand what's going to happen with the changing utilization patterns. The other thing that happened in the pandemic in our industry, which I think is really interesting, and again, tough to project, the uptake on telemedicine. Because people didn't want to go or couldn't go to the doctor's office, doctors made themselves available to people through things like zoom and video and a bunch of other technologies that actually are good and probably going to be more the way of the future. It won't all be that way, some of it will go back to the face-to-face doctor's office stuff, but there's a fair amount of telemedicine that will continue, and that was accelerated and as a result of the pandemic. And then finally, like everybody else, we're figuring out what this return to office looks like, right? Trying to figure out when it's going to be safe to send our people, what the office is going to look like, who's going to be in, who's not going to be in or hybrid mode, or what is it going to be? And what's the cost of that, right? Right now we've got a bunch of office space we're not using. We have to rationalize that at some point in the future. So all these things go into our projections, but I've been a CFO long enough to tell other CFOs, my advice just be careful. That's all. Know what could happen, do a lot of sensitivity analysis, but just be careful and protect your balance sheet because you've got a strong balance sheet you can weather stuff like this and if you don't have a strong balance sheet, it's going to be harder. Mitch: (23:33) Well, that's really the perfect way to kind of segue into this last question for you here. We certainly covered a lot when it comes to innovation and particularly the past year and a half, a lot of the changes. It was difficult, you know, 2020 and you said the last 14, 15 months, I think we can both agree that there are some positive outcomes that we can kind of focus on, as far as innovation goes and being able to, incorporate some of this into our business as sustainable operations, but just kind of closing thoughts from you, if you wouldn't mind sharing, when it comes to the role of the CFO and again, we're trying to lead organizations into the future successfully, sustainably. What does that look like? What are some of the last thoughts and pieces of advice you have for our listeners? Bob: (24:20) Yeah, I think some of the lessons learned in the pandemic relate to several areas. Infrastructure is one of those and not only within organizations, but within industries, it was fascinating to me to see in a totally unrelated to healthcare per se, but the way the supply chains work in the country created shortages of things that people wanted to hoard when the pandemic came up, right? So all of a sudden, this is an interesting example, but people were hoarding paper products and the way the supply chain was making paper products was a certain amount for industrial use or commercial use in office buildings, institutions, and things of that nature and a certain amount for home consumption. And what happened when the pandemic hit is home consumption went way up and institutional consumption went down and the supply chain wasn't ready to make that pivot. It took months and months for them to normalize that, cause it's the same product, it just comes in a different package, in a different shape for them to normalize that and get it figured out. Another infrastructure piece, and this is a healthcare specific one for the healthcare ecosystem is, the pandemic really put a spotlight on serious racial disparities and access to care. And we've known anybody who's been in healthcare has known for a long time that there are disparities and that people of modest means have a tougher time getting the same access and good health care that people with greater means may be able to obtain. And whether it's the prevalence of COVID in a particular population, which was higher again for populations that were more socially and economically challenged, particularly people of color and one relates to the other, but the outcomes the same outcome, there were many more cases and serious cases of COVID in populations of color. And that is a terrible thing, but I don't think it's a surprise to anyone in healthcare just sort of dotted the “I” in what we already knew. The good thing about it is that we're coming out with a greater focus on some of those things. I'll talk about that in a minute. The readiness of organizations to do these pivots was very unlevel. I think some organizations pivoted really well and others just kind of went out, you know, like almost went out of business and so think about restaurants, right? I live in Chicago and there's a lot of restaurants. Well, there aren't as many restaurants as there used to be. There are some great restaurants that obviously couldn't take patrons or indoor dining and so they pivoted to carry out and some of them did it really quickly, but some of them couldn't do it at all. I mean, you can really tell as kind of a finance person, you walked down the street and you just look at a restaurant that's doing a decent carry out business and one that's just boarded up and I think it again gets back to how much depth they get, right, to absorb that shock. And so being prepared for that is something that I think organizations really need to do and reinforcing the importance of having the resources and frameworks in place to deal with contingencies. Plan ahead, okay. Well, what if, I don't think anybody ever would have done a, “what if” on a pandemic, but you might've done “what ifs” on other catastrophes that would have had similar consequences and understanding if this, then that with your business is just a really, really important thing whether you're a big company, like a health insurance company or an entrepreneur, you know, running a shop on Alstead avenue in Chicago. Some of the positive things I mentioned earlier, the acceleration of tele-health, innovation was accelerated, digital transformation was accelerated because we had to, and I think those things will stick and they'll stick in just about every sector. I mean, think about the volume of things that are being bought through all of the delivery vendors, right? Amazon, whatever, you know, and all the likes of them. And again, we live in the city, you can get almost anything delivered to our house, whether it's food, groceries, supplies, tools, whatever it is, and in a pandemic, that's what everybody did. So the growth there, and I think, again, a certain amount of it isn't permanent, but a lot of it is permanent. And I think that, that in our case, in healthcare at the tele-health conversion was truly one that was pandemic driven to a different trajectory. And then for organizations, you don't realize you have to be nimble and agile at this point, then you haven't been paying attention because so many things happen so quickly. I mean, we took our workforce remote in a week and we decided to do and in a week later, it was done. And that was it. And 95% of those people haven't set foot in this office since, which is pretty remarkable when you think about it. And the ability to do that and continue your business really means being agile and being nimble, and being adaptable. And now it's a matter of resilience, right? So it's a matter of making sure your folks feel connected and that they feel strong every day because they're working in a whole different paradigm than they were before. So, I think, I don't know who said it, but no good crisis should go unattended, and crisis creates opportunity for those that are really thinking and willing to pivot and willing to act and I think that that's been true with this pandemic. There are things that you would never think you would do and people, many people thought just in terms of the office environment, we need to be in the office every day, everyone needs to be here, that's our culture, that's how we roll, that's just the way it needs to be and I think that what we've done in the last 14 or 15 months has shown us, it's not really the way it necessarily needs to be, might still be for some companies the best way, but not for all companies and I think people have found a different way to work. It's going to permanently change the workforce in this country. I mean, think about the idea of more jobs just being remote period, where you never have to go to an office. That puts the pool of potential employees for a company exponentially bigger than it used to be. Because if my company no longer requires people to work in Chicago five days a week, that opens up the entire country to us in terms of opportunities. And it opens up opportunities for people everywhere in the country that they wouldn't have had if they weren't local before. So I think it's really a lot of things here that have come out of this that are going to be decent improvements for us in the future. And everybody talks about back to normal, there's no going back to normal. We're going to a different spot. Not exactly sure what it is, but we're going to a different spot that isn't going to be what normal used to be and it isn't going to be where we are today. So that's what I kind of firmly believe in. That's the advice I would give to the audience. Closing: (31:12) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Jun 7

31 min 26 sec

Contact Professor Orpurt:"Spruce Up Your Learning", Strategic Finance (January 2021): Ain't Training by Harold D. Stolovitch  and Erica J. Keeps: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:05) Hey everyone! Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson and this is episode 125 of our series. How can you spruce up your learning skills and why should you? Well, Steve Orpurt, Clinical Professor of Accountancy at Arizona State University joins our show to talk about how you can become a better learner and the benefits of doing so. Professor Orpurt teaches corporate governance, ethics, and sustainability reporting. His recent research focuses on the statement of cash flows with top tier publications and presentations to the international accounting standards board. His conversation here with Mitch was inspired by a recent article he wrote in IMA’s strategic finance magazine titled, Spruce Up Your Learning. Whether you're a seasoned professional, a young professional just starting out, or a student preparing to embark on an accounting and finance career, keeping current on your learning is imperative. So let's keep listening to learn how. Mitch: (01:08) So we started talking based on your article, Spruce Up Your Learning, in IMA’s strategic finance magazine. My first question for today is how did you really become interested in learning about learning? Steve: (01:20) That's an interesting question. I had an opportunity quite a long time ago 20-25 years ago to work at a startup company that worked with Stanford University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon, London School of Economics, called And when I joined that, they were trying to build an online MBA program and they hired a number of instructional designers. I had never heard of an instructional designer and I ended up working elbow to elbow with them and they taught me a lot about their profession, which is learning. So I've always had an interest since then. And as you know, I'm an academic accountant so I had no background in that area and I've just kept reading and one of the more influential books that I read over the years was a book entitled, Telling Ain't Training by Stolovitch and Keeps. The title kind of undersells the book because it really focuses on learner centered learning, not the teaching. And so that's been a substantial influence on what I do in a classroom. And so from there I just started reading all the research on learning and just kept going. So that article that I wrote was more to help students and others who are interested in improving their learning, most of that material is actually written to a teacher or an instructor to use to help students learn, but I thought it should be put in the hands of the students themselves to improve their abilities to learn. Mitch: (03:05) Following up on that and making a connection to our listeners. Why is it so important? Why do you think it's so important for someone to improve their own learning skills? And like I said, particularly for the management accountant? Steve: (03:17) Well I think learning, which is a skill, is just becoming much more valuable today than perhaps even a decade ago. If you stop and think about the management accounting role, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, it would be fair to say that it was kind of a departmental role, but now it's an enterprise wide role. And you can think of some reasons for that. We can look at things like artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, process mining, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, enterprise risk management, cloud computing, mobile computing, sustainability reporting, sustainability reporting standards. These are all topics that we didn't talk about much 10 years ago or so, and now they're front and central for our management accounting and they require substantial learning. So I think that the role of a management accountant has really moved from kind of a departmental role into an enterprise wide role. And it just requires a lot more learning and learning well, so it's just a more valuable skill. So one of the reasons I wanted to write that article was simply to say, we can learn faster and better. Mitch: (04:38) It's a great point. And, you know, particularly from the IMA perspective, all those topics you just addressed are things that we are certainly pushing out there and are very interested in upscaling or rescaling in order to learn the necessary skills on the job and for the profession, the industry at large. For our listeners who, whether they're familiar with the article or not, when it comes to improving your learning, do you have any recommendations or what's an important learning strategy that you advocate for? Steve: (05:11) Well there are a number of them. I think the, one of the most valuable and one of the easiest to implement, because you can do it right now is to ask yourself questions before you start looking at the learning material. Most of us will pick up an article or something we're learning from, we just start reading and a better approach is to take a minute or so and think through what questions you have about that material. Because when you ask questions, you engage your mind and you read more actively to try and answer those questions. Continuing with that then as you read, you create more questions that you are looking for answers for and so it just creates a more active involvement with the learning and obviously that means you'll learn better, but as it turns out, most of us that have tried this would say you learn not only better, but faster because you remember material, you can apply it better, and if you want more extensive material, you know what you're looking for. So I think this notion of asking questions before you start reading something, and then actually while you're reading it, is easy to implement and extremely valuable habit to build. Ironically, I've had really good success by asking questions before I read articles, because it's led me to actually set aside many articles that once I start questioning, I realized I'm not going to get that much out of it and I'm not that interested in it. So it's actually been a time saver just in terms of organizing material that is valuable to me. And, so again, I think even at the most basic level, this is really easy to implement this idea of asking questions and, very, very valuable in terms of time management, but also in terms of just improving your learning. Mitch: (07:18) So I know myself as a learner, one of my go-to strategies, and I think this goes for many people is, as you said, you just start reading and you start highlighting, you start taking your own notes. How does asking questions in advance and really engaging your brain? What are the benefits above and beyond taking notes and highlighting and simple learning strategies that I'm sure many of our listeners frequently do? Steve: (07:46) Something that almost all of my students do. It's extremely passive. How many of you go back and actually look at your highlights? Almost none of them. And of course I teach intermediate accounting so the whole textbook is highlighted. You're far better off, for example, if you come to a bolded word in an article that you think is valuable, rather than highlight it, write a question about it. What's the definition of this bolded term? What does it refer to in terms of research gap? Anything else? Just any question that makes sense relative to that bolded term and then what I encourage my students to do is actually write those questions on a separate sheet of paper. Have a learning session, maybe in the evening, maybe as they're sitting down to watch a TV show, go through those questions and see if you can answer them. And if you come to that question and you cannot remember the bolded term, go look it up, but almost always you'll find, you'll never forget it, done, you've learned well, and you've learned fast. Mitch: (08:59) So as far as active learning, right, and we had a conversation leading up to our recording here, and I said, for the learner, when we try and offer education through these episodes, we try to scaffold the questions and scaffold the information so that it continues to build. So from your perspective, and for our listeners, can you tell us a little bit about scaffolding and what that means in terms of their learning? How is it beneficial? How does it fit into this active learning opportunity for the students or the professionals who are interested in learning more about a certain topic? Steve: (09:35) It's a good question. One of the active learning strategies that can be very, very helpful, particularly with complicated material is after you've read something and maybe asked a bunch of questions about it, sit down and take a blank sheet of paper, write the concept across the top of the paper, and then think about the various chunks of information that support that concept that helps you to organize the material, supporting that concept. It helps you to think about that concept and all many of the details, support that concept. So you're organizing the material, you'll remember it and be able to use it better. And then what you want to try and do with scaffolding is grow the size of the concept and grow the size of the chunks of material that you're remembering. So let me give you a quick example. If you ask me about ratio analysis, something I've done for 30 years. I would say the concept ratio analysis, I'd write that across the top and I would personally have two chunks of supporting information. I'd say analysis of profitability ratios and analysis of risk ratios. That brings everything back for me. And I could talk about ratio analysis for the next 24 hours with no notes. But if you ask my students, they're going to say ratio analysis is a million details. And so they've got a concept there, ratio analysis, but they may not really understand what it's used for. And then they certainly, because they're just beginning to learn it, they don't have it organized. So if you say return on assets, they're going to grind down through a definition of return on assets. Whereas for me, that's a profitability ratio, one of the many. So the idea then is to actively look at the knowledge that you're gaining and chunk it into bigger and bigger chunks and perhaps bigger concepts. As another quick example, I teach pension accounting. That's a concept to me. And maybe there's one chunk of information under that, pension accounting. But I thought about it the other day and I was like, maybe I have two chunks there too. Defined contribution accounting and defined benefit plan accounting, brings it all back. Ask my students how many chunks they have and they'll say millions. And so they have a hard time remembering it. And I do have some students who will ask me how I organize the material and it's an interesting question to think about, and I try to show them, this is how I think about this topic area. And I don't think it's coincidental that those are the students who tend to do very well on the exams because they're well-organized with their thinking when they go into an exam and they're under a little stress, but still they've got the material organized. Mitch: (12:57) It really is fascinating and, you know, just like I said, being a lifelong learner myself and my job, really focusing on delivering education, identifying these buckets, right? These chunks of information and supporting them, throughout the design, we were talking about instructional design earlier, it's really all part of it. And just building this framework for you to truly understand the components of something, it's really valuable. And from a listener perspective, a learner perspective for this podcast, I'm sure there may be questions as far as, how can I apply this on the job, or we have individuals who I'm sure are studying for the CMA exam, right. And they're interested in getting their certification, maybe it's their continuing education to maintain their certification. So I guess to kind of wrap up our conversation with all this in mind, do you have any other suggestions for our listeners when it comes to sprucing up your learning or learning about learning better practices? What else do you suggest our listeners try to implement? Steve: (14:04) Well I mean, with this notion of scaffolding, one of the best questions that learners can ask is, oftentimes, they're learning with a professional, somebody who's an expert and has been doing, working in whatever area they're learning, ask them how they organize their material. How do you think about cryptocurrency? How should I think about cryptocurrency? And you'll discover how an expert has organized their concepts and their chunks that can help you tremendously. There are a couple of other really easy to implement ideas that my students find successful and I've found successful. One of them is, you know there are clearly times when it's a little hard to get going. You know, you open your learning material, maybe a book that's pretty dense, and it just takes you a while to get going. You're just not in the mood or distractions, things like that. One strategy to get you going is to just read cumulatively. What that means is you'll read literally the first sentence in a, maybe a textbook, then read the second sentence and ask yourself, how does that second sentence relate to the first sentence? Answer that question, go to the third. It gets you going and pretty soon you're reading a paragraph and asking how this paragraph relates to prior paragraphs. Then you're reading a section, how does this section relate to prior sections? And you're starting to really organize the material, but it also is just an important way to get your mind activated and get going and get learning fast. And then as you well know Mitch, a lot of habits, and this is a habit and a skill. It helps to just start small. And so what you might do is say today, I'm going to find an article three to five pages, something that I'm interested in, and I'm going to ask questions about what I hope to learn from that article. Then go read it to try and answer those questions. Ask yourself a few more questions as you go through it, no highlighting start your habit. And my students, a lot of them have adopted these strategies and they'll come back and say, yeah, that's a two thumbs up. It's helpful. Closing: (16:44) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

May 31

17 min 5 sec

Contact Andrew Warner: PODCAST TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05) Hey everyone! Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA’s podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 124 of our series. What happens when marketing, finance and data analytics collide? Well, in today's episode, Andrew Warner CEO at Marketing CFO uses his unique mix of experience in both finance and marketing to help explain how companies can combine these efforts to create a sustainable business. Hear him speak with Adam about bridging accounting and marketing as we head over to their conversation now. Adam: (00:43) Now Andrew, I've been really looking forward to speaking with you as, I been wanting to know what is a Marketing CFO and how did you get to this place? Andrew: (00:53) Sure. So, Marketing CFO is really something that, is something that I've kind of invented just because of the unique need that I've seen in the market. I think as you know that, there's a lot of data in finance and it's very easy to approach that from an analytical perspective and that's how a lot of accountants and finance people typically will approach most problems. But nowadays in marketing, you're getting to where you can track so much spending and the results and there's so much there that it's almost to the point where it's more of a finance type role than a creative role. And if you can kind of combine those two sides of the world, the marketing side with the finance, there's a lot of potential that gets unlocked for the companies that you work with. Adam: (01:40) That really makes sense how marketing and CFO kind of collide. How did you get to this role? Andrew: (01:46) Well to be honest, it was a bit of an accident. So I started out in the finance world and I was working in a accounting firm, probably like a lot of your listeners work at, and on the side I had some e-commerce businesses mainly focused on drop shipping products and there's a lot of digital marketing involved and so I actually had tempted to leave the finance world to go into that industry. I had a small exit with an e-commerce store that I owned and started consulting on the digital marketing side, but what kept happening was that a lot of my clients, even though it was supposed to help them with the marketing, I kept getting pulled back into the finance world. They didn't know if their advertising campaigns were profitable. They didn't know what their business goals were and what campaigns fit into those and which ones didn't. They had cashflow constraints and inventory issues. And so I kept fighting it for a while, I was trying to avoid going back into finance, but about three years ago I just accepted it and have been serving in that role as kind of being the bridge between those two worlds. Adam: (02:52) That's interesting how I think we all kind of fall into our profession by accident a lot of times. So many times, accountants, marketing is just another line on the income statement, but a lot happens to get it there on to the income statement. As you just mentioned, how you kind of fell into the Marketing CFO, you know, how can a CFO better connect with their company to be more effective in making sure that everything is connected? Andrew: (03:24) Yeah, that's a great question. And what's so cool is that 20 or 30 years ago, if you'd asked me that question, it would have been a much different answer and it would've been really tough for a finance person to understand everything that's going on in the marketing world, but nowadays there's so much data and there's so much information available and it's very, it's moving more and more to being quantitative where you still, it's still great to have that creative and qualitative and understanding of the mind of your customer, that's still really important for marketing, but you can also start measuring your metrics. And that's one of the things that I do a little different than most CFOs, is that just like you said, instead of marketing expense being an expense on the income statement, I normally start with the, before getting to the revenue, looking at how many users are you getting, how many new potential buyers, how many leads are you getting, and what's your conversion rate at closing those? And I think that that's really where the story needs to begin and that really hasn't. Traditional finance hasn't had a good system for tracking that and catching it. And so I think that's something that you can't really rely on the double entry accounting built in the 13th century to really help with that. But I think it is something that's essential for a CFO to focus on. Adam: (04:40) So that’s not the first time I've heard you mention like the double entry 13th century accounting, when you and I were talking before we started recording, you'd mentioned it a few times, is that still the foundation of what management accountants will face today or is, are things changing? Andrew: (04:55) Yeah, I think the cool thing for management accounting is that it really does change a lot and it really, instead of having that standard financial reporting that is, you know, gap or whatever else, when you're on the management side you're really trying to help the business grow and there's so many other pieces there. I think that the principles have stayed the same. You always want to find your constraints. You always want to try to, maximize efficiency, maximize the return on any investment that you're making. I think the big change has been that there's more data to tell you what your return is, what your investment has put forward. And I think that you have to go a little bit beyond the traditional accounting world to be able to do that. And I could probably walk you through some examples, to really show that in a different light, but the, it is really cool, that the 13th century bookkeeping system has really just with a few slight tweaks, has continued to serve our world so well. I'm not against that system by any means, but I do think you need to add some other pieces on top of that if you want to have a holistic picture of modern business. Adam: (06:07) Well, can you give us some of those examples to help illustrate that for the audience? Andrew: (06:12) Yeah, sure. So I think that, a few things you can look at, so a lot of times people will focus on the constraint of inventory, right? And so that may be something if you're in a manufacturing company and you're trying to focus on where's the constraint, and it's almost like you might have a constraint first approach to resolving that. You could also do that with the marketing side of your business. A lot of times I see people that they're really great at getting traffic to their website for example, but they do a terrible job at converting those visitors into customers, but they continue to focus on just getting more and more people when the real constraint is that conversion rate. And I think that that's something that's really a key component that a accountant could really understand well and that they can, they have that mindset to where they could really serve a marketer or just serve the business in general to better understand where is that constraint. Maybe even get more specific into specific areas, specific web pages if it's a website, specific customer targets if it's more of like a traditional Salesforce type system and then I'm starting to track that over time and seeing what the trends are and trying to determine what the levers underneath that data you can pull to really help improve that over time. I think all that's some great examples for how you can take the principles from traditional management accounting and apply them to this new digital marketing kind of data first world. Adam: (07:38) So it almost sounds like your data is more than just the numbers of like finances that are coming in, but you're talking about, customers and leads and all these different things. So the modern CFO needs to be able to understand all of that. Andrew: (07:56) Definitely, I think so. I think it would just be tough for a CFO to really understand just by looking at that one line item called marketing expense, and really understand what is it that's driving those changes in the revenue? What is it, how can you improve that spend, where are the constraints in getting to revenue? I think that it's just essential to do that. Adam: (08:16) Now we've talked, you and I have talked a number of times before we got to this conversation and you've mentioned to me, Ray Dalio and he has a book called Principles. And there's a quote from that that really sticks out, “principles are fundamental truths, that service foundations that get you what you want out of life. They can be applied in a similar situations to help you achieve your goals”. Now you've mentioned this quote to me, how does that kind of bring together what we've been talking about today? Andrew: (08:44) Yeah, so I think that Ray Dalio's book, Principles was ahead of its time, but the perfect time to implement that is now. And so what he did in the 80s and 90s, is he really solidified for his team here is what we do when the data says this. So if this changes in the market, this is what our system is going to be. And they would spend several hours for each individual little process, trying to understand that 100% what that would look like. But it was tough back in the 80s and 90s for most traditional companies to find that data and in finance, he was looking at different pieces of the market. And there was a lot of financial data there, but there wouldn't have been as much marketing data in a modern business back then. I think you can really take that same approach and say, you can almost have it to where the data runs your business for you. You can get to the point where if the data changes in certain ways and you have a predefined method to where you say, okay, going back to that example we were talking before, if our conversion rate for this particular customer segment goes down, here's the corrective actions we should take and the investigative actions we should take to immediately investigate that and really just build that feedback loop so that you can constantly improve and I think that's the direction that accounting's going to move into. I think there's so much data and it's so easy to convert. You know, a lot of times I've built dashboards for people before and I'll build these beautiful dashboards that I'm so proud of and then I'll look at the usage stats and people rarely use them, you know, they're too busy, they're, you know, it does take time to look at the dashboard and convert that into action. And a lot of times we put that on the managers to determine that and take that next step. But I think the next step for an accountant could actually be to say, if the data is changing in a certain way, and we have a predefined action step, maybe you can connect a tool like Zapier or power automate and automatically trigger a task in a task management system and that's actually some of the things I'm starting to do for my clients, but I think that's another thing that's right around the corner that's completely from the Ray Dalio's Principles mindset, but I think accounting and finance is just poised to really exploit and push that to its max now that we have all this data. Adam: (11:07) So does the modern accountant need to be a data scientist? Andrew: (11:11) I think so, but I would also say that I think the modern marketer needs to be a data scientist. I'm afraid we're getting to the point where almost anybody is going to have to be a data scientist at least to some extent. Adam: (11:21) So how do we get there? Andrew: (11:23) I think you can start out with some pretty familiar tools. I think that pivot tables and Excel can get you really, really far. And I think that's a great place to start. I think the most important thing that a lot of accountants actually miss is knowing what to do with the data. So okay, if this changes, what's the next step, and I think you can get to the point where you could connect your accounting system to some sort of management system and I think that that's really where you can almost be a data scientist that understands the accounting numbers, but then it's helping to translate that data into the next action step for a business and I think that that's maybe the most beneficial, the highest leverage point for an accountant these days and it's something that's really proactive and would set you apart from the traditional accountant for sure. Closing: (12:14) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

May 24

12 min 35 sec

Contact Tracy Jackson: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong and I'm here to bring you episode 123 of our series. Many businesses have had difficulty and/or needed to adapt to the way they onboard, train, and culturally integrate new hires following the lockdown and virtual shift to the business landscape. To explain how organizations can overcome these challenges and better help their employees become and remain part of the team, Tracey Jackson joined my co-host Adam for a conversation about the training and culture gap. Tracey is an engaging and energetic financial and accounting executive who serves as the CFO at CVR Energy. With over 25 years of experience across corporate finance, risk management, accounting, IT, and FP&A, she has developed extensive team building and change enablement skills. Keep listening for her insight as we head over to their conversation now. Adam: (01:03) Onboarding is something that can be very difficult with or without a lockdown. How has that impacted entry-level employees, especially? Tracey: (01:18) I think it's been another challenge on top of something that's already very challenging for organizations. Organizations, some do this very well, although not many, and some have continued to struggle with it even though there've been so many studies that show that getting someone hooked into the organization and integrated into the culture is part, the first step in successful retention. And I think the pandemic just gave us a curveball on something that was already very difficult to achieve. I can say that we've done some things very well and we've continued to fumble in a lot of different areas and the prep work that I did for the podcast actually gave me a lot of things to think about in terms of what we can do better. Specifically, a lot of our new hires come in on day one to the office even though quite a few of our employees are still at least on a split schedule, 50/50, and there was a lot of appreciation for that moment where they're in the office and they can see what the home office looks like, get their badge, hear about the company's goals and objectives in an onboarding session that HR hosts, meeting with their boss, if their boss is in the office beyond that, when people have received that initial landing, sending them back out over the last 12 months to work from home for an undetermined amount of time is where we really had to swiftly adjust. And I can say across the entire organization, we've done some of that well, and some of that not so well. The things that have been successful, I used to do a monthly luncheon with all of our new hires. It doesn't matter what level of the organization you are, I just felt like it was important to sit down with me and demystify the executive leadership team a little bit and talk about us as people and how we feel about the organization, what's going well, talk about our industry and I had to transition away from that obviously, and what I replaced it with was a webcast, that we do. And we haven't really been hiring as many people, so we haven't done it every single month, but every other month or so we get all the new hires are invited to a webcast with me and they can ask whatever questions they would like to ask of me about my personal life. I'm very, I'm an open book so, and I'm a divorcee and I have three cats so I might be a crazy cat lady, but, you know, really just making sure they know that we're all human and that we're real people because they don't even see us now. At least before I could go down to one of the floors that my folks were on and wander around and they could lay eyes on me, but now all they hear is my voice. If we talk on a conference call or on the phone for something, and then quarterly at our town hall meetings, which also had to change format, we used to do those in person and now we do a webcast for those. So lots and lots of challenges with just helping people feel like they've actually joined a new company and a new culture and understanding, why we do what we do and what our values are. Adam: (04:52) Yeah it's gone from having that personal touch of the face-to-face to a phone call or seeing somebody's face in that little box on the screen, you really lose that human connection. So you have trouble feeling like you're a part of the organization now. Tracey: (05:05) Now one of the comments that I got from someone was that they, now that they're back in the office, this individual has their own office so they can shut the door on and so they feel safe, so they're here quite a bit and then as the staff that are in cubes have been rotating in and out, they've been trying to introduce themselves to these people that they've maybe never seen before and they've been startled to find that these are actually individuals, some of them, that they've had extensive conversations on projects, but they had no idea what they looked like. So it's definitely changing the way that we interact with each other and form our persona of people because when you only have a voice paint your own picture, and when you see somebody in person, you have so many more cues as to what really makes up that individual. Adam: (05:57) You know, you've already mentioned some of the things that your organization has done. What are some of the things that you can do to help these employees? Because even when you're in person, we lose the facial cues because our faces are covered up by a mask. Tracey: (06:12) Right, and this gets to just a personal philosophy. I have found that our productivity shifting from a hundred percent in the office to nearly a hundred percent out of the office was not negatively affected. If anything, we may have been more productive and my personal opinion about why that is, there's less water cooler talk, which is not necessarily a good thing, but it sure does take away from wasted time. And you, we didn't have hardly any HR issues over the last year like we would have had in the past, because we didn't have cube mates bickering over things and we didn't have silly HR scuffles that we had to deal with. They were bigger picture issues about caring for a sick loved one and how did that impact their work schedule when they're at home. And so anyway, my personal opinion is that we have to make this adaptation on a permanent basis because efficiency and productivity and lease space and all of those things, companies are going to figure out, I can save a ton of money if I don't have to lease five floors in a building. And so, things that we can do to help bring them into the fold, I think really fall to the individual's manager and the individuals commitment to come into the fold. A lot of the past has been the expectation that companies feed new employees, copious amounts of opportunities to learn and integrate and interact and become a part of the culture and do networking events and volunteer events and that dynamic, that entire landscape is gone now. And so one, we have to train our managers better about the importance of bringing someone into the fold. And two, we have to express our expectation that the employee has an obligation also to buy into the new way and be willing to do, whether it's webcast events with their entire teams. And we all, I think at this point, everybody has a camera. Whether it's on your computer or not, you still have your phone and nearly everybody has a phone with a camera on it at this point. So participate on webcasts and help demystify what people look like. Don't get on a webcast and not show your face because we don't know what you look like, we don't know what you're thinking and you may be, you know, sitting, doing your emails instead of being present as present as you can be and with the conversation and the individuals, because you do get those facial cues and I mean, people who participate in webcast with me know that I'm extremely animated with my face, I talk with my hands, I can't sit still, but if you never turn on a camera, people don't know that about you. So participate when the opportunities are given to you as an employee and ask questions. If there's something that we're not doing, make a suggestion. I think one of the things that helps the human species live this long is that, you know, if there's a problem, somebody says it out loud and then people work on it. But if you as an individual choose to never say anything didn't go well. We don't have the opportunity as a company to try and continue the adaptation that we need to be going through. Adam: (09:41) Definitely. I think you've really touched on a major point of cultural integration and part of a new company. And when you're a new hire and you're hired virtually in a remote environment, you can't get into the fold, you can't become a part of those water cooler conversations that you are, that you don't get to hear all the gossip and all the things that are happening, not that those things are good, but a lot of times, those things are part of the integration into the company. You hear about what so-and-so is doing, what happening there, outside of, you know, the day-to-day operations, you get a part of who's who and what's happening and so, some of the things you mentioned of like, what you used to do is like kind of demystify who the senior leadership is. What are some ways to get away from the traditional face-to-face interactions and how do we adjust getting people into that culture, especially now, you know, one of the big things you already said is turning your camera on. I worked remotely for a number of years and no one ever turned a camera on. Now that everybody's remote, everybody turns the camera on and I love it. But how do you get people to kind of get into that mode of turning their cameras on and, and other things that they can do to kind of integrate into the culture, outside of, you know, just your day-to-day activities. Tracey: (10:48) Yeah, it's interesting. I think there's a little bit of self-awareness that has to happen when you turn a camera on. I know for me, I mean I get dressed up every day for work, but a lot of these folks that have been working from home for months at this point need to get out of their pajamas in the morning and dress like you're going to go to work because you are going to go to work, whether you move from one room to another room or you get in your car and you drive there. And the other is just being able to look at yourself because you see this little tile of yourself, and you're not used to looking at yourself all the time and that can be startling. It's kind of like the first time you hear your recorded voice and you're like, I don't sound like that. Well, yeah you do, but not in your own head. And so for instance, I had no idea so much of my hair was white. And so this has been extremely startling for me, but I've just sucked it up and gotten over it. I've earned every one of those gray hairs. So I think there've been a lot of creativity that has come to the table. For instance, I host a women's leadership group here at my company and one of the things that we do, we used to get together in a conference room over lunch, and we would read a book together or talk about somebody's specific challenges and help each other solve problems and really create a support network outside of the normal people you interact with every day. And, we went virtual and went to the webcast and decided that, one of the meetings that we had would, we wouldn't do anything serious, we would play games. And so we did, we were 30 something of us and so we had to break up into smaller groups and use the breakout functionality that you have on some of these, tools that allow you to zoom or webcast or teams or whatever you use, they all have that functionality and play, because you learn about people and their past and their experiences through play. We did it on the playground as kids, we did it at happy hours when we could still get together and we just have to do it differently now. And so, you know, wine tasting events, I participated in many, many of those with my memberships in various locations around the world. But there's no reason why you can't do wine tasting with whatever organization. And some people used to not want to do things with their peers in off hours times because they wanted to get home and spend more time with their family while they probably, at this point, have had enough time with their family that they would like a break and getting on and doing a wine tasting with each other and you learn about people's trips and the fun things that they've done, and that can be humanizing. And I think now more than ever, we need that because we forget when we see each other on the streets and people are all wearing masks and we're all literally walking across the street and getting on the other sidewalks so we don't have to walk next to each other, that we're all still people and we need to make those efforts in all different aspects of our lives. Adam: (14:08) You know, that's super important. I know my team has done like one of those wine and paint things and we sent everybody the supplies, we were all in the zoom doing the painting with the person, and we've done virtual lunches where everybody goes out and buys a lunch, or like Uber eats to deliver lunch to their house and we all eat lunch together and chat and, we're able to connect. We've been so focused on work and you can just get lost. It's nice just to remember that we're all human and we all have different issues going on, whether you have kids or don't have kids and we all have so many different things that we have going on that we deal with each day. Tracey: (14:43) Right, right. And, to that end, I think some of the things that we've done in the past or chosen to not do in the past, like mentor programs, lots and lots of companies have done mentor programs and some not so successfully and some successfully, because I think you have to want to be a mentor to actually mentor people effectively. And so when you come into a new organization, we don't really know your personality and we don't know anything about you, but even if we just simply asked, do you want us to give you a partner, an integration partner, don't even call them a mentor, those develop organically, but you know, do you want a partnership with someone who's been here for two, three plus years, that when you're stumped on any topic you can reach out and they can help you think about what you should do, who you should reach out to, and give you some perspective into the lay of the land that you don't have. Adam: (15:48) Yeah. I like that integration partner that's a better way of saying it because calling it a mentor almost seems forced. Tracey: (15:57) Right, right. And mentors, that's a hard role because you have to, mentorship is both delivering good news and bad news and helping people deal with problems and challenges and, that's not necessarily the role we want somebody that's helping you integrate into the company to take on. Adam: (16:18) Yeah. So speaking of like integrating the company, a lot of times when you come into a company, there's a lot of learning that has to happen. You know, and some things I've been reading is a lot of companies are moving to self-paced learning to kind of help employees with training and development. But when it comes to like a professional who's like fresh out of college, this learning's going to be ever more crucial. How can teams prepare so that there's no lack of support, but they're also learning, you mentioned a integration partner, what are some other ways that we can get people up to speed so they can help support the team? Tracey: (16:47) That's a great question. And I think it's a huge concern and at the risk of outing myself, I will say we had some new hires that were right out of college and had only been on the ground working for a couple of months. And then suddenly we're working in a remote environment that are now back in the office on a 50/50 basis and we're seeing the impact because, you know, having come through the organization, so many of my leaders can see where those individuals are in their development and, they're not where we would have necessarily expected them to be if they'd been on the ground every day. So the ability to, you know, be a gopher where you stand up out of your cubicle and look over the wall and ask your cube mate, you know, how do I do this thing that is probably pretty simple and you wouldn't want to ask your boss, is gone and we've done a huge disservice, not addressing a problem I don't think we realized we had and so that is going to be, it actually is already a topic that some of my leaders are talking about because that hallway problem solving and being able to sit together in a cube and stare at a spreadsheet is gone. And even if you're both in the office, you can't sit in the same cube and stare at a spreadsheet anymore. But, you know, Microsoft gives us platforms where you can screen share, and we all are now wearing headsets and so you can still do those things, but there's more effort involved in doing those things. I do think that one of my, financial teams did that was really interesting is they just opened up a bridge in the morning and they're all signed onto the bridge and it's just a telephone bridge and they can talk to each other as if they're all together even though they're not, and otherwise just keep themselves on hold and then, you know, you can drop off or come back on for breaks or lunch or, you know, conference call you have to take, but there is a bridge there that somebody is sort of always sitting on and so you're never really alone. There's always that network there to pop into and say, Hey, I'm stuck on this. Or the other thing that has, has come up is really the IT side of integrating one of the, one of our new hires gave me a lot of great feedback. And they're in IT and basically said, you know we didn't even teach anybody when they were onboarded how to open a service ticket or who to call because it wasn't part of onboarding. It was just something you could always ask a cube mate when you had your first problem and that's when you learned it. And so we are going to start having an IT onboarding because every department has a unique set of applications and tools that they use and different people that you may have to call in IT, to get that quick help versus something serious enough to open a ticket for and try and solve through a formal process. And even simply publishing a list of people and handing it to them on the first day of, you know, here's the Microsoft office guy if you can't get signed in, or you have some problem that's quick, just call him. And if he thinks it's a bigger problem, he can tell you to open a ticket for it. So it's changing everybody's behaviors, the people that are here already, and the people that are stepping into bold around what do I really have to do to help onboard somebody into the culture and the day-to-day swim lanes that we're all in every day. Adam: (20:30) That's great. Yeah, it's going to change how we look at things even once people are back into the office, even more I think, because there's so much that's happened that it's like, wait, we've identified all these gaps, now if everybody goes back into an office, if that even happens in the future, you know, you've already adjusted how you're onboarding people even now. Tracey: (20:52) Right, and we're finding, we have a ton of remote learning capabilities that we just don't use and we're starting to use. One of the things that we had started long before the pandemic was a monthly lunch and learn and we harvest people out of our organization to teach us all kinds of things and it can be as simple as, I think this month’s lunch and learn was organization skills because you're not in an office anymore in the traditional sense, you're at home. Hopefully you're not working at your dining room table, but you very well may be. And so you need a portable, organization strategy so that in the morning you can land there and then in the afternoon you can get out of there because your family's coming to the table later. And so we actually asked one of our executive administration folks to walk us through just basic organization skills, not just paper organization, but email organization, and calendar management, and phone contacts and things like that to facilitate a more organized virtual environment and as well as just physical environment so that you can be portable if necessary and be more structured. But we also need to leverage like ADP. ADP has a module, a learning module, that you can self-populate, but you can also connect to other platforms and pull in. And so one of the things that I've asked my leadership team to do is put together, based on all of the libraries of virtual learning platforms that we have out there, what are your top 20 things that you wish everybody in your department had done and give it to everybody, but also give it to the new hires as they're coming in the door and tell the people that are there, Hey, we'd like you to spend an hour or two a month minimum and take the time to do some self-learning. And it's really, again, incumbent upon the individual to put forth the effort to do that. Before we used to say, here this is mandatory training, but we can't necessarily control what you're doing at home anymore. Closing: (23:04) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

May 17

23 min 24 sec

Contact Arno Wakfer:'s Articles:  FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:00) Hey everyone. Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong, and I'm here to bring you episode 122 of our series. Today's conversation features Arno Wakfer, a former CFO with over 15 years of commercial finance and general management experience. He is now a coach and trainer focused on upskilling managers and professionals through learning programs in Power BI and business finance literacy. In this episode, he talks with my co-host Adam about value creation and how finance and accounting professionals can get closer to the business through insight and storytelling. Keep listening as we head over to their conversation now. Adam: (00:51) So Arno, what are some of the value creation ideas that the finance and accounting team can use to set reminders and form habits? Arno: (00:59) Thanks Adam, thanks for the question. I think before I go into that, I'd just like to share my own view on what I think it means to drive value in a business. To simplify these, that I think whatever finance does will contribute towards increasing the value of a business for its stakeholders. Any business, any stakeholder business, wants an asset that increases in value and I think finance should be there to help increase the future value of an asset, which is the business. Alright, so looking at some ideas around finance creating value, some ideas around that. So the first thing I do is looking at financial analysis. So what they can do is they can perform business off assessments and troubleshooting risk areas. The second one is cashflow improvements, you know, working with businesses to improve strategies, to improve the cashflow. There's many strategies that you can use to accelerate in delayed cash flow coming in and out of a business. And we all know cash is King and it keeps the doors open so we need to protect our cash. The next one is cashflow forecasting. A lot of business is done with forecasts, when it comes to cashflow I think it's vital. You need to do at least 12 weeks of cashflow forecasting and try and at least have a safety of margin of at least three months of your fixed overheads, just to give you a little bit of buffer in the time that the business struggles. So that's another way that you can create value. Maximizing profits, monitoring all the key drivers in the business that generate profits and measure that in real time if you can. And then, any early warning signals when anything's off track is not on track that management can address. The next one would be, I think where we can also add as early is auditing spreadsheets. I think a lot of managers use their own spreadsheets to make decisions on, and we come across spreadsheets that can have errors in them and those errors lead to poor decisions. So I think finance can be more involved in analyzing and checking those spreadsheets for correctness. The other idea is to, for finance to get more involved in data analytics, you know, being able to use it’s auditing data into analysis and to be able to analyze underlying transactions or key activities that drive business. For example, if we want to analyze where we bleeding on profit margins on a specific customer, on a specific product, on a specific location, I think finance should be able to analyze and give that intel financial intelligence to key decision makers, which will assist the future planning and strategy. And the next one is data visualization, which is becoming a hot trend skill in finance and accounting is being able to turn data into storytelling. Most of us are visual learners. When we see a picture it explains a story to us and I think instead of just pushing out financial reports, we can spend more time on actually visualizing and storytelling the performance. And with that, you can use business intelligence like Power BI, which is the top-rated business intelligence platform in my opinion, by Microsoft. The next one is finance literacy training. I think finance can help educate non-finance people in business about the numbers so that they can just make better business decisions. Finance speaks a foreign language to most because we understand the numbers because we've been taught that and we work with it every day, but non-finance people don't. So we need to be able to remove all the technical jargon and try and simplify the numbers for different levels of management so they can just help make better decisions. The next one is business metrics and KPIs. I think we need to work with business units through finance business partnering, to be able to define what metrics they use to make decisions. Every person's got different inputs that they need to put the full cost and their budgets together and draw strategy. So work with the business units to develop the business critical KPIs and then have regular interaction with those people to monitor those KPIs. Then we can also do businesses systemization. So, I mean, that's processes systems, improving those to create efficiencies and automation in business. Businesses want more, they want to do more with this and I think finance can help create those efficiencies in business. Alright, so that's kind of like, the key value creation ideas after I liked it that I think would add value to business. Thanks Adam. Adam: (05:31) Yeah, so I think those are wonderful ideas and now that we've kind of covered those ideas, what are some of the challenges that can prevent those same professionals from delivering value creation? Arno: (05:43) Yeah great, great question. So, the obstacles I see finance have in terms of driving value creation. Cause it's easy to say let's drive value, let's do more, but it's, for me, it's a change of a mindset. And what one is to focus on first is the need to find ways to speed up the month-end reporting process. I think before finance looks again, they're spending time on reporting again, and then when they finished the next reporting cycle starts. And reporting is looking backwards, it's not looking forwards. So, I think we need to look to find ways to do more frequent recons, to be planning and eliminating bottlenecks in the month-end reporting process, so that's the first thing. The other thing is the obstacles you'll face is the company culture, its that people don't necessarily like change. And when they do happen, they're not supported by the right people. And then people are not very clear while they're being implemented and they don't really understand the benefit to them in the business. So typically what one would need to do is cost versus benefit and being able to negotiate and be persuasive as to why we need to make changes to drive value creation. Next one is not having the right finance team. You can put all these value creation activities in place, but if you're not driving, if the leader of the team is not driving the right behavior and getting a mission statement of the finance team that's aligned to the business mission statement, and if it's not alarmed, then you're not going to be, the team's not going to be productive. A busy finance team is not necessarily productive finance team and businesses want us to be more productive, to provide more insights rather than just financial information. Next one, you know, inability to influence decisions. I think that is what finance business partnering is all about is being able to take information, provide insights, and influence decision-making. But you're not going to do that behind a desk. You need to be out there building relationships, getting to know people, getting to know the decision makers and actually understand the pain points of the business and what info they need to make better decisions impacting the future of the business. The next point is lacking of systems to provide meaningful insights. You know, businesses want information real-time these days, they can't wait for information. They need to make faster decisions, to drive the business performance, that's the reality we facing. So you need to implement systems to create efficiencies and do things faster and smarter. And I would say the last thing is the of lack of business knowledge, not understanding the key value drivers. I think finance accountants may get too technical about the numbers and they don't really understand the business model, what's driving revenue and profit. It's cost structure, it's values proposition, the mission/vision statement, it’s purpose, all those things. It's key customers, key suppliers, those things. So those are what I would say is like the key challenges that you need to overcome, get your mindset right. And they all can be addressed. You just need to just prioritize where you focus or where you're placing your efforts. Adam: (08:53) I think that's a nice segue. I was going to ask, how do you assess if you're spending time in the right areas? Arno: (08:58) So that, it's so easy, it's all about time management. It's easy to say that you need to better manage your time, but the only way you can do this is to check actually where you're spending your time. So that's why I've come up with a concept called “value creation opportunity gap”, and it's very simple. You list all your day-to-day activities, your normal activities, and then you list all the value creation activities. The things that you should be doing that draws value creation. And there, so for example, you've got a 40 hour working week, and lets say you spending 80% of your time on day-to-day activities and you want to spend say 60% on value creation activities. Then you can already identify where you spending, where need to drop time to dedicate more time to value creation activities. Now day-to-day activities I typically see as reporting and post-performance, financial working capital net asset management, we've got risk management and governance, statutory audit and tax compliance, and then things like administration meetings and operational issues, so that things are not going to go away. They are part of business and we have to deal with them on daily basis, but now the value creation activities examples are things like driving strategy planning and direction of the business, delivering insights to the business, building relationship with key stakeholders, which takes time, continuous business health monitoring, helping to improve cashflow and profitability, spoke about analyzing data, spend some time on data visualization, we need to look at process improvements and automation, a very important problem solving in decision-making discussions. We need to be in those discussions to help make better decisions, spend time on financial modeling, focus in prediction. So that's the forward looking part, not the backward looking. And then important is the finance team development and coaching, that for me is important. So those are going on, so you can all see all the different daily creation activities, you need to be able to check where you're spending your time so you can close that gap. Adam: (10:59) Just to kind of wrap up our conversation. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how the finance and accounting team can get closer to the business. You've kind of alluded to it a little bit, but I wonder if you could speak in more detail around that. Arno: (11:11) Thanks Adam. So I took a class of business, so for me it's about to create value you need to become influential in business as a finance team. If you don't have influence you won’t necessarily get people to listen to you and the recipe to become influential, is people need to get to know you, they need to like you, and then that bolstered trust. People are not going to, you're not going to become influential sitting behind a desk. And in order to do that, finance needs to be, so you need to be more visible, not hiding behind a desk, you need to be effective at relationships, you need to be great at communication, you know, being able to get your message across to the audience is vital. And then also the ability to present and story tell the numbers, that's how you create influence. So to do that, you need to eliminate some of the pain points that the finance function has in business. And these are just general pain points. So I spoke about this previously is about, we need to provide more info instead of insights. We need to be involved when problem solving, we need to improve our communication, we need to be more proactive in driving change, we need to understand the business, the business model, how it makes money and how it operates, we need to build relationship with key decision makers, and we all need to be more involved in strategy and future planning decisions. Then finance, the finance team can't work in silos anymore. It needs to be work with the business. So, there needs to be that connection and it needs to be less backward-looking and more forward-looking through scenario planning for cost predictions, all those things. We should, people should understand our language. It shouldn't be a foreign language. Understand what we talk about when we talk about the numbers. And I think we can probably be a bit more fun and engage more with people so they get to know us. The perception is that finance is boring and I don't believe that. I think we all, I think most of us are introverts, but I think we adapt to the situation and nothing, you know, a guy like me, I like engaging with people and it takes confidence, so the more you do it, the better you get at it. And, you get better doing it if you start doing presentations, you know, it's just conquer your fear and do that. So that's kind of like a, what I would say is the focus points to get close to business. And you know, if I can maybe just summarize, my thinking is that finance needs to find the ways to get closer to business. You know, being busy is not necessarily being productive, focus on building your relationship with decision-makers, emphasizes provide more insights than just financial information, improve your skills in communication, presentation, and negotiation. Understand the business first before you just start looking at making improvements, create a team that is customer focus, customers is internal/external customers. And, you know, embrace technology to create efficiencies and drive business performance. So that would be my key points for driving value creation. Adam: (14:30) Do you think that technology is going to help bring together finance and the rest of the business together? Arno: (14:37) Yes, I think it will because, you know, the benefits of technologies enables us to do faucet or sectional processing. It enables us to get information quicker to decision makers and it frees up time for us to focus on other value creation activities. And the one thing I think we can spend more time is building relationships because that takes time. You need to get to know people, so automation is not necessarily a bad thing, it helps us to do a better job and get more insights out to business so they can drive better decisions. And, you know, people can get to know us and we can be more influential because we've actually got, we've got the insights to help drive business performance and I think in the automation enables us to be co-pilots to businesses, to help steer the plane in the right direction because our strategy, our flight plan is our strategy, so where we want to head and finance can help co-pilot that. Adam: (15:33) Yeah, I've heard you say it a few times that the finance and accounting team needs to be storytellers, you know, as with the more data analytics and those things that are coming on that we've been talking about, how can they become better storytellers as they go along? Arno: (15:50) So, so obviously there's best practice when it comes to visualization, but for me it's also about, you know, getting the right message across. Don't get too much detailed cause people get lost in the detail. Go and find out from people what they want to see and then visualize what they want to see, they need to get the story in the first 10 seconds, otherwise you would have lost them. And I think finance can analyze financial and non-financial data. Its no longer just financial data. Non-financial data could be things like your headcount stats. How does that correlate to your revenue? You can look at your customer buying patterns, what are they buying? What are they not buying? It's all those things, and it's not just give an income statement, the P&L balance sheet and cashflow anymore, it's giving more than that. It's the underlying drivers that leads to that number that we can help analyze and I think whatever efforts we give will help with future planning. I think if you've got a strategy, if you need to strategize, and you've got all this intelligence now, it surely will change your mindset and possibly changing the way that you used to budget and draw strategy. Closing: (17:05) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

May 10

17 min 25 sec

IMA's website: Management Accounting Day: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) Welcome back everyone and happy International Management Accounting Day. Each year, IMA celebrates International Management Accounting day on May 6th. This global day of recognition commemorates the important role management accountants play within their organizations. Around the world, finance and accounting professionals work to bring insight and help their organizations realize untapped opportunities and operate more efficiently. While this work happens every day of the year, on May 6th management accountants are publicly recognized by IMA. So to celebrate and support the public recognition, Count Me In has a special bonus episode for you featuring IMA's President and CEO, Jeff Thomson. Jeff spoke with Margaret Michaels, IMA's Manager for Brand Content and Storytelling about the future of finance and accounting. Keep listening to hear them discuss the valuable ongoing efforts of management accountants and the race for relevance in a digital age. Margaret: (01:03) Digital transformation enabled by automation, data analytics, artificial intelligence, and other technologies has been the headline story when people talk about the future of finance, but you often bring up the fact that these are really not new technologies. Can you elaborate on that theme and talk a little bit about how the foundational concepts in competing on analytics and other texts laid the groundwork for the transformation we see today? Jeff: (01:41) Sure Margaret. Great question and two related, but somewhat different concepts. So these technologies have been around and developing for some time. Artificial intelligence, has been around for some time, blockchain has been around for some time. But what's different is that all industries have been impacted by these technologies and the applications have been exploding. You know blockchain, for example, the use cases for blockchain were just a few several years ago, but now blockchain use cases have absolutely exploded. You know, blockchain was something we've heard about several years ago, primarily in the financial services industry, but now blockchain applications are permeating many, many industries including education, non-for-profits, and when we think about artificial intelligence, it's not just artificial intelligence in certain industries, it's artificial intelligence in many industries and many applications, so the question is our ability to leverage all of these wonderful uses of these technologies. Now, and then when we think about, RPA robotics process automation, robotics process automation has actually been around for nearly a decade. So when we talk about new technologies, the technologies really aren't that new, but it's the application and comprehensiveness of these technologies across industry verticals that are new. Now, moving to your other question competing on analytics, it's actually the book, Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning, by Thomas Davenport and Jean Harris. It's actually a book in 2007 that really laid the groundwork for the transformation to data analytics that as you said, we're seeing today. And when you think about it, imagine it was written in 2007 and when you think about the science of winning in the marketplace, what do you think about? You normally think about cool apps, things that consumers see in front of them. Like I said applications, products and services, things you can touch and feel. You don't think about nerdy things like analytics, but if you fast forward today, analytics is the thing we're talking about. Data scientists, data scientists are the number one sought after job because data analytics is how we get to know our consumers and their needs and their wants. They’re how finance team professionals offer insight and foresight to their CEOs, to their boards of directors. So that is the competency and skillset that we as finance team professionals must really aspire to and really accelerate our competencies.   Margaret: (04:59) Great. Now you often say the race for relevance to describe the current iteration of digital transformation in accounting and finance as technology evolves faster than the skills of the people who need to use it. What are the skills finance and accounting professionals need to focus on to keep up and what competencies really stand out to employers in a time when skills are increasingly commoditized?   Jeff: (05:28) Yeah so another great question Margaret you're on a roll today. Yeah, so there's going to be the infamous hard skills and the softer skills, so we are in an absolute environment of disruption. In fact, we often talk about the VUCA world that we're in, and no it's not a Hungarian goulash, it's VUCA volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, VUCA. And we were actually in that environment before COVID-19 tragically struck the world with non-traditional competition, climate, and I can go on and on. So when I think about behavioral characteristics for finance team professionals and CFOs, I think about agility and I know we're going to be talking about agility perhaps in a bit later. I think about adaptability because if you don't have the ability to deal with new situations, stressful situations, totally unexpected situations that your best planning could not have possibly anticipated then you're not going to be able to adjust and deal with the situation from a risk management perspective or a planning perspective. So agility, adaptability, but also being anticipatory. Having that radar at ability to plan the best you can, so from a behavioral perspective, what I call the three A's; agility, adaptability, anticipatory skills. From a harder skills perspective, and again this is for the finance team, strategic planning, strategic thinking and then of course data analytics, data science, everything data, data transformation, digital transformation. Now I don't want to lose sight of the table stakes because as we thinking about the progressive CFO and the CFO of the future, we have to be clear that there are table stakes. There are things that the CFO team must do with excellence that are expected. Things like risk management, internal controls, an ongoing and continuous commitment to ethics, leadership, executive maturity, executive presence, and the like. So we can't lose sight of what got us there and that's a unwavering and relentless focus on, as I said, ethics, internal controls, accurately and fairly representing the financial condition of the enterprise. And then we can offer that insight and foresight and having, enabling the organization to do great things and create great products and services that will change the world.   Margaret: (08:38) That makes a lot of sense and I'm glad you mentioned agility and resilience because COVID has certainly highlighted the need for leaders to help their people become more agile and resilient. How do you define agility and resilience? How equipped are finance and accounting professionals to deal with uncertainty while continuing to innovate and improve processes?   Jeff: (09:04) So agility is, and again, this is a, perhaps a Thomson un-scientific definition, but maybe those are the best. They're not particularly scientific, but agility in my mind, Margaret is the ability to quickly move employees and resources, human resources, and other types of resources, technology resources into new roles or areas of the organization to support changing business needs. And the quickness is really very important because things could change on a dime or a nickel or a penny as the case may be so ability to quickly move employees and other types of resources and the new roles or areas of the organization as conditions change. Resilience or resiliency is perhaps viewed as the physical, social, emotional, and financial wellbeing of employees. Think of it as the shock absorber weathering the storm, hurricane Sandy and the Northeast is a literal interpretation of weathering the storm. COVID-19 around the world and other examples. And when I think about, going back to agility, you know, there's a kind of a company responsibility and a company opportunity to deal with agility, attracting and attaining diverse employees, creating an inclusive culture, identifying employees with digital skills, career pathing, workforce ability offering, and providing technology and communication tools, remote collaboration, but there's also an employee responsibility to improve agility, building your competencies, building skill sets and strategy and data science and data analytics, so it's a dual responsibility when it comes to agility, both an employer and employee responsibility.   Margaret: (11:18) That makes a lot of sense. And as organizations and economies recover from COVID, what do you think the new normal will look like? And what role will management accountants play in helping their organizations recover?   Jeff: (11:34) Well, I think we as a society, Margaret are playing a role in what the new normal will look like. And look, there's no doubt about it, in some sense, tragically COVID-19 impacted lives and livelihoods, closed down small businesses, 3 million deaths, cases, hospitalizations, but the human spirit is strong we learned so much. We learned so much about ourselves, how to cope, learned about how technology can enable, learn so much about how we could deal with tragedy, how we could educate ourselves and lift the human spirit. And we also learned about the new normal of work. So we educated ourselves in so many ways we became a learning society, a world that is transformed forever. So, the new normal in many ways is a new learning world and certainly we've learned that our profession, for example, is one that is a profession that is stronger in many, many ways. It's more, we've invested in new technologies, we've learned that we don't need to be in the office nine to five, we don't all need to be in the office at the same time. We do need to be in the office some of the time, we do need to build and nurture relationships, but you know what, we can close the books remotely, we can create budgets remotely, we can close the books remotely. And so that mix we'll figure out together. We did invest more than we ever have before in data science, we've invested more than ever before in digital transformation across the value chain. Organizations are investing in new hybrid models in terms of remote work, like two-three-two, two days in the office, three days away from the office or in your home office, and then two days of time with the family or other types of models, investing in all types of technologies that enable the consumer to do great things, investing more in ESG to enable the planet to be greener and cleaner. And so, we've learned an awful lot about society ourselves, and our organization. So that is a really, really good thing and I think the new normal will be better than the old normal.   Margaret: (14:28) I agree. I do look forward to a full economic recovery and seeing everybody prosper after such a difficult year.   Jeff: (14:38) I agree, you know, IMA conducts a quarterly global economic survey, as you know, with ACCA, another prominent global accounting association. We've done it for the better part of 60 years. One of the largest quarterly economic surveys of its kind, and there's nothing but optimism in terms of global economic survey. In fact, by the end of this year, we might return to pre-pandemic conditions. You know, if things go well, it's a bit of a race between vaccinations and the variants. We need to be careful and smart in terms of not, you know, going back to relapses and things like that. But if we're smart and cautious, we might see a nice recovery.   Closing: (15:34) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

May 6

15 min 54 sec

Contact Ramesh: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) Hey everyone and welcome to Episode 121 of Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Adam Larson, and I'm pleased to introduce you to today's featured guest, Ramesh Shettigar. Ramesh is Vice President of Investor Relations and Corporate Treasurer at Glatfelter, a leading global supplier of engineered materials. He joined my co-host Mitch to talk about ESG and its importance across the organization. Keep listening to hear about the finance team's role in ESG, prioritizing ESG over return objectives, and strategies to make ESG truly sustainable. Mitch: (00:47) So in your perspective, how have recent events increased the importance of ESG in business? And obviously for our listeners, we would like to get your perspective, particularly for the finance function. Ramesh: (01:00) Sure Mitch, I'm assuming by recent events you're referring to the pandemic, climate issues, social injustice, and corporate governance matters we've seen play out in 2020. If so I think companies play a very important role in representing to employees and their communities where they stand on these topics. The pandemic for example, has highlighted the importance of ensuring the health and safety of our employees and the communities where we operate. With regard to climate, corporations I think need to be responsible stewards of the environment in the geographies where they operate and need to abide by all local and federal environmental standards so that we can all preserve humanity's long-term health and sustainability for generations to come. We're seeing this play out in broader mega trends. For example, this move from fossil fuels and toward alternative energy sources or the plastics free movement. Working for an engineered materials company like Glatfelter, I feel incredibly proud that we have focused heavily on natural and bio-based feedstocks in our manufacturing process and our product innovation efforts are heavily focused on minimizing synthetic materials in the products we make. As it relates to social topics, employees need to know where their employers stand regarding racial, gender, and socioeconomic disparities in the workplace and if their companies are playing an active role in facilitating an environment that welcomes diversity, equity, and inclusion. Glatfelter for example, has made it very clear through an internal message from our CEO that treating people of all backgrounds fairly and consistent with our core values of mutual respect, integrity, and social responsibility is of utmost importance. We have committed to enhancing compliance training that focuses on diversity and eliminating unconscious biases. Also a meaningful portion of corporate giving will go towards causes that address social inequities and racial injustice. From a governance standpoint, I think ensuring that there is adequate board diversity in terms of experience, gender, and race is very important for investors seeking reassurance that company leadership exemplifies and values diversity. So bringing all this back to the finance question, which I think you're trying to get to, I think the long-term returns of these initiatives and the stand we take regarding ESG will ultimately be positive and rewarding for the company, its employees, and society. So I think that's how we think about what ESG does for us, particularly for the finance function. Mitch: (03:56) That really was beautifully said and thank you for taking us through step-by-step, I think it was a perfect response. Its great to hear those kinds of initiatives put in place and you know, your organization really taking a big step forward in making sure that everybody within the organization is on the same page. I think that clear communication is vital for making sure these ESG initiatives are effective, really is what it comes down to. And you talked about the finance function, the long-term returns. I think it's been a year now with this pandemic that you brought up and obviously there is a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel. I think some people are starting to see it as businesses seek to return to their normal and that obviously has a different definition than it did a year from today. But how do you prioritize ESG in relation to these return objectives that you mentioned within finance? Ramesh: (04:53) Sure. So you know, the pandemic has clearly appended organizational priorities when it comes to ESG and I think you said it well, right? We've we see the light at the end of the tunnel. We've been through this pandemic now for a year, organizations have flexed and adapted to the marketplace and what the pandemic has brought about. But if anything, the pandemic I think has elevated the social aspect of ESG, which was already gaining momentum, keeping employees safe, facilities operational, and servicing customers are high on the priority list I think for companies and in a way represent the duty of care that businesses broadly commit to as part of their ESG focus. Therefore, I think ESG should not be seen purely from a return objective, because ESG initiatives are simply the right thing to do. Yes, companies of different sizes and complexity operate in different places along the ESG continuum depending on their resource allocation to this important endeavor. And as you know, the ESG evolution is a journey and some are further along than others, but that progress should not be driven solely by ratings outcomes or objectives. It should be guided by a company's core values and commitment to social responsibility. Businesses seek input from various constituents like investors, employees, customers, and suppliers to better understand expectations and what it means to be responsible stewards in the community and that feedback guides their actions and priorities. Mitch: (06:36) What exactly is your method for communicating these ESG objectives with stakeholders and ultimately how do you make sure they understand your efforts and get the buy-in from them? Ramesh: (06:50) Sure. So our primary method of communicating our ESG objectives with stakeholders is through our sustainability report. You know, in late 2019 we formed a cross-functional ESG steering committee within Glatfelter with a primary role of overseeing the sustainability and ESG strategy for the company and providing implementation support to Glatfelter’s businesses and facilities. We worked with a third-party consultant to conduct a materiality assessment to identify our ESG priorities. Particularly since we went through a meaningful strategic transformation as a company over the last couple of years and we wanted to make sure our latest priorities aligned with the new Glatfelter. Our materiality process included peer and industry research, internal stakeholder interviews, ESG team workshops, and application of best practices. We also took into consideration the expectations and recommendations of leading ESG ratings organizations and sustainability standards such as the SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board), the GRI (The Global Reporting Initiative), and UNSDGs (The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals). We evaluated topics based on their potential impact on Glatfelter, the company's ability to impact them, and our stakeholder’s interest in these topics. And we finally settled on seven priorities which are organized along the ESG pillars. Those seven areas are environmental management, innovation and environmentally responsible products, occupational health and safety, product safety and quality, community and employee engagement, corporate governance, and ethics and integrity. So focusing and elaborating our efforts in each of these areas culminated into publishing our first sustainability report in late 2020. We believe this enhanced focus on ESG is an important element of our ongoing strategic business transformation and ability to create additional value for all stakeholders. Mitch: (09:12) It's really impressive. I think first and foremost, proper planning and outlining these initiatives, certainly positioned you for success and then as you said, effectively communicating this to everybody involved, all stakeholders certainly I'm sure helped them truly understand the background and what their role is and what the organization's position is. So once the ball kind of gets rolling here and you have this successful plan rolled out, where can you most quickly see the results and how is the rewards from the buy-in really seen? Ramesh: (09:54) Yeah so Mitch you know, we've all heard the saying, “you can't manage what you don’t measure”. Right? And we recognize that as we evolve in our ESG journey and we over time establish milestones and long-term goals against which we can track our progress. But for that to effectively happen, we need the appropriate systems in place to help gather and consolidate the data centrally through which we can compare actual results to targets and have the appropriate reporting tools. While we have the resources within our operating segments and functional management to focus on the information gathering, tracking, and reporting on each of these initiatives, we need to achieve a level of automation to become efficient and seamless so that progress can be accurately measured and there is accountability. And that level of sophistication comes over time and with scale of the business. We've just gotten started on this long-term journey, but we see ourselves eventually getting there. Mitch: (11:01) So I know you mentioned seven priorities, seven focus areas, and outlining how that all applies to the organization as far as establishing these benchmarks or KPIs, right so you can measure your success. How many would you say, do you have in place for each of those seven areas or is it benchmarks for the overall initiative? Ramesh: (11:26) I would say it's benchmark for the overall initiative. You know we, as I mentioned, we've got these seven key areas or seven key priorities that we've outlined, and then underneath them come, whether it is water quality or energy consumption or waste reduction, product recalls or first-time quality metrics from customers that measure us and measure our performance. I would say the KPIs do exist underneath each of these priorities, but they vary, in terms of scale and in terms of the tracking of how each of these KPIs are performing. So I think some are more quantitative than qualitative, clearly community and employee engagement or corporate governance, these are things that have a qualitative element to it, but when it comes to environmental management for example, carbon emissions or water consumption or energy usage, are very very specific and measurable metrics. Mitch: (12:44) That's excellent and that was definitely part of my question also is the qualitative versus quantitative aspects of it just knowing how qualitative many elements of ESG really is. So that's fantastic and, you know, you outlined such a clear plan, the communication, the benchmarking, I think it's all incredibly valuable for listeners to kind of see how it's in practice. I guess from a bit of a higher level, if you were to offer advice, what kind of strategies or best practices can you recommend for making a focus on ESG truly sustainable for the life of a business. If somebody were to be interested in bringing an ESG project forward within their organization, or maybe it's in place already and they want to drive it further, what are some of those best practices that you've seen along the way with your company? Ramesh: (13:36) Yeah so Mitch, I think for ESG to be truly sustainable it needs to become part of the company's culture and that takes time, right? But it starts with the tone at the top, having a sustainability policy that has been articulated and endorsed by the CEO and reviewed periodically by the board is good practice and evidence that the company is taking ESG seriously. This really serves as the backbone of the company's ESG mandate and investors are looking for this level of commitment from the companies they follow and the companies they invest in. There also needs to be board commitment and oversight of a company's ESG strategy and programming. Beyond that, depending on the size and complexity of an organization, we're starting to see C-suite level engagement and accountability through the establishment of chief sustainability officers that drive ESG across the organization. And like I mentioned before, I think once a company puts the measurement and reporting infrastructure in place, it can be managed more effectively. And by tying compensation to long-term sustainability, which some companies are doing, we will see meaningful progress take place over time. Here again, this will happen as ESG and sustainability become embedded in the fabric of a company's culture and business and investment decisions are made through the lens of sustainability. Closing: (15:13) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

May 3

15 min 34 sec

Jeff Dailey: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:05) Hey everyone, welcome back for episode 120 of Count Me In. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. Our featured speaker for today is Jeffrey Dailey. Jeff is Prometrics Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, and he joined my co-host Adam to talk about data and technology. During their conversation, Jeff addresses the challenges associated with mass amounts of data, how to make decisions based on data and how the CFO's role has changed because of data and technology. Keep listening as we head over to their conversation now.   Adam: (00:47) So Jeff, data is becoming more and more important each day whether it's your latest smartwatch, a smartphone, your internet, things on your refrigerator, or your washing machine. It's getting thrown at us from every direction and even more so in business and for you at Prometric, how are you facing that challenge with all the data that we have in business and how have you adapted as an organization to meet those challenges?   Jeff: (01:12) Thanks Adam. Yeah look, I think the role that I play in Prometric as the CFO is really going to be leading to driving data-driven decision-making. And in order to do that, we really leverage analytic capabilities, not just within the finance function, but across the business. Our business relies heavily on understanding volume and capacity, of our clients and global candidate base for those taking tests in our test centers, as well as new modalities around remote assessment. So we're constantly looking at opportunities to gather and understand data, but also to use that to be quicker and more agile in our decision-making, it really becomes sort of foundational to us driving, data-driven decisions across the organization, it helps enhance forecasting, it helps us understand how we're allocating resources across the operations, as well as our technology investments.   Adam: (02:11) So if you look at your technology roadmap that you're looking into the future, what does that look like for you?   Jeff: (02:18) Well, right now we're in a unique disruption coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. And I say that it's created opportunity in some ways, given all the disruption to our clients and frankly to all of the candidates that we support. One of the areas from a global technologies we've gone from what was traditionally largely a brick and mortar business model, to enhancing our remote assessment capability, to offer assessments and opportunities for candidates to sit from any location has been key when you're going through national and regional restrictions around social distancing and access to traditionally facilities where we have tested candidates. So operationally or product, we have deep investments that we're making across the technology platform to enhance both functionality, as well as expand in those areas of key features. Within our finance organization, we've actually also taken this as an opportunity to really invest in more, I'll call it cloud native systems and financial reporting technologies that are going to enhance our ability to streamline our close that are helping us in terms of forecasting and helping drive, more data-driven insights across the business from the finance organization, so we've not only had product investment, but also investment in our core ERP platform during this time.   Adam: (03:45) So what were some of the drivers for the decision to enhance your ERP solution?   Jeff: (03:51) Yeah, so I think first off is we have for several years looked into opportunities to consolidate multiple platforms that we had that had evolved both over time in different regions as well as, you know, take advantage of what I think now is really, truly a much more secure, fundamentally sound and feature rich opportunity, in what you're seeing in the cloud native ERP platforms. We see this as an opportunity to not only attack technology as our focus for the investment, but also process improvement and there are a number of areas that are features that we're rolling out that will be further automating the closed process, automating the financial reporting and forecasting process, and also just really trying to drive process improvement in business intelligence deeper into the finance organization.   Adam: (04:48) How has it been trying to do an implementation while having, probably your workforce working from home?   Jeff: (04:55) Great question. I think we have certainly been working remote for the most part, since the onset of COVID-19 about a year ago, but that being said, I think we have a global team and we've always had deep resources in Asia, as well as here in the US. We're using new collaborative tools. Certainly we've done a lot with remote video conference, we've got consultants dialed in they were helping us with that implementation, but I think the key has been having really deep sense around understanding of our current operating model and really having developed sort of the objectives collectively, while we're working remote, but to see where we needed to have opportunity for better access, as well as enhance the security and performance overall of the system that we're investing into.   Adam: (05:53) Circling back to data across the business. Why is it important for the finance function? Cause usually the finance function looks at their data and all the numbers and make sure everything makes sense. Why does it make sense to have the data connect across the organization?   Jeff: (06:07) Sure, great question. I think for us it really starts with understanding our client programs and the candidates that we support on their behalf. Our business is relying on volume and managing capacity through a global network and I think as I mentioned, that includes both the brick and mortar global channels supporting our candidates in center testing, to anywhere else from pop-up events that we run short term and then ultimately, expansion of our remote assessment capability. When you're looking at managing that level of capacity and the different modalities that we serve, it really has become critical from an operational decision-making and performance management capability to have a deep understanding and a deep base around analytics for the business. We are, you know, obviously each day kind of managing into the changing capacity restraints for coming out of COVID. We have had analytics that have provided us more insight into candidate behavior in terms of return to test centers, in our case. We've had certainly a large increase in candidates who are opting to take large-scale global national certifications and licensure exams online through our remote assessment tool, and understanding what's driving those decisions for candidates is critical for us to both enhance the product and the modality for them to have access to our content. When I look from a pure finance perspective, it really has been about harnessing data to help us understand more quickly more accurately what the business is performing during what's been a really disruptive time. We have used this as an opportunity to enhance what we do on a week to week basis in terms of our flash reporting. We have invested heavily in terms of pivoting how we do forecasting for the business. We are deeply connected using data from across operations, IT and our technology and product teams to really help us understand and allocate resources appropriately so that we can manage what, at times or headwinds that vary by region coming out of the restrictions that we've been under through COVID. When I think of, you know again, it's really driving us to be a more data-driven organization around decision-making and I've sort of looked at that as the role of frankly myself and my organization of helping harness that data in a way that helps us make not only good decisions, but also has consistent information accessible for folks across the organization so that everybody's able to easily interpret both the financial as well as the operating metrics that we deliver to the business.  Adam: (8:34) Definitely, so you mentioned that you’ve had to adapt to different business models because of COVID, can we talk a little bit more about that?  Jeff: (09:03) Sure. You know, first as many companies that experienced we had a significant impact on our business from the outset about a year ago. We took steps to maintain and manage service levels for clients that were still able to have their candidates into our test centers to test. But through that, we experienced quite a bit of backlog in our business because we were anticipating a lot of those candidates coming back in once the restrictions eased in each jurisdiction that we operate. When I look at what also happened during that time period, as I think I mentioned, we also took it as really having to ramp up a key product that's now a key piece of our growth driver around remote assessments. The ability for us to provide not only access for candidates during COVID, but also now going forward when we're coming out and seeing more clients embrace remote assessment as a key modality for their candidate base, has been critical in our strategy around investing into a new technology to serve our existing and new clients as we grow forward. We have really tried to migrate from what has traditionally been a brick and mortar channel to ramp up this remote assessment capability. There's a lot of analysis that's gone behind in terms of which clients we anticipate, you know candidate basis to move over into that modality and overall, I think it's just allowed us to really help manage capacity on both fronts because we're also managing our tests, and our administrators, our remote proctors and frankly our overall labor model around candidate support, and customer help desk. When I look at all the data that's coming out of those different organizations, again I kind of come back to tying it all together around how it feeds into what we're forecasting and also how we're using that to make data-driven decisions around what's best in terms of our resources and capital allocation as we look ahead at the next month, the next quarter and upcoming in the next year.   Adam: (11:27) So as you make those data decisions, can we move a little bit into data visualization? How are you telling a story for the rest of the team to show what's happening?   Jeff: (11:40) Well, I think for us it really starts with simplifying the objectives across the organization. As many companies have surely experienced in COVID you've got to make sure that you've got a clear vision and set priorities so that folks remain laser focused during a time that has been so disruptive across the economy in so many different regions, for us in terms of visualizing, we start with how we're performing as a global business, but the visualization and the work that we've done to try to drill that down to a geography as well as a product level view has helped enhance not only the financial review of the business, but also from an operational perspective help really make sure that we've got the right metrics that we're measuring, we understand how we've set markers and leading indicators for each of the business units to monitor and manage, and then to help sort of show progress against those has been a real positive coming out of this frankly because we've had a much more engaged group around our weekly reporting or weekly flash and reviews like that, that are helping us understand what capacity and what scheduling habits are telling us about where we're headed in the next period. You know, I think that level of data and visualizing that for not just again across the finance function, but also across the organization is helping really sync up what operation staff and support are driving. We have a global network of test centers as well as a team of remote proctors that deliver services to our clients. But it's also around candidate support. And when we've had to connect it's been having to understand data supporting candidates coming back in to test post COVID, as those restrictions have been lifted we've had much quicker access to understand where we had to expand capacity and where we had to manage for additional resources to support that backlog. Data has been crucial to helping us clarify, not only the expectation for candidates coming back in, but also helping our clients to define where they have opportunities to expand their own capacity for some of the offerings throughout a calendar year.   Adam: (14:08) So Jeff, as we kind of wrap up this conversation, I've been listening to you talk about your role as CFO and it seems like that the role of the CFO is changing and we've seen papers written about it, we've heard people, other folks talk about it and I just wanted to get your perspective as a CFO, how do you see the role of the CFO changing and as we look forward to the other side of this pandemic, what is that going to look like for you?   Jeff: (14:37) Sure Adam thanks. I think if I look historically the key roles around core finance capabilities have traditionally been around financial reporting, accounting, the controllership function and treasury. I think as you look forward, those are obviously still important in terms of stewardship of the business and overall command of operations. I think where I'm finding myself increasingly involved are more strategic discussions around, anywhere from investments that we're going to make in the company, both in terms of internal product development as well as corporate development and M&A opportunities for the business to grow into new markets and ancillary products. But I think it also really kind of, it takes a turn when you're spending much more time with the commercial organization when you're spending more time with the operations team, to really make sure that as finance has a role, not only in reporting, the outcomes of the work of those groups, really helping be part of the decision-making and helping influence the outcome to a better result. That's been particularly important for us coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, given not only this disruption to our business and our clients and candidates, but frankly across the team. We've had to find new ways of working remotely together and it's really been a time where we have really invested together as a leadership team with finance having a true seat at the table if you will, to influence the direction of the company. We have been involved in a number of our key client current portfolio, as well as new pursuits, helping align not only the financial plan that we expect to offer to the business to perform too, but also really helping understand the economics and how we can work better to support our clients during what's been a challenging time for their businesses as well. You know, I think adding to that, really trying to be a catalyst for change, when I think about areas that myself and my team have been involved in it's certainly been focused on business performance improvement. I think of that not just simply as cost initiatives and savings opportunities, but really how do we function better as an enterprise? We talked a little bit earlier around our opportunities that came during the pandemic around new product investment, as well as some of our financial systems and other technology investments we're making. Those are meant to really enhance what we can do as a finance organization to contribute to really overall enterprise performance. It helps us when we're getting better around using data analytics to drive pricing discussions with the commercial organization. It helps us when we're making investment allocation discussions or our investment allocation decisions with our technology and product organization and I think certainly looks at that finance has a seat at the table when we're talking about the evolution of our organization. As I mentioned, taking advantage of some of the disruption, but also really looking at where we can be much more of an innovator and really again, kind of coming back to finance having a seat at the table around being a catalyst for that change. I think this has been an opportunity for us to show the value of not just financial reporting, but also overall business performance. When we've gotten much deeper in terms of sharing with the organization how we're doing against not just plans that we set for the organization at the beginning of the year, but on a period to period basis where we're able to show where the investments are taking place, show where those are having the strongest return and make sure that we're allocating our capital and resources according to the best opportunities for us as a company.   Closing: (18:52) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Apr 26

18 min 1 sec

Contact Mark Forsberg: Water: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson here to bring you episode 119 of our series. Today's conversation is between my co-host Mitch and the CFO of Culligan Water, Mark Forsberg. Mark is a senior leader who oversees the finance, human resources, and risk management functions. He is a distinguished Toastmaster and considers himself a lifelong learner and volunteer. In this episode, Mark emphasizes the value of one-on-one leadership and the return on time invested for the manager, the employee, and the rest of the organization. Keep listening as we go to their conversation now.  Mitch: (00:45) So the purpose of today's conversation, what I would like to start things off with is, how is one-on-one leadership and one-on-one management different than traditional leadership conversations that are typically had in the workplace?   Mark: (01:05) Well thank you Mitch, for the opportunity to be on the program today. If we give some context to this, one year ago, when COVID hit the United States, we had millions of people that went from working in their offices to working at home. And this was a real stress test on communications and managers, we all went to our bookshelves and re-read things like it's important to communicate, communicate, communicate. And another word that came up was the word essential. What's essential to happen. And I think what we all discovered with what's essential is the fundamental employee to supervisor one-to-one meeting. And in general, these meetings are weekly, biweekly, monthly check-ins with the employee and their boss and their employee directed talking about projects and priorities. Before the pandemic I would guess that many times these meetings fell off the radar, but after the work from home initiative started, they became really important. And I hope that many of the members in the community are continuing to do those because this is really not so much about why, or I should say it's more about why than it is the how. You can look up a lot of info on the web about these, but I would say that from my experience, I recommend scheduling one hour every two to three weeks, you ask open-ended questions and you get the employee to open up about things and you're there as a guide to them. As accountants, we all justify ROI on technology, on equipment purchases, on process improvement, but the ROI on that time with employees can really pay off at times. So what value do you place on investing time to gain that mutual trust and confidence? The end message really is the employee's work matters and they matter.   Mitch: (03:28) So as far as the work that matters in these conversations, I agree, there certainly was a period of time when everyone was trying to adjust and figure things out for themselves and now we have to touch base again and make sure that we are all moving in the same direction within the organization, particularly within our function. So, once these one-on-one conversations either continue or pick back up, what are the added benefits after the fact?  Mark: (03:55) The manager/employee or the supervisor/employee relationship is a special relationship and I like to give pause and think about if you're a manager, is it possible for you to compile a list of all the people that you've hired and supervised? And it may be hard to do that if you've been a supervisor manager for a couple of decades. But for all of us, leaders included, going back to that first W2 job, could you make a list of all the people that have hired you? And my guess is you get pretty darn close. There's a book, Truth About Leadership, and it gave me an insight and the insight has stuck with me for a long time and the insight was when they interviewed surveyed high school students and they asked who they envisioned as a leader in their lives. Number one was a family member, typically a parent. Behind that it was a teacher or a coach. But when they interviewed or surveyed people in their thirties and forties and asked who's a leader in their life, they said a parent, grandparent, family member, but number two was a boss. And the trust and confidence that can come with that relationship and the power of these open honest two-way conversations is not to be understated. And I think from that you really springboard to a lot of other opportunities. And I would close that question out by saying, get to know your employees as people, they're people first and what they do second. You might think of Jodi as an accountant who's been with you for eight years and she handles the Western region so on and so forth, but Jodi's got a life before coming to work for you and is doing other things on the side. Perhaps she's a mentor in the big sister program. Maybe she played college tennis, whatever it might be, get to know them as people and they will feel that. And then that's where sometimes the magic happens on employees becoming more engaged with the job and the supervisors and managers being more enlightened and you're really developing people versus supervising and managing people. They are developing right in front of your eyes.   Mitch: (06:36) And then how does this one-on-one leadership from the manager/supervisor perspective, ultimately result in what I guess we could assume is better employee growth and retention?  Mark: (06:49) Yeah in my career, the fundamentals of employee retention haven't changed all that much. You know, there are really four (fundamentals), employees like the work, they like who they report to and they trust and respect, they like what the company does and sees that the company has a future, and then they see an interesting future with the company. And I think an important message that I would share and it came out of, as I prepared for this is, you will walk into or stumble into conversations and opportunities for people to develop in their own job. You know in sports, a lot of times people will earn a position due to injury or be granted an opportunity due to injury of a player. And in business, a lot of times it's an unexpected employee turnover or planned transitions. And in those transitions, then there's an opportunity for people to grow on the job and for them to find that more interesting and holds onto a retention. I think also another point I would make is if you're doing one to ones over a period of time, let's say you have someone that reports to you for three years, you're going to have 50 one-on-ones over that time frame. What you'll get then is you'll get the opportunity with a huge sample size to really see how that person performs, their personality traits, how they fit values, are they naturally curious or assuming, do they expect responsibility or do they sometimes dodge it? And I think those are things that factor into your coaching of the employee as well as their advancement.   Mitch: (08:45) And how about the bigger picture? So obviously we have employee retention, employee growth, you know, they have an opportunity to develop this strong relationship, the supervisor is able to kind of mold the employee and really enhance their working relationship and the job that gets done. But beyond that, what other effects does a strong supervisor/employee relationship have on other aspects of the organization?   Mark: (09:11) You have to think about what's going on throughout. And these connections that happen between manager and employee throughout the organization are powerful if they're all happening, for example, if you take a CEO that wants to introduce a new program or new product, and they give an articulate 10 minute video message that gets out to the employees and the GM of the division performs well on a town hall virtual meeting, at some point you have to have a conversation between the manager and the employee about their role in this. And John, the owner of our company is good at describing rationale. And he will say, people really do need to hear it, understand it, and buy into it. And you're not always going to get a hundred percent buy in, but think about this happening across hundreds of conversations in an organization about something that's new or about something that needs to be addressed. So I would just highlight the fact that you're going to get traction throughout the organization when managers and supervisors are doing this all at the same time.   Mitch: (10:32) As far as traction goes, our listeners may be interested in ramping up their one-on-ones, or coaching others how to effectively facilitate a one-on-one with their employees. So, are there some examples or best practices that you can share with everybody to really nurture this effective relationship and ultimately reap the benefits down the road across the organization like you just said?  Mark: (10:59) Yeah, well one is you need to prepare and you really need to show up. The manager needs to think at least for a few minutes Mitch, about what they want to cover and what the employee might want to talk about because we all live in a busy environment and a lot of times we have meetings that go back to back to back, but prepare for it. Make a couple of notes, especially on recognition in that one to one, you want to identify something or have in mind something that you want to recognize the employee for, or appreciate them for and share that and have it be sincere. Mark Twain said it, “I can live two weeks on a really good compliment”. And I really, I think that's true. In terms of the beginning part, the beginning would all be on open-ended questions and you see where that takes you and you need to listen carefully. So I would recommend as a best practice if you're distracted and you don't feel that you can put your attention into the discussion, reschedule it. If the employee is too busy, if they would rather reschedule it fine, but hold them and hold at least one or two per month.   Mitch: (12:25) Now taking a step back when it comes to facilitating these conversations and really having these open lines of communication, I'm sure, there are personal skills that an effective supervisor must possess in order to get the message across and continue this employee growth. So I understand you being a Toastmaster, how has that helped you better communicate, be a better speaker and how do those skills all play a role in this conversation we're having today, as far as one-on-ones?  Mark: (13:00) Well when it comes to soft skills, you need to learn those soft skills somewhere, you need to know the techniques. And I’m mentioning, emphasizing skills. Toastmasters is a great place to learn and practice. And many people think it's all about giving speeches and it's not. It's really many aspects of leadership, speaking, and listening. And what I would invite the community do, your listeners to do, is if you have not been to a Toastmasters meeting, just go to one. And if there is more than one where you live or work, go to both and see which one might be a better fit. And it may not be something that you want to do yourself. Maybe you don't want to join. However, you think of someone on your team that you could recommend to join. And I've talked to people and people will go, well I do speaking, I think I do a pretty good job I don't really need Toastmasters, but there's probably some aspect of communication, listening, and speaking that they can improve on, or they could help others improve on and be a mentor in that club. Now, by chance, I did meet my wife through Toastmasters so I'm probably biased, but there are ways to grow your skills and speaking and I would just encourage everyone to know about the program and if you find a good club, recommend it.   Mitch: (14:36) So I always like to wrap up these conversations kind of summarizing everything that we discussed here and give the speaker an opportunity to share some future thoughts. So we talked about one-on-one leadership, we talked about communication, the soft skills, how do these skills really impact finance and accounting professionals moving forward? What are some of your thoughts as far as, how our listeners can really take this information and hold onto it for future reasons? You know, what might those reasons be and how do you see them playing a role in the profession down the road?   Mark: (15:13) Well, soft skills are critically important. They, how they will play a role down the road is as communication gets more digital, the need for that to be a clear, more articulate, our time in meetings and with employees to be clear, more articulate, I would use the example of in giving speeches, I've evaluated great speakers and I thought, that's a great speech, but wrong topic. It's really about being more effective communicators and I think that is the key for leaders, is to be able to be comfortable in that role, in one-on-ones, in department meetings, in opportunities that come up and a lot of that really comes down Mitch, to preparation and skill training over time.   Closing: (16:17) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Apr 19

16 min 37 sec

Contact Dr. Sean Stein Smith: for Blockchain & Cryptoasset Research: Is Hitting All Time Highs – How Are Organizations Accounting For It?: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 118 of our series. For today's episode, we welcome back Assistant Professor at Lehman College, Dr. Sean Stein Smith. Sean is also the founder of the Institute for Blockchain and Crypto Asset Research and is a contributor in the area of crypto and blockchain. In previous episodes, Sean has joined us to talk about different types of blockchain and its uses. In the conversation you're about to hear now, he talks with Adam specifically about accounting for crypto assets. Let's head over and listen to their conversation now. Adam: (00:51) So Sean in your recent article for Forbes, you talk about how Bitcoin is hitting an all time high. What does this mean for an organization's accounting as not every organization is ready to move into cryptocurrency? Sean: (01:02) Yeah and so with the price of Bitcoin and all of the other altcoins, really at their all time highs or very close to them, all of this is having a huge impact on how companies are trying to adapt, navigate in trying to onboard Bitcoin and other crypto options as a form of doing payment. Right? Because it’s always important to always keep in mind that even though Bitcoin headline prices are obviously headline news, the original idea of Bitcoin and the whole blockchain crypto asset space, it was to develop basically a alternative way to conduct payments. And it hasn't really played out that way and a big part of that is that it's awfully hard for certain firms out there to actually take a Bitcoin and other crypto as a form of payment. And I mean, there are all kinds of IT issues on how the computer systems have to interoperate, but the real issue from sort of our angle here is that the current accounting treatment really makes no business sense from a tax point of view, from a gap point of view, from a IFRS point of view, there really is a issue and a headwind out there that I believe and in all of the anecdotal conversations that I have is honestly proving to be a big headwind that firms are having a hard time trying to figure out how to one, take in these agreements and then two, after they have them what to do with them. Adam: (02:40) So is it kind of like the Wild West out there since there are no crypto specific authoritative accounting standards? Sean: (02:46) Well, there are no crypto specific authoritative standards yet, either under gap or IFRS but there is this consensus that apparently has been reached, led by the top firms trying to sort of get something out there right. And I totally understand why they were trying to get some sort of consensus out there via the white papers conversations, all the rest to have something to answer external client questions with, but the current treatment of Bitcoin and other crypto as a indefinite lived intangible asset, which kind of sounds good on paper, right? Because Bitcoin and other crypto are intangible and they have no fixed economic life. But outside of that, it honestly makes no sense because it doesn't really reflect the economic realities on the ground. And I won't go into too too much depth here, but if I have an indefinite, intangible asset on the books like Goodwill, I have to do tests for possible impairment losses every time, a change in the business outlook really causes that to happen. Okay great, but if I have Bitcoin on the books, as we all know, Bitcoin and other crypto assets have a little bit of price volatility in there. And so if it drops by 20%, 10%, which it has done multiple times, I, as the firm holding these assets now on the books, I have to do the test for impairment, write down the asset books, the cost. Okay, so far so good. But on the other hand, if and when Bitcoin goes up by 10%, 20%, 200%, I can't do anything with that under the current rules. So it's not so much the Wild Wild West out there. It's almost artificially trying to fit a square peg into a round hole Adam, right because I can't mark up correctly the current market value of the assets that I hold, or in other words, under the current accounting, consensus that has been reached in the face of no crypto specific guidance, I'm basically forced to hold these assets on the books at an artificially lower level, no matter what happens outside in the marketplace. Adam: (05:29) Now you mentioned impairment in that last answer, how does that come into play with cryptocurrency? Could you go into a little more detail? Sean: (05:36) Sure. And so probably the most obvious case as to how it could come into play is if I received payment in Bitcoin at the end of 2020 or even early 2021, Bitcoin and the other altcoins out there were on an upswing, right. They had all increased in price quite a bit. During that back half of 2020, and into the first quarter of 2021, obviously there are some pullbacks and that's where the issue really does pop up. So there was one specific weekend early in the first quarter of 2021 where the price of Bitcoin dropped over 20%. And so if I, as a firm head chosen to take Bitcoin as a form of customer payment and then also chosen to hold those Bitcoin in a hot wallet, cold wallet, all the rest of us actually hold them at the firm. So I've been paid in crypto, got the back office and go to work, he was able to interoperate with my AR AP treasury all the rest. So now I'm holding Bitcoin on the books. Okay. Then if it drops by 20%, I think it was 24% over a four or five day period. I have to book that impairment loss. Because that's an obvious change in the asset itself, market conditions, business conditions that then triggers this whole test for impairment. And so if I am correctly trying to apply the current accounting consensus, again not tailored for crypto assets, I would go ahead and I would write down that asset. I would impair the asset on the balance sheet, lowering that asset value, and then also book the cost on the income statement as an expense in the current period. Okay. Fine. But, and then if the price of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency recovers or goes up, what you did, I can't do anything, I cannot under the current accounting consensus for Bitcoin and other crypto as an indefinite lived intangible asset, I cannot mark up or I cannot revalue that asset. So an impairment loss is a permanent entry. And so even though the market price might have recovered or even exceeded my cost or the old basis that I had in this asset, I cannot accurately reflect that on the balance sheet. Adam: (08:29) So what if an organization wanted to hold cryptocurrency as like a long-term asset, does that kind of change their outlook on it? Sean: (08:36) Well, I would say that really there have been some very interesting headlines out there of firms like Tesla, Microstrategy, Square, have been buying up Bitcoin, and I would assume other cryptocurrencies to some extent, but they have all come out publicly supporting Bitcoin and its use and as a store of value, currency, economic empowerment, all the rest. And I would argue that really those firms and those positions are twofold. One, is to provide them with the liquidity, if they have customers, either individuals or institutions who want to transact in Bitcoin, right. To be able to give them that ability to actually do so. And then two, I would say that really there’s a thought out there that in order to make a return right, because there's the whole cost of capital conversation. And even though interest rates on debt are at all time lows, for the most part, there still is a cost of capital. If we are talking about trying to raise equity and the cost of holding cash on a corporate balance sheet, all of that still has a cost linked to it. And so really, there are two angles here Adam, one is that these institutions could be holding it for the duration, right. It could be holding it for the medium term, longer term to try to enable customers to easily transact with them in Bitcoin and potentially in other cryptocurrencies. Or it could be that they're basically trying to hedge against some of the wider economic forces out there. Right. Be it the quantitative easing here in the US, be it the bond buying programs, be it the economic aid packages being passed through right now, which while absolutely needed are going to ultimately have an impact on inflation, the value of the dollar and the overall cost of capital in terms of equity capital and debt capital at some point. So I would say that while every firm is obviously different, I would say that there is this idea that if you're buying up these large stakes in Bitcoin and possibly other cryptocurrencies, it's more of a, to your question, a play for the longer term. And to kind of sort of wrap up this point here, it's also, I believe, a potential way to try to encourage accounting policy makers be at the FASB, IASB or some other entity out there to try to bring this whole crypto accounting conversation off of the back burner and onto the front burner in terms of, okay fine so we have this new asset class, this new potentially asset category out there, and how do we have these assets and these different financial instruments be shown correctly and accurately on our financial statements? Right. Cause our conversation here today is focused on specific Bitcoin crypto holdings, but there's a whole other industry out there, Defi or open finance basically, and this whole idea of the decentralized crypto exchange, enabling folks to transact, finance, lend, gain access to capital markets in a decentralized manner. So all of that is a sort of long winded way of entering the fact that if there are companies out there that are truly buying crypto or are truly taking crypto as a form of payment, with an eye towards the future, I would say that really, they probably are not as concerned with the impact of this current accounting consensus right now, because on the one hand they are buying it for the longer term and two, I do believe and I am confident that all of this action and activity and debate is going to ultimately force entities and individuals at places like the FASB, IASB and other policymaking agencies to be more proactive in trying to get crypto accounting up to par. Adam: (13:26) Do you think that, or how long do you think it'll take for them to get on board? Sean: (13:31) I mean, that's an excellent question there. I know that, actually I was the co-author of I believe what was the last agenda request item to the FASB back in 2019, specifically on this issue. And I do know that in 2019 and 2020, FASB has come out and basically said, that it's not material enough yet for them to be bothered basically. And I mean basically, and I would say that all that outlook is still probably the prevailing one at different agencies, including the FASB, IASB, all the rest. I would say that the current moves, acquisitions, and corporate allocations of capital to Bitcoin and other crypto are invariably going to have some sort of influence and impact on, how do policy makers approach crypto and hopefully it's going to happen sooner rather than later. Adam: (14:43) It almost seems like we're moving toward like the open market system that you were talking about before, even like FASB or IFRS or anything or US gap will have their standards in place the open market will take on before that even touches it. Sean: (14:59) Well I mean, I think that all of us are currently living in a very interesting time, right? Where an entirely new asset class and an entirely new way of transacting business and an entirely new way of trying to finance entities is emerging right in front of us. And obviously these, policy makers, standard setters have to be careful in how they try to develop standards, right? And so I am acutely aware of the time and the effort that goes into these processes, but to your point, I do think that this is going to be a time where there are going to be certain actors into the private sector or certain States, Wyoming is often talked about as a sort of innovator out there trying to encourage, innovative policy-making, try to encourage innovative firms to come there to incorporate and to operate. So again, I do think it's going to be sort of a push and pull here between the private sector and different sorts of policy makers trying to get out in front of these issues. But I do have confidence in the fact that ultimately we are going to get crypto specific accounting guidance. Closing: (16:31) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Apr 12

16 min 51 sec

Contact John Lemmex: https://www.covestro.comFULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:Adam: (00:05) And we are back with episode 117 of Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. Once again, this is your host, Adam Larson, and today's featured guest is John Lemmex. John is Vice President, Chief Financial Officer at Covestro LLC. In that role, he is responsible for all aspects of financial management and controlling. So in this episode, he joined my co-host Mitch Roshong, to talk about digital transformation, John shares many personal experiences and great perspective on how finance leaders can play an integral role in transformation projects. So let's head over to the conversation and listen to what he has to say now. Mitch: (00:51) So John, from what you've seen, how do digital transformation projects typically get started? John: (00:56) Typically in our company, they get started in different parts of the business. It could be, you know, something happening within marketing or R&D or even finance. So it tends to be kind of individual and what our company has done is kind of putting together a digitalization group that's global, and they have kind of the skills and the ability to bring it all together. They are operating a data lake, and they have that kind of expertise, so when people put projects forward, sometimes they'll run as pilot so then you look at and see if they're scalable globally. And then we implement them, look at them and then move on from there. So anybody can kind of bring forward a digitalization project. Mitch: (01:44) Now let's focus mainly on our listeners here and we're talking about accounting and finance. So how important is digitalization for finance? Why should these finance leaders really get started on these projects as soon as possible if they haven't done so already? John: (01:59) Yeah, to me, with the digitalization projects it always comes with efficiency and cost savings and, you know, and there's a business case behind them. So generally, I found most of these cases, we've been able to find a business case, been able to save money, gain efficiencies, reduce complexity, and it helps drive the business forward and make finance more efficient. So it's been, you know, waiting doesn't help drive the business forward so you need to drive these projects to gain those efficiencies. Mitch: (02:34) Let's talk about that a little bit more, how does the finance team, or the finance leader go about building this business case, who is really the target or, the individuals who are most responsible for pushing this project forward? Who should the finance leader really focus on within these projects? John: (02:57) Well, I think that the finance leader for us is kind of internal, I'm kind of thinking of a project that we did. It was something internal in the finance area that was causing us pain. We stepped back, we took a look at it and the answer came using digitalization, using machine learning and robotics was the answer to try to solve the problem. And so then, the business case was put together, and again, it resulted in efficiency through FTE reductions, but it also ended up on a higher accuracy and more accuracy in the financial statements. Or one side, it was cost efficiency, the other side there was accuracy and when that case was put together, we piloted it and moved it forward. Mitch: (03:51) Now you talked about machine learning, obviously there's robotics, a lot that goes into these different projects and for some in finance, that might not be necessarily their first language per se. It might be something that's a little bit outside their comfort zone or they need to upskill in that area in order to drive the project forward. So how do you really engage all these stakeholders and really keep the momentum going for these digital transformation projects? John: (04:15) Yeah, the one thing that we've done to try to get people engaged is actually offer kind of a, you know, online training, in the machine learning in robotics, to get people to start to increase their skill levels so that they may not be become experts in it, or be able to run a project, but they understand what maybe the IT or the data people are going to be asking those kinds of questions and they learn through that, how to drive these projects forward or at least understand what goes into them and there's been quite an uptake rate in our people and trying to do that online learning and develop their skills. Mitch: (05:01) Are there any other obstacles that you've seen, anything else that may prohibit a digital transformation project from progressing how you anticipated? John: (05:11) I think sometimes we get into resource questions, you know, how much resources do we have, and if a project is simply kind of re-engineering a process and using the software, it's much easier maybe to get those projects forward when they maybe require, and I'm thinking of supply chain digital project, those require maybe capital investment using barcode readers, scanners, infrastructure upgrades, and then it becomes more difficult to find those resources and drive them forward. So less capital investment seems easier to drive the projects forward, more capital investment a little more difficult, but again, too is how many projects do you have going? I think sometimes, you get into project overload and there's just, you have to prioritize and get your biggest bang for your buck. Mitch: (06:05) That was actually going to be kind of my next question and obviously there are many areas of the business where you could look for digital improvements, and I'm sure, like you just said many different projects going on all at once. Have you ever come across a case where a project just didn't pan out, you know, the digital transformation just never happened, for one reason or another, can you speak to that a little bit and what the company did in order to respond? John: (06:33) We have one project that in our end to end supply chain, where we feel like we could really upgrade our ability to track materials, move materials and we try to compare ourselves say to an Amazon, we're very far behind. I kind of think of them as the leader when it comes to digitization and supply chain. We had a project we wanted to move it forward, but it stumbled on cap ex and some of it was a business downturn, other parts was then entering the pandemic, but I wouldn't say the projects are dead, but more shelved until the business environment changes. I think if there's a good business case, and then you get into a resource issue, it may not move as quickly as you might want it and get those returns, but you know, you shelve it and continue to push on at a later date. Mitch: (07:32) That's a good point. And, you know, prioritizing, like you said earlier, with so many different things going on and so many functions of the organization being involved in these projects, while it may enhance the efficiency, let's say in finance, obviously you're going to rely on IT and other departments. So, how important is the communication across the organization, with these different projects going on and really, what is that communication path? How do you typically, speak with and listen to other departments while these projects are going on? John: (08:09) Absolutely, the communication is key in all these projects and how to prioritize. And we have a, we call it a digital governance board. So all projects have to go through this digital governance board and be prioritized and that's whether it's a finance project, supply chain, innovation project, they all go through this digital governance board. In fact, our digital governance board is actually chaired by our CEO. That's how important it is to us. I think he acknowledged that he wants to drive digitalization, but the other time we have limited resources, so this board engages in the prioritization of the project. Mitch: (08:55) So it might be the same answer that you just shared, but when it comes to communicating and working, cross-functionally putting these projects out there, how do you ensure that what you're doing really aligns with the core values or the overall business strategy. I'm sure the governance board here that you've mentioned has a lot to do with that, but how do you really make sure that what you're proposing and actually doing aligns with the business strategy? John: (09:22) I think you hit on it that this digital governance board, there's always a question when presenting, how does it fit into the strategy? What is the strategy? And sometimes, if it's cross-functional, it's a little more clear how it fits into the strategy and then other times you can have a simple digitalization, maybe it doesn't have to go through the board because it's such a simple project, that there's just gains from it, but doesn't take so many resources that you can just drive it forward, because it might make sense within the finance area. Mitch: (09:54) Whether you're driving forward or working with all these different departments, you know, governance, what's the typical timeframe? Some people who might not be so familiar with these projects or are interested in starting for the first time, obviously you want to get it done. You're very results oriented in gaining those efficiencies, but what's a realistic timeframe for some of these projects. John: (10:17) Yeah I think sometimes they, when it gets involved into machine learning and into robotics, I think they take a little longer than people might think. Our first foray into that, it took a lot longer than we expected. I mean, we got the gains we expected, and the benefits and the quality we expected. It just took a little longer than I would have liked to get there. So I think you have to learn from that and okay, how do you drive the process faster going forward, and other cases, with respect to digitalization, we've been able to make very quick gains, seeing results within months, not necessarily with machine learning or that a different type of digitalization and with that I kind of refer to, here during the pandemic, or just actually prior to the pandemic, we realized we were printing checks. You know, we still print checks. We put them in an envelope, we put a stamp on it and we mail it. And well, some of the vendors are electronic we said, well why can't we go to a hundred percent electronic? It's really just changing the vendors. And again, you have some leverage with your vendors. So we went from printing 3,000 checks a month, and we're now printing 50 or 60 checks a month. But when we started that project, we started to see very quick returns because we didn't have to involve many departments. It was kind of an internal finance type thing, working with vendors to do that. But, by the time we got into the pandemic, we were no longer worried about printing checks, putting them in envelopes and mailing them to customers. Again, for me, that's kind of a digitalization taking something that was coming out of the computer and into paper and move into complete electronic transfer and we gained a lot of benefits from it. Mitch: (12:13) So that's an example that probably has a much longer return also, but I'm kind of thinking just digital transformation projects in general, what's the typical shelf life? And what I mean by that, is when you complete a project and you recognize these efficiencies, when is it that you then again, have to kind of revisit that project or that area of the business and see if it can be improved even further, how do you really prioritize what needs to be done new and what needs to be done again? John: (12:45) Yeah, that's a hard one. I think technology keeps changing and I’ve seen it through my career. What we thought was leading edge technology five years ago, today is not leading edge technology. I think sometimes report delivery and doing automated online report delivery through reporting factories, those types of things. What's cutting edge in one time quickly becomes no longer cutting edge and you have to go back and say, okay do we change the technology? What's the cost to change the technology, what are the benefits to change the technology? So, I think some things can have a shelf life of up to five years, others might be shorter. I even go up to looking at SAP, you put an SAP system in and all of a sudden, eight, nine, 10 years later, you're looking at redoing it all over again as the technology keeps changing. Those are a little bit longer shelf life I would say, like an ERP system, but still your ERP system eventually becomes outdated and you have to reevaluate and move on with them. Mitch: (14:04) Absolutely. I think it really lends itself to the fact that finance particularly, and really just organizations in general, need to stay agile, right. They need to be nimble and flexible and adapt to everything that's going on. Obviously it's really hard to predict and nobody has this crystal ball, but I like to give our guests an opportunity to kind of share their perspective. If you could look into the future a little bit, what kind of predictions do you have as far as what might be coming down the road for finance and how might digital play even more of a role and whether it's a certain aspect of the day to day or bigger projects that you look to implement, how do you see the function changing even further in the future? John: (14:49) Yeah, I think as, you know, in the future, things like, SAP HANA as those types of things change and what it does to the information that it starts to create within your system. And then how even finance closes the books, you know does things, implements new legal entities, that entire package I think is going to continue to change as the technology changes. Even the fact now that we're no longer sitting on assets and server farms anymore, it's going to the cloud. So how SAP works and how your ERP system works in the cloud, how people interact with it and work with it. I think those things, whether it's Oracle or SAP or others, how that finance function works and how things are integrated with them, I think is going to continue to change and move forward. I think I already touched on a little bit end to end supply chain. I think the Amazons and those types of companies are really good at that end to end supply chain. I think we're going to see it build those same applications in chemical companies. Obviously it's big in retail, but I think you're going to start to see it in business to business, as it goes on. I'm no expert on Bitcoin and blockchain technology, I think we're going to start to see with blockchain technology, how companies transact with each other is going to start to change. And again, we'll see the disappearance of sending checks, receiving checks. Those transactions become much more real time, and I think it starts to change how you run your business. Liquidity planning changes when things become instantaneous, and it just changes the finance people, how they look at it and then how they measure their business. Closing: (16:49) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Apr 5

17 min 10 sec

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson, and today I'm here to introduce you to the guest speaker of episode 116 of our series. My co-host Rouba Zeidan sat down with Dr. Ahmed Yamen, an Associate Professor of Accounting at the American University of the Middle East in Kuwait. During their conversation, they address whether digitalization is the beginning of the end for financial crime. With financial crimes in the rise, Dr. Yamen talks about how it is evolving and what the industry can do to limit the potential risks of becoming the next target. Let's listen to what he has to say now. Rouba: (00:43) Good afternoon Dr. Yamen and thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Count Me In. Ahmed: (00:55) Thank you for your invitation at the beginning, and thank you for IMA. Rouba: (00:59) So, a PwC survey published in March of last year found that fraud and financial crime are on the rise in the Middle East. The surveyed companies reported losses of sum $42 billion in the past 24 months alone       due to financial crimes. Can such crimes impact the economy and if so how? Ahmed: (01:22) The PwC survey actually mentioned a lot of important numbers that can highlight that the Middle East is facing a great challenge toward fighting the financial crime. For example, 42% of the respondents are suffering from procurement fraud. Actually, the problem is that this percentage is double the global percentage. Also, 47% of the respondents reported an incident for customer fraud, and also 45% of the respondents said that there are many uncovered cases of bribery and corruption. The problem is not the percentage itself, which is 45%, but the problem is that this percentage is 15% higher compared to the global percentage. So all of these percentages in the PwC survey indicates that there is a problem. From my perspective, is this the only report that is saying that? No. If we look for example from Basel Index, according to the Basel Index 2020, the risk levels in the Middle East and North Africa are higher than the global average. If we go to other things like the previous studies for example, it reveals that financial crimes have continued to increase despite the tough policy measures put in place in developed and in developing countries. The last estimate is about 1.5 trillion, which is about 2% of the GDP in both developing and developed countries, are paid only for bribes, and this is actually a huge amount. I think that all of this highlights that we are facing a big problem, especially in the Middle East, compared to the overall average. But we can go back to the question: can such crimes impact the economy? Of course, yes. We have different numbers also that can prove that it has negative consequences in the economy. For example, according to the World Bank, in 2017 they said that the poor people in developing countries pay about 6.4 to 12.6% of their income in bribes. And also, the tax evasion, if we look for another continuing of the financial crime like tax evasion for example, we will find that in Europe, for example, it was estimated in 2011 that 860 billion annually is evaded. If this has a negative consequence, it can appear in Greece. You can see what happened in Greece. We will find that there is a big economic problem in Greece and this is apparently because of the tax evasion because the tax evasion is estimated to be equal one third of the total tax revenues. And by the way this one third is equal to its budget deficit. Because as we know, tax evasion is a main source of revenue for the whole government. So, if there is a reduction in the tax revenue it means that the government will not be able to do the public service. Also, if we look for the Panama paper leaks, it's also documented that the tax evasion is likely widespread and significant everywhere. So, from all this, we can say that financial crime can affect negatively the economy and has negative consequences on the economic growth. And if we focus on tax evasion, we can see that it affects the income distribution and allocation of resources. This is a very important thing for the economy. Rouba: (05:34) When we look at regional global economies, positive anti-money laundering (AML) ratings have a significant impact on a nation’s credit ratings and their ability to attract foreign investment. This affirms the fundamental importance of initiatives that are taken on at a national level to create a business-friendly environment where strategies to fight money laundering and terrorist financing are in place. But, when we look at the numbers, particularly in a report published by the firm, Refinitiv, which found that ¾ of organizations have fallen victim to financial crime in the last year – accumulating losses of $1.45 trillion, we have to wonder: are governments actually able to deter financial crime? I mean, yes it does impact them and it is huge, but is it deterrable? Ahmed: (06:26) Of course yes, the governments are able to deter the financial crime, but they should work on this. From my perspective, there are different things that the government should do in order to be able to fight the financial crime. The first important thing is the public governance. In any country, they should care about the public governance inside the country and if we are following the World Bank, we will see that they identified 6 main indicators for public governance. So, I think that any government should work on these 6 indicators. For example, we should improve the rule of law. We should work on the control of corruption. We should work on the irregularity of quality. And also two important things are the voice and accountability in the political stability. And in addition, the government effectiveness, and I will give more attention to government effectiveness here because we can improve it through the digitalization. This is one thing, to improve the public governance. The second thing which I believe is very crucial and very important is education. I will quote something by Sir Kevan Collins, he said that “an educated population is wealthier, healthier and more law-abiding”. This is very important. Investing in education is not good only for children, but it’s also good for economies and societies. So why? Because actually when the people are well educated, they will understand the negative consequences of financial crimes on the individual level and on the aggregate level. From my perspective, the government should work on improving its public governance, and should work on investing in education, and also the third thing is culture. Of course, there is a problem in the perception of financial crime. If we look at what is financial crime we see that they are calling it white collar crime. When I see white, what is white in this? It should be black collar crime. Because actually when you're saying that it's a white collar crime, the people's feeling towards financial crime is not the same as street crimes. Their perspective is not the same especially when the people feel that the government is not dealing with them in a fair way. For example, when someone evades from tax or something like that, the people are happy that they are doing this. They are not understanding that the negative consequences is such financial crime and of course, we need to know that the financial crime can lead to street crime in the future. For example, if we look at Becker's economic theory of crime, we will find that the people resort to crime only if the cost of committing the crime are lower than the penitence gained from it and they found that poverty increases street crime. If, for example, we have financial crimes, they will increase the poverty of the people. If poverty increases, then street crime itself will increase. I believe that we need to create what’s called the shame culture of committing such crimes. The shame culture is very important. In addition to all of this, the government should work on digitalization, because from my perspective if we try to digitalize all the processes, it means that the direct relationship between the people and the fraudsters or the perpetrators will decrease and this can affect positively the situation. Rouba: (11:03) We talk about awareness as well as a key factor and when you think of the private sector and the fact that 73% of organizations across the Middle East are actually very well aware about financial crime, and in Saudi it's actually 85%, but the adoption to the tools needed to protect companies is relatively slow, so while awareness is there, adoption and adaptation are a bit lagging, why do you think that is and what do you think is causing this delay? Ahmed: (11:37) I mentioned before that we need 3 things, the public governance and the education and the culture. Rouba: (11:46) Digitalization aka digitization – though they are relatively different from each other but frequently referred to in the same context – are transforming the fight against financial crime. The migration away from traditional paper-based processes has optimized both speed and efficiency for the finance and accounting profession. Even though digital transformation is paving the way for increased protection against corruption, exploitation and data breaches, such advantages are also presenting equal opportunities for criminals, I mean we are not the only ones benefitting from this. Can we really say that digitalization and the process of it can actually help to mitigate or prevent financial crime and if so, what needs to happen, beyond the elements that you mentioned; education, awareness and those three factors, what needs to happen in order for this to take place and be fully implemented? Ahmed: (12:42) First, I believe that digitalization is more important than digitization. Because digitalization means that we are transforming the whole business process into a digital thing. But digitization means that we are just converting the data into a digital format. So, I believe that we need to talk about digitalization as a whole, this is the first thing. The second thing, I did a study on the impact of the adoption of digitalization on tax evasion. I tried to test whether the digitalization would affect negatively the tax evasion, would deter the financial crime or reduce the financial crime, or it has no effect, it’s not significant, it’s insignificant, it will not affect any of these kinds of crimes. I did this test for 139 countries by the way and the findings was that there is negative relationship between digitalization and tax evasion, which means that the digitalization will help in reducing the financial crime and actually this result was the same results whether it was a government digitalization or business digitalization or even people digitalization. Whatever is the type of digitalization that we worked on, this of course will help in reducing the financial crime and to deter the financial crime. And as we know that depending on electronic cash for example or on the blockchain technology, I think will help in reducing such kind of crimes. For example, the blockchain technology, we can see that it has main characteristics that help to reduce the crime by the lack of centralization, the lack of information on users, the transaction cannot be undone, and this is of course very important, and also the autonomy. So all these characteristics of the blockchain technology I think will help to reduce financial crime in the future. Again, it is not a guarantee, we cannot guarantee that it will reduce, till this point, because we are looking at one side which is the victims, we need to protect the victims, but there is another side to the equation which is the fraudsters and the perpetrators. Are they trying to improve themselves or not? Rouba: (15:28) Yes of course they will. Some figures really are jaw-dropping for me. According to global records, only 1% of criminal proceeds generated in the EU alone, are actually confiscated by authorities. This pretty much states the magnitude of the problem, 1%? Is digitalization a promise of more efficient outcomes ahead? Ahmed: (15:55) 1% is very low of course, and I think that if we are following the financial action task force, which sets the standards for anti-money laundering arrangements, it found that the regulatory regime is highly inefficient. I believe that digitalization will help to increase the regime efficiency. But we have another thing which is related to the allocation of resources, we are still wanting to focus the resources on the important thing which is digitalization. Also, it is very important to have skilled people in our system, who are able to highlight any problems. It is not only about having a system, we need to have qualified personnel. From my perspective, again, the adoption of digitalization will help in reducing the financial crime, but at the end, we need to look for the fraudsters and perpetrators, because also as you know, when we close one opportunity, they can create another opportunity. Rouba: (17:07) The Covid-19 pandemic and that sudden transition to remote operations exposed companies the world over to increased chances of cyberattacks. If we look at figures from June of last year and just for a period of three to four months, just into the pandemic, more than 2.57 million phishing attacks were detected, and that’s just in the Middle East. What can be done to curve that fraud triangle and prevent it from increasing during times of crisis? Ahmed: (17:51) If we are talking about the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to see whether the financial crime affects the pandemic or not at the beginning. I tested this also and I found that the tax evasion and corruption increased the risk of Covid-19. Because when the tax evasion increases, and corruption increases it means that the government are facing deficits. Of course, this deficit or budget deficit is affecting negatively the public health, because there isn't enough beds, there isn't enough resources for the people who are suffering, so it means that it increased the risk of the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the first thing. The second thing or the main question is, what can be done for the fraud triangle? Prevention during times of crises, let's talk about the fraud triangle itself. The fraud triangle has three edges, the first is pressure, the second is opportunity and the third is rationalization. And from my perspective most of the people who are committing these crimes want to rationalize to themselves that they need to do this crime. This rationalization can be for example when an employee wants to embezzle something from the company, so he is telling himself I want to do this action because they are not giving me what I deserve, I am doing a lot of work and not getting proper income, and so on, so he tries to rationalize the behavior. But, if we look deeply, inside the psychological aspect related to this fraudster, we will find that he might be affected by the person associated to him, or it can be because of his low self-control. This is for the rationalization part. The second part is the pressure. Of course, anyone wants to do a crime if he’s facing financial pressure. I believe that with poverty and with the inefficiency of the government, this might increase the pressure on people. Especially during the Covid pandemic, unemployment is for example increasing because of Covid. If unemployment increases it means that people are more under pressure, and this of course will increase the opportunity for more crimes. The third thing is opportunity. I believe that digitalization can reduce the opportunity for committing the crime, because opportunity means that there is a problem in the internal control system. If we use digitalization it can solve part of this problem. But again, this opportunity can also be increased if the fraudsters improves themselves also, because we need to talk also about the fraudsters. When we improve ourselves as victims, the fraudsters at the same time will also try to improve themselves. Rouba: (21:23) They are at the same pace, even faster. Ahmed: (21:26) Yes, yes, this is the issue. Again, I believe that we need to care about themselves and we need to think from the fraudster's perspective. Rouba: (21:39) Yes, that's a key factor, I think that's ultimately the biggest fear, that as much as we advance, they too are advancing. And look at all these latest developments in the FinTech industry. They are brilliant, unprecedented at any point in human history. They simplified so many financial transaction processes, the accounting profession is excelling because of it. It's really transforming the profession if anything. If we were to give a piece of advice to our audience who's mostly finance and accounting professionals, what can private sector companies do to ensure that they do not become the targets for financial crimes and even if they are targeted, that it is done in a way that they do not fall victims to it? And tag to that question, is investment in digital capabilities sufficient and how much reskilling and upskilling of resources, equally to those criminals are doing, are needed in the fight against financial crime in this highly evolving digital era? Ahmed: (22:48) First, investment in high technology is very important, it’s very important, especially in reducing for example one type like customer fraud. We notice that when you use high technology, the customer fraud is decreasing. But, at the same time, which is also very important, we should care about the internal control systems. We should give more attention to the internal control systems, to the corporate governance, in addition to having highly skilled people. We cannot depend on graduated people like before, since he’s graduated so it is okay, we can appoint him and that's it. No. This is not the case now. From my perspective, universities from all over the world should work on this. For example, in business schools, still till now, we are not introducing the machine learning. And of course, when we have graduated personnel, they are not well qualified now. My advice to the organizations is that they should appoint highly-skilled people who are able to collect suitable data, analyze it and define the anomalies and the variances. This is the most important thing. I believe that companies should be careful when hiring new employees, the capabilities of those employees should be high. Rouba: (24:42) But that also includes investing in existing employees and making sure that they too are accelerating along with that. Ahmed: (24:49) Yes, this is also very important, the training. I was surprised that the last years, and I understand this, there is a huge reduction in training costs everywhere. Even the training programs, if we are trying to find the training programs all over the world, we will find that there is a cut in the training programs. Rouba: (25:12) Yes, absolutely. That's the first thing that went, although it is actually more needed now than ever. Ahmed: (25:18) There is a cut in the training costs of course, but from my perspective to fault this problem we can depend on some websites that give online courses for example, so we can force the employees to take these courses, and these courses are free. So, we can cut the costs but at the same time we can make sure that our employees are improving themselves. Of course, I don't want to say examples of this, but we have many websites that can help. For example, if we are talking for the IMA, we have a lot of webinars. I think that these webinars can add value to IMA members and to everyone. And I believe that IMA is working on introducing some courses, and also these courses can help to improve the skills of people. I believe that yes we can cut the training costs, but we can find another way to improve the skills. Rouba: (26:31) Yes, when you refer to IMA there is an abundance of tools, that are accessible to IMA members maybe more specifically, but there are a lot assets that can be used, a lot of research. Beyond the periodic updates to the CMA program, you have a lot of assets that can be attained through the IMA portal and the website. There is so much information there, so much knowledge. Ahmed: (27:02) Of course, myself, if I am talking about myself, I attended many courses which added value to me and introduced me to new topics and kept me updated for a lot of things. Rouba: (27:14) Yes you are right, there are multiple ways, but I think that the life-learning approach of continuing to evolve, whether through webinars or... Ahmed: (27:25) There is a change, a huge change in education, even for our children, we can see that they are not going to school since one year ago. They are now learning online. To go back to our main topic, of course it is very important to invest in high tech, and it is very important to invest in our employees, in their skills, and it is also very important to appoint highly skilled people in the future. Closing: (28:03) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Mar 29

28 min 23 sec

Contact David Wray:'s Website: (*access David's book and/or blog here)Want to join David's LinkedIn Group?! EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA’s podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host Mitch Roshong and I'm here to welcome you to episode 115 of our series. Today you will once again hear from finance executive and a fortune 50 multinational and now new author David Wray. David is the author of the recently published, The Power of Potential: A Straightforward Method for Mastering Skills for Personal to Professional. In 2019, the Harvard business review investigated where learning and development goes wrong. In his book and during this podcast episode, David calls for a new mindset and approach towards acquiring new skills and achieving the level of mastery desired. Keep listening to hear about his learning approach and perspective on personal development. Adam: (00:54) The Harvard business review in October of 2019 investigated where learning and development goes wrong. They found that organizations spend about 360 billion US dollars on training and ask the provocative question whether or not it was worth it. So David, if we start with this Harvard business review article, can you share your thoughts on whether organizational spend on learning and development offers a good return on investment? David: (01:27) Yeah I can Adam, it's a great question to set the context for our discussion. So the typical organization spend on development is definitely not worth it. If we start thinking about the reoccurring themes that seem to come up, you know, survey after survey. So as you mentioned, the Harvard business review, they found that about three quarters of managers across about 50 companies give or take were quite dissatisfied with their company's learning and development function. Gardener on the other hand, found that about 7 out of 10 employees don't feel that they have the skill necessary to master their roles and the findings go on and on. So I started to undertake my own research and thought, well let me find out what's happening and most of the individuals I spoke to experienced real frustration and disappointment with what it took to learn new skills for them. So hence they tended to give up. I heard a lot of funny things and some of them were interesting things I heard with things like, “I feel like I'm faking it, hoping it just comes to me one day, perhaps I'll have an epiphany” or “I'm pressured to work harder pitches doesn't help, I can't seem to master the critical thinking skills I need”, or “I've been asked to speak at an upcoming medical conference and I'm truly petrified and end up sounding like a toddler”. And when I started hearing and seeing firsthand these stories of people really giving up while trying to acquire a new skill, I began to wonder why, why do some people struggle when others seem to manage it almost effortlessly? Why is this happening? And it was really this curiosity that motivated me to start researching, identifying, and then eventually understand the differences that make a difference between those individuals that see it through and those that give up. And from the research that I did, the model I share in the book really comes to life. It's basically a methodology that's used unconsciously by masters in their field, and it offers real value for time and effort invested to learn a new skill. And it's a really a new way of approaching learning, especially for accountants where so much of the learning happens on the job. Adam: (03:29) Okay, now you've really piqued my curiosity. We at this podcast with Count Me In, we're really trying to help accountants, whether it's through learning or seeing what's happening in the industry. Can you tell me a little bit more about your approach and about how your approach is different from everything that's already out there? David: (03:47) Yeah of course, I'm happy to give some insights into the model. If you really start to think about situations where you've undoubtedly seen a really talented individual in action and you've been sitting there secretly wishing, “gosh I wish I could do that and do it as easily and effortlessly as they do it”. Well, you can. Now you might be wondering how. Well to do so, we all simply need to just understand both the visible and the invisible workings that an expert utilizes when they're doing their thing. And basically the power of potential teaches readers about these real, but invisible internal processing mechanisms that we all go through when we receive information. And basically think of the receipt as information as something like an external event or an externality. And these externalities, they occur every single day and they can range from very benign things, something as simple as being, for example, cutoff in traffic, but they can also range to the other extreme, which is life-changing. And an example of that might be for example, hearing a terminal medical diagnosis. So clearly a life-changing and difficult thing to hear and individuals react very differently to the same information or the same events. So why is that? That's what I started to really wonder. And what I determined on, what I discovered is that the differences in how we process information, because when we process information we do so using our own view of the world. We relay each filter information as we process it. So for example, some individuals may choose to ignore information or they may generalize by associating it to some past experience. Let me give you an example of that. Imagine that you're an individual who's giving constructive feedback to a peer or to another team member. While there are one or two ways that constructive feedback can be received. It can either be seen as an opportunity by the individual receiving it, or it could be seen as a threat. Now how that's received will depend very much on the person's prior experiences and that's what I mean by the view of the world. So each of these information filters that we have is basically influenced by how we see ourselves. So things like what we believe, what we value, any kind of powerful memories, whether they're positive or negative, and also how we speak to ourselves. So for example, is our inner chatter self-critical, or is it self-respecting? And as if all of this rapid processing wasn't enough, our current state of mind also affects outcome. Let me give you another example of that, to help bring it to life. If we're cut off in traffic on a day where we've just heard some great news, the other drivers lack of consideration, will probably roll away like water off of a duck's back. But if we've just received news of a layoff that relatively minor traffic slight could become a trigger to an uncharacteristically angry outburst. And it's that, that I mean when I talk about state of mind. So these rapid information processing systems basically result in the behaviors we exhibit and in turn, how others perceive us. And it's by understanding these inner workings that basically the reader is empowered with the knowledge and tools needed to harness them to their own advantage. Which means that the learning solution that I provide is really personalized. Let me give you another, a simple example. Imagine that you dream of moving into a finance leadership role, but you're really held back by your inability to present effectively. You feel physically unwell at the idea of being behind a podium and speaking to a group of people. You've already attended a public speaking course, which focused on observable things, things like posture, attire, media aids, technology, eye contact, voice, and things like that. But it's not turned you into a good, nevermind, an expert public speaker. Well, what if I then went on to tell you that you absolutely can develop lasting mastery in public speaking simply by understanding which beliefs, values self-image and life mission and vision are critical to that success. And what if I went one step further and showed you how to incorporate what you learn with your natural preferences and tendencies so that it feels smooth and effortless to you. And basically the power of potential does all of these things and more, which is why it dramatically increases development and retention of new skills. And that's what's different about the book. Adam: (08:14) That's great. There was an aspect of the inner workings of your book that as we were discussing this conversation, I was wondering if you could talk, about the concept of unconscious competence and conscious competence. Can you share more of what this means and how listeners can use this insight to accelerate their career? David: (08:33) Yeah, sure. It might help if I explain the terms for our listeners first. So before we go too far, let's think about how people typically learn. Most of us, or mostly we learn in a very systematic way. So we basically start from a place of not knowing sometimes even from a place of being unaware that we don't know and often we've probably each heard the expression, “you don't know what you don't know”. That's basically the starting point. Learning starts to happen when we start to evolve from this into a space of knowing full well that we don't know. It's basically now the state of being aware of our conscious incompetence. That basically means that we now are aware that we don't know something. So that's actually progress, believe it or not. The third step in the process, and when comfort really starts to develop in applying this new skill, we reach a higher level of self-awareness and this is referred to as the conscious competence phase. And as I mentioned, it's basically the third step in our journey towards mastery. Now we're aware, we basically know that we know something which is great, you can start to see the evolution. Once the target skill is mastered, we of course naturally put a whole lot less conscious thought into doing it. Now we've reached the final learning phase mastery with ease. This space is referred to as unconscious competence, and this is where the true experts excellence will lie. It's also the space where we don't realize that we're masters in doing something, we just don't think about it anymore. And you might think of a simple example around that and I was talking to a friend earlier today and I, when I was talking to her, I said, you know it's one of those cases where if you think about your mom or you think about your dad, if your dad does the cooking and you think about the fact that they can literally walk into the kitchen, open the cupboard, the fridge, pull out a bunch of ingredients and end up creating something quite incredible without following a recipe and often do so without even having tried it before. That's where this level of unconscious competence comes in. They don't even realize how good they are. That's the space where real mastery lies. Let me give you another example to show in an action, this is a true story. A number of years ago, an executive said to me, he said, listen, David, we've got some incredibly smart employees that learn much more quickly than most other individuals. So I know full well, they can acquire your finance knowledge within a year or so. And you know what I want you to make that happen. That's literally what he told me. Now, keep in mind that I had nearly 20 years of experience by this point. And personally I knew full well that, that was a completely unrealistic expectation to believe that any one can master two decades of somebody else's experience, whether it's in critical thinking skills, making sound judgments, or estimates or explaining complex issues within a year. So that said, I can teach people how I use a variety of inputs, how I weigh up what's relevant and what's not. And how I ask the right questions and how I get information that perhaps other individuals aren't able to get from functional teams that may not be willing to share that information. So how did I do it? Well, I taught aspects of applying the skill that you can't see. What I was teaching people was what I think about. How I create the patterns, why I make connections, how and why I ask the questions that I do, the words that I use in asking the question became very important. The tone of voice I adopt, how I got into a curious mindset. And really what drives me and the quest to solve a given problem at hand and why any of these things even matter. And that's just a glimpse. It's really all of this hidden magic that makes it seem all so easy. So bringing this hidden skill into the light is really where learning happens. And there is a trick or two of course to doing it well, which is what the power of potential shows readers how to do. So imagine what's possible using the right techniques after extracting the secrets to presenting financial information to non-financial users for example. Or the secrets to modeling the financial plans for a new factory. Think of the opportunities to influence that this provides to you. So basically I share several techniques and a very practical and relatable way to help readers gain a rich understanding of the behaviors, the skills, the capabilities, the beliefs, and values necessary to truly excel at whatever it is that they want to do, whatever their desired skill is. And it's basically by tapping into this space within highly skilled individuals that management accountants and many others can learn in a fundamentally better way and by extension accelerate their careers. Adam: (13:25) So if we jump ahead a little, what advice would you have for a listener who is trying to self-assess their skill level? David: (13:31) Another great question Adam. There are really a number of ways to assess achievements, progress or outcomes. And it basically starts from the inside out and it moves swiftly outside. But there's nothing more damaging than someone who thinks they're amazing at something when consensus shows the opposite. And this happens very quickly to individuals who are in a position of authority or power or either no feedback is solicited from anyone or the feedback received is simply dismissed. We need to be aware of the self-defeating traps because feedback is critical. We are only ever as good as we are perceived to be. So back to the question of self-assessment, there are many questions that you could ask yourself. One approach I found that works well is being customer driven. That is, put yourself in the shoes of your customers. So for example, if you're a pianist, is your audience moved by the music and transported away as you play, or as a finance leader, do senior management ask you for your opinion because you inspire their trust and confidence. How would you objectively assess a given skill? Because after all, there's no point in kidding yourself if the objective is skill mastery. So the inside out assessment approach really starts with a self-assessment and moves outward to put yourself in the shoes of a dissatisfied customer to ultimately directly asking customers or your extended network for feedback. There are many ways to basically get there. Adam: (15:03) So David this has been a very insightful discussion, but before we wrap it up, I like to ask one last question. What parting advice do you have for our listeners as they consider learning and development in 2021? I'm thinking even beyond, the required credits you need for your certification, you're looking at your full learning and development. David: (15:24) Brilliant question, Adam and I absolutely love finishing on a forward looking question. There really is no better time to start a new chapter, no pun intended of course, than today. I might be a little biased as the author, but I openly admit that I wrote The Power of Potential to help as many aspiring professionals as possible. Soft skills are more sought after than ever in accounting advisors. So developing them is a 21st century necessity for every single finance and accounting professional. The book takes readers through a journey of self-discovery from a big idea through self-improvement and mastery of any desired skill. Each chapter provides secrets that allow readers to get a jumpstart on their careers and take control of their future. I might go so far as to say it's highly likely that our listeners will find themselves enjoying a life free of what if regrets and living the life they want. And I basically love seeing people succeed in their careers and personal lives. And it's in that spirit that I write a weekly blog on leadership and soft skill development. So if our listeners want to accelerate development of the soft skills, I really encourage them to sign up at the website and receive it right in their inbox every Monday morning or join the LinkedIn group if that's easier. After all, the world is our oyster, only we can seize the opportunity and reach our full potentials in 2021 and beyond. Thanks a lot for having me Adam, I really enjoyed sharing this story with you. Closing: (16:49) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Mar 22

17 min 10 sec

Contact Raef Lawson: the Full Report, "The Impact of COVID-19 on the Finance Function": EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:Mitch: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In. IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 114 of our series. In this episode, IMA's Vice President of Research and Policy, Raef Lawson, joins our co-host Rouba Zeidan to talk about IMA’s recently released report, The Impact of COVID-19 on the Finance Function. Raef led the research and discusses his findings in regards to how this pandemic has disrupted the profession and what the perception is towards upscaling and rescaling. So, to hear more about the survey conducted and the key points from this report, we will listen in to their conversation now. Rouba: (00:44) So good morning Raef, and thank you so much for joining me. Raef: (00:55) Well, it's a pleasure to be here to talk about our study we recently completed. Rouba: (01:00) Absolutely and it's quite insightful so I'm happy to be sharing this with our listeners. So let's start from the beginning, IMA published a recent report. You were the lead researcher on this body of work, which evaluated the impact of COVID-19 on the finance function. So can you tell us a little bit about the scale of this research that you conducted, basically the countries, the sample size, demographics, and then the purpose behind it? Raef: (01:31) Sure. So it was quite a study from our perspective, it surveyed almost 1,500 people in countries from around the world and those included China, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the United States, and the survey study participants were about evenly divided among those five countries by design. Slightly more than a third of the respondents were women although that percentage varied by country, ranging from say 51% in China, to 18% in Saudi Arabia. And, you know, I think though that those percentages fairly well mirror the participation of women in the workforce in those countries in the accounting and finance field. So, the purpose of the study was to really understand the impact, not just on organizations as a whole, and you know, in the news we can hear plenty about that, but you know, in keeping with IMA's mission to help advance the accounting and finance function within organizations to look a little more specifically at the finance and accounting function within organization and see what the impact of COVID-19 pandemic had been on those. Rouba: (03:05) Amazing. And, so this is technically a global piece of research, as what are some of the most notable highlights that this report uncovered? Raef: (03:15) Sure. Yeah and that was true, we selected the countries in the study to really get this global overview of the impact of COVID-19 on organizations, and our study yielded quite a huge thing of results. One not surprisingly was that there was, an across the board decline in revenues among organizations of all sizes. With very large companies, and by that I mean those with revenues over $10 billion, most likely to report having experienced a considerable decline in revenue, you know, of course, subsequent to that, we hear how larger organizations bounce back also more rapidly from the effects of the pandemic and how smaller companies are now, suffering. The pandemic has impacted employment as we've heard as well. And surprisingly about half of the companies have led some of their staff go. Rouba: (04:31) That's substantial. 50%. Raef: (04:33) It is, it is, you would think it would be much less, but that is, you know, a tremendous percentage and a lot of, obviously suffering on the employee's part. It did vary by region. So companies in the US were the least likely to have let go of staff, followed by China and India, while those in the Middle East, which again include Saudi Arabia and the UAE were most likely to have let some of their staff go. And the impact on accounting financial professionals wasn't confined to be let go or not. There was also a considerable impact on the compensation of finance and accounting professionals. And most of the respondents to our survey, reported that they had a reduction in their compensation this year, this past year, whether it was salary, bonus, or both. And again, that varied by region with companies in the US least likely to have changed the compensation of their employees, companies in China were most likely to have left salaries unchanged, but to have reduced bonuses and that reflects the larger amount of incentive compensation that Chinese companies typically pay. And finally, companies in India and the Middle East were most likely to have actually cut salaries of their employees. And then finally, another key finding was that there was a change in the findings of the priorities of finance functions, which is understandable. There was an increase in the emphasis on risk management with nearly half the company spending more time in that area, followed by cashflow forecasting new management, you know, most when the pandemic hit, a lot of companies went into crisis mode just trying to survive and these two, competencies areas became, critical for their survival. And, you know, fortunately less time was spent on business partnering and decision-making, with about a third of the company spending less time in that area, though I will say we've completed another study recently that has found that the pandemic has changed most CFO's views of their role within the organization. And most CFO’s now are becoming a business partner with their organization. Their insights are considered being key to decision making at the senior level within their organization. And I think we'll see a much greater emphasis on the CFO as a strategic business partner going forward. Rouba: (07:48) So it does bear some good news to the profession, despite all of these, negative results. But there's also one notable point that I looked at, which was basically the tourism industry was one of the most severely impacted industries. But what other sectors also fair in terms of that kind of impact? And what do the findings tell us about them? Raef: (08:11) You're right. The tourism travel and hospitality industries were the hardest hit industries. There, 13% of the respondents were furloughed or let go. 58% had their pay cut and, you know, that's clearly a result of companies quarantining, locking down and so forth. But also relatively hard hit were professionals in the government, nonprofit and education areas where another 5% of those folks were furloughed and, 52% had a decrease in their salary. So that was a significant impact for those industries. On a positive note, relatively least effected were those working for companies in the accounting and finance industries. Sorry, so good times or bad, we need our accountants. Rouba: (09:12) Absolutely, you know, I liked that there's been quite a bit of that conversation of, you know, CFO’s and finance professionals stepping up to become part of the decision-making process. And I think it's these times like a pandemic that kind of puts that in perspective because you get to see how important it is to have that kind of guidance and support and direction. Raef: (09:33) Absolutely and as you know, as I mentioned before, managing cash flow, just being able to survive it was the number one priority of many companies, especially early in the pandemic. And the CFO team was critical in that decision-making process, but next least effected were companies in related industries like financial services, banking, and real estate and I know, especially here in the United States, the real estate sector is booming. A lot of people that are working from home are looking to change their living arrangements and perhaps either get a little more space or different type of space, so some sectors of our economy, as we know, are doing quite well. Rouba: (10:27) What this report provides is kind of a global view of the impact of COVID and when you look at the spread of the impact, which regions would you say were hit the most and how badly has the impact been on say finance and accounting professionals and their respective revenue of you know, of their organization? Raef: (10:49) Right. So, the Middle East and India, were the hardest hit. It's clear that in the Middle East, especially, with this, with the decline in business activity, there was less demand for oil and that results in a steep drop in oil prices, which had a tremendous impact on the economy in that region. So they had to deal with not only the generic impact of the pandemic, but also the decline in their number one industry. On the other hand, China seemed to be the least impact. I think this was clearly a result of their ability to reduce the transmission of the COVID-19 virus by being able to lock down the country, and reduce transmission and enable it to restart it’s factories and the economy in general relatively quickly. Rouba: (11:57) IMA is considered a lifelong learning institution, which strongly believes in up-skilling and re-skilling as a means of remaining ahead of the curve. What does the research say about the impact of COVID-19 on finance and accounting professionals and their interest in up-skilling and re-skilling, has it made the process more fundamental, do you think? Raef: (12:19) Yes, absolutely. And I'm glad you're asking this question because a key mission of IMA is to make sure that accounting and finance professionals assess the skills that they need to successfully compete in the job market and have fulfilling careers. So, the answer to your question is a resounding yes. There was, a significant concern among the survey respondents as to whether their curve professional skills would be relevant post COVID-19 and 12% thought their skills would not be relevant. The other 10% were unsure. So approximately a quarter of the respondents had concerns about their skills going forward. This belief was highest in India, lowest in the United States and I think that just mirrors the employment situation in those countries where the percentage of professionals that were let go or had their pay cut was highest in that area in India, lowest in the US, but we had asked respondents about their interest in gaining new skills and the impact of COVID-19 on that and over two thirds of the respondents said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased their interest in up-skilling. And you know, clearly professionals cannot take for granted their skills and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need to be a well-rounded professional. So now 75% of the respondents are currently working on improving their job skills. There's belief among all the regions that up-skilling can help advance one's career and increase one's job security. And when we asked what competencies the spots were looking to up-skilling, it was across a wide range of areas. Clearly cost management, risk management, were included, but also business partnering, performance measurement, cash forecasting, basically a whole range of competencies contained in the CMA body of knowledge. Rouba: (14:50) That's brilliant, what a confirmation. I mean, it just makes the content even more relevant. We're big on research at IMA and if anyone is involved in every single piece of research, it's you Raef, so we have to cross through, and it's amazing work that you do, honestly as someone who enjoys research as well from my end and the most recent global economic conditions survey, GECs, which we do in collaboration with ACCA, it showed, I mean, I know you said that the Middle East region was one of those that were impacted the most, but we did see in Q4 of 2020, a big jump in confidence in the region. I mean, surely there's the easing of geopolitical tensions, the continued recovery in oil prices and demand amongst other factors, but with the vaccines becoming more widely available, are there any hints of, you know, potential economic bounce back in the near future? Raef: (15:45) Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It's you know, even without the vaccine companies are learning how to cope, how to provide a safe work environment for their employees. In many industries while there was an initial steep decline in sales, there was also a rapid pickup in activity and we're seeing in many industries that the companies can't keep up, I mean even with existing demand. And the rollout of the vaccine will only accelerate the positive trend in economic activity. So specifically in relevance to the Middle East, this increase in economic activity is going to increase the demand for energy, specifically oil. I think oil is up over $60 a barrel, currently, which is, you know, great news for that region that will, again, have very positive impact on the companies in that region. And then finally get a lot of organizations, you know, it's been a tough time, but it's also forced them to rethink their strategy, rethink their business model, so it’ll be coming out of the pandemic operating in a more effective and efficient manner. And now we’ll again, have a very positive impact for companies around the world. So, you know, specifically for the Middle East, but also globally I think we'll see, a very significant increase in economic activity this year. Rouba: (17:39) Excellent. I mean, it'd be great to see the world come out leaner and stronger, and we've been resilient, all throughout. So thank you for that little spring of hope at the end of the tunnel. Raef: (17:52) It's there, it's there, it's coming, it's coming. Rouba: (17:56) So I look forward to that and thank you so much for sharing the details of this report and the amazing work that you do. And yeah, we'll be doing more of these talks more frequently Raef. Raef: (18:10) My pleasure, and thank you for inviting me. Closing: (18:13) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Mar 15

18 min 34 sec

Contact Twyla Verhelst:'s Links/Resources: FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:Adam: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In. IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. This is your host, Adam Larson and today I'm bringing you right up to the start of episode, 113 with our featured guest, Twyla Verhelst. As we listen to this conversation, we first need to acknowledge that many accountants got into the profession because they are really good at crunching the numbers. However, the role has changed, and accounting and finance professionals are now asked to be confident communicators and storytellers. Twyla will walk us through the evolution of the position and give us strategies for overcoming introversion to be confident business partners. Let's head over and listen now. Mitch: (00:45) The accounting profession is one that typically attracts rather introverted individuals. Now there are many stereotypes about accountants and their personality traits, but in speaking with you, I know some of these stereotypes have evolved or proven false, particularly in today's industry. So would you like to give us just a little bit of background from your perspective on today's conversation? Twyla: (01:14) Sure. So, you know, I don't necessarily think that the personality types have changed per se. I still think that the accounting profession does attract rather introverted individuals and I feel comfortable sharing that when I'm an accountant and an introvert myself. But what I do believe has happened is that we're no longer your dad's accountant, or we’re no longer your Uncle Joe that used to be an accountant. Accountants now have a very diversified skillset. We have social skills, we have relationship skills, and oftentimes these relationship skills are what are driving the service agreements. We have the clients, that's the value they're paying for. They're no longer paying for what you slide across the desk at them every year on an annual basis, coupled with their bill that you slide across, that's just different, it's changed now. And there's so much more inside of the personality of an accountant that's being shared with the client and the client is valuing. So, when I speak of this previous accountant that I'm thinking of, I actually think of my parents' accountant in my head. I think of the man that we saw on an annual basis, my parents were entrepreneurs, we went and saw him annually. They helped with their personal taxes and their corporate taxes. And I remember specifically when I told him I'm thinking of becoming an accountant, he really just had five words for me, which was, do you want a job? He didn't expand. He didn't elaborate. He was very much an introvert. So now I think we're still introverts at the profession probably still does draw in introverts, but the stereotype of the boring accountant that fits in a box and doesn't really talk and doesn't really converse has changed. And that's, what's evolved inside of the industry. Mitch: (03:07) So typically, you know, many accountants will get into the profession because they're skilled at diving into the numbers, right? They like to work at their desk and crunch these numbers rather than really work with people. But as you said, the job has evolved. And you know, these accountants are asked to embrace new identities. You know, we look to these individuals as really confident advisors. So as the job evolves and the individuals grow within this profession, again, from your perspective, what is the first step for accounting and finance professionals to take when looking to make this progression and gain a little bit of this confidence? Twyla: (03:50) Before I dive into the first step, I just want to make sure that we're clear on the type of advisors that we're looking to be, or that we're trying to strive to be. And why I want to start there is because sometimes that's the barrier to us getting there, is that we have now painted this picture of, I need to be this really professional, highly confident, so knowledgeable, and use these big words and this accounting jargon in this financial jargon in order to fit that new mold. That's not necessarily true either. And so I want to just lay that out there because sometimes that's a roadblock to thinking, how do I get started? Because you're trying to get somewhere that I would encourage you not to get too far down that road, because now you've become somebody who's no longer the introverted accountant, but now you're intimidating or now you're talking over your clients or now you're really not in relationship with your clients because they're almost too scared to bring up what's going on inside of their business because of potential shame or potential guilt or potential, you know, getting inside of a conversation that they no longer understand and that they don't even feel comfortable saying, “I don't know what you're talking about”. So I want to make sure that we start there and then once we know that, alright, let's be professional and let's be advisors and let's be inside of a relationship out there, clients, but not take that too far. Then it's a case of starting with do some personal reflection. Where do you currently have a skill gap and do that self audit. Do you have really personable skills already and, that you've evolved or developed inside of your career thus far and now you're just layering onto that. Or are you the more traditional, introverted accountant, super, super smart, but loves sitting behind your desk and you know that you need to take steps towards breaking out of your shell so that you can feel comfortable inside a relationship or inside a conversation with your client. Or is it more that you're needing to do some other sort of, upping of other skills, which could be video calls nowadays, especially, where you've got to feel comfortable getting on video, presenting, doing that virtually, being organized to do that and not losing your place and feeling confident and having a loud, clear voice that everyone can understand and hear over the internet. What do you need to do to upskill? And so it's kind of taking that step back and saying, all right, here's what I'm trying to be. So once you understand where it is you’re trying to grow to, or stretch to then, where do I need to fill in that gap in order to be that advisor. Mitch: (06:41) Now, please correct me if I'm wrong. But I would assume that technology is a big reason that this evolution within the accounting profession and an individual's ability to effectively communicate and build these relationships, you know, this change is because of technology. I would say technology is now that person who was sitting behind the desk crunching the numbers, right? We have the software and the computers to do that for us and the human, the accountant, is responsible for the communication of the data that's gathered from the technology. So, utilizing this technology and kind of having that secondary relationship, what is the best course of action for a professional to increase their comfort and confidence in changing what they do on a day-to-day basis because of technology and then communicating what comes out of it? Twyla: (07:41) I completely agree with you that technology has really paved the way for this evolution, paved the way for us being able to have the technology be the number cruncher as you said, and gather that data and pull together really timely and accurate data more efficiently and effectively than we could do a number of years ago. I was going to say how long ago, but I don't want to give away my age too much. But, you know, when I started in accounting, we'd still number crunch. We sat behind the desk. We had the work to do, it was very manual labor. Now with technology that happens automatically when we're using the right pieces of tech to get that data for our clients. And as a result, that evolution or that shift has transpired. And so now you can be the communicator of what's inside of the technology. Cause there's two things with the tech firstly, not all tech is a hundred percent accurate and sometimes it's not the tech that's at fault, it's the information. It's what I like to say, “garbage in, garbage out”. So, if the data is not clean or the data is not accurate or current, then what the tech spits out is not necessarily going to be accurate either. So firstly, recognizing the data, or the inaccuracies in the data or the accuracies in the data for that matter, looking at the data and then once you're comfortable that it's accurate, what does this mean? And the client can't interpret what it means. Otherwise, you could just plunk the client in front of the technology and then say, there, my work is done, but that's not the case. Most business owners don't have that financial savvy ability to read and interpret the data in a way that's meaningful for them. So, you're like the translator or you're like the messenger of the data. Here's what it says. Here's what this means. Here's how this impacts your future decisions. So as a modern accountant, it’s finding your way or your place inside of the technology and the relationship with the client and being that intermediary in between. Mitch: (09:57) Well, we've already talked about two different perspectives on how the profession is changing. And as far as the individual within this profession, you know, our target audience, our listeners here there is this age-old adage that growth only happens outside of your comfort zone. So, whether we are talking about developing the soft skills to communicate, or if we're looking to develop some actual technical skills, whether it's with technology or enhancing our accounting skills, what is it exactly that accounting and finance professionals can do to get out of their comfort zone and grow? You know, how would you encourage individuals to really focus on their personal and professional development so that they can creatively evolve with the profession as time goes on? Twyla: (10:45) This is a conversation that's really near and dear to my heart. It's something that honestly I've spent the last two years myself on this journey of trying to stretch professionally in some of these areas that I recognized I lacked. So basically did that self-audit, what do I need in order to be the type of professional and advisor that I want to be, and it's going to be the best for my clients and really serve my clients and my industry of accounting. And it's a journey, and it can feel really overwhelming. In fact, today I saw a post on Twitter that said, get comfortable, being uncomfortable, get comfortable, being uncomfortable. And I believe that's true. That's definitely true that we need to do that. But just thinking about as an introvert, get comfortable, being uncomfortable, that can feel exhausting or that can feel insurmountable, or it can feel like where do I start? Or am I even motivated to start? So, I rephrase this a couple of years ago and I started on this journey of pushing my boundaries and getting uncomfortable to a phrase that I call, “comfortably uncomfortable”. And what that means is that I still pushed my limits and got uncomfortable, but not to the point where it was completely exhausting or it wasn't something that I could continue doing because it was just too far of a stretch. So, a great example of this, if we think about something that's not inside of the accounting industry would be, I decided I'm going to run a marathon and you don't go from the couch to running 26 miles overnight. We all know that, that's not logical. Instead, we take steps to get to the spot where we can run and finish 26 miles. And so typically you'd take steps to get there. Maybe you start with buying running shoes. Then you come up with some sort of training schedule that maybe you begin a walk, run program, and then a five kilometer run. Then you progress to half marathon. Maybe you find a running partner, download some music or some episodes of the account man podcasts. You do all these things to progress to the point of going from the couch to running 26 miles. So, that's what I call getting, “comfortably uncomfortable”. Where from the couch to the 26 miles, that's a stretch that feels like a lot. I can't run 26 miles every day, but I can comfortably take steps every day that's pushing my limits. I'm getting off the couch to the point of now I can run 26 miles and do that comfortably even though months ago, that was a big stretch. So, it's setting yourself up for success. So, if you think about your skill gap, whether that's soft skills or technical skills, don't take it on in a way that's overwhelming and you won't stick with it, take it on in a way that's piece by piece, step by step, incremental steps to get to a spot that you didn't used to be at. And so that's why I like using the phrase of getting, “comfortably uncomfortable”, setting yourself up for success so you can keep progressing forward instead of the words of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, because that's true. It just feels too big, too overwhelming to make steps, to get the progress and the momentum to get to a spot where now you've, up-skilled. Mitch: (14:32) I think that's a great analogy. And I think it's a perfect example again, whether it's the soft skills or the technical skills, there are plenty of resources and plenty of ways to go out and step-by-step make progress towards that bigger long-term goal, for your personal and professional development. So, perfect story thank you for sharing that. I just have one more question for you, you know, in summary, we've already talked about how the profession has changed, individuals need to up-skill, why is it so important for accountants to be aware of their personalities in today's industry and, you know, kind of wrapping up what we've talked about already, but then how do you envision the profession changing even more in the future? Why do accountants and finance professionals today need to be aware of these skill gaps in continuously taking these small steps towards that marathon? Even though that marathon might be a different race in the future, you know, using your analogy. So, what do you recommend listeners do on a daily basis and why is it so important? Twyla: (15:38) Yeah, there’s no line that the marathon will change at your rate. It's a moving target. And part of that moving target is because this industry is wrapped into now the technology industry, as well as the accounting industry, we've come together with an industry that is moving very quickly and, versus accounting, stayed relatively close to the same for a number of years. I mean, it went from pen and paper to then some software and some tech, but the evolution of the industry in the past 10 years far outweighs the evolution in the industry for probably the 50 years before that. And so it's a moving target in constant motion, which means we need to be in constant motion too. Now, when we talk about the soft skill side, you know, the technology, there's kind of this technology hot on our tails of, if you don't progress forward and up-skill or move up the value chain, and you've heard all these analogies for it, then technology could potentially replace you. And the reality is that's true in a number of industries, not just the accounting industry, but it's something we feel this pressure or this heat of make sure that you don't get replaced by technology. Now, can that happen immediately? No. Can that happen over the next course of the next 10 years, perhaps if we don't keep progressing ourselves forward. So, I think that the soft skills are part of the equation or part of the workflow or part of the relationship that our clients are looking for. That is a very, very long time away from being completely replaced by technology. I think it will be further enhanced. I think there will be more communication even in the past year with, with all that’s transpired with people working remotely and working from home and relationships going virtual. There's been communication tools that have advanced significantly in the past 12 months. So, I think that that will still evolve, but you still need the human element inside of that relationship for the business owner. There's nothing that can interpret the data the way a person can today. Now, again, it's a moving target, but today, and so at least up-skill yourself in the technology side and the technical side and the personal skill side to ensure that you're kind of the front edge of this industry, this evolution, this collaboration of the technology industry in the accounting industry. You want to be at the front side of this evolution, not the backside. So that means constant motion, constant growth, that marathon that you've trained to run will shift. Maybe it becomes an ultra marathon, or maybe it becomes a marathon in a different location that's now more hilly. A couple years ago, I ran a half marathon in San Francisco, that was certainly different than running a half marathon in a very flat city. So it changes. And so you need to change with it and you need to grow with it, which means we're in constant motion. Just the way that the industry is in constant motion. So keeping ahead of it or keeping on the, at least the front side of it will mean constantly learning, growing, being curious, being creative, being flexible, not ever trying to fit inside of a mold of what you believe accountants should look like or should be. But instead that we're being creative around what they're going to be in the future and how we're going along with that journey of that transition. Closing: (19:38) This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Mar 11

19 min 59 sec

International Women's Day:'s Website: the Speakers: Hanadi Khalife - Doreen Remmen - Alain Mulder - Nina Michels-Kim - FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPTAdam: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In and Happy International Woman's Day. I'm your host, Adam Larson, and in this special episode, my co-host Rouba Zeidan, sits down with a few of IMA's leaders to discuss what it means to operate, manage, and breed an inclusive culture. Keep listening to hear from Hanadi Khalifa, Senior Director of Middle East and India Operations at IMA, Doreen Remmen, CFO of IMA, Alain Mulder IMA's Europe Regional Director, and Nina Michel's Kim IMA's Director of Partnerships for Japan and Korea, as they all share their perspectives on social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women and the value of diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.   Rouba: (00:46) Good morning, good evening, and good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining me and Happy International Women's Day! We're going to kick this off with Nina and Hanadi. So this day was created to celebrate social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, and it encourages women around the world to choose to challenge. I mean, the theme for this year, because as I quote “A challenge world is an alert one.” So this initiative was also created to accelerate women equality around the globe, and when you contrast that with the world economic forums prediction, that it will take some 250 years before we can achieve true equality. What are some of the major problem areas that you believe need to be challenged? Both when we talk about community elements and corporate world elements, and how are you personally contributing towards that on an individual scale and maybe even on a corporate scale.   Nina: (01:52) So, you know, I believe that in order to achieve true sustainable gender equality, society and companies have to change their mindset. It's not the quantity of hours at work that make an employee productive and also support working parents equally make it normal that men equally share household tasks and childcare. And I think society and the workplace prevent people from exercising their rights for these parental benefits. For example, you know, I kind of represent Asia Pacific and in Japan, new fathers are entitled to a relatively generous paternity leave, but less than 8% of Japanese male employees take it. As opposed to a more egalitarian country like Finland, where over 80% of the men take paternity leave. And, you know, the reluctance of Japanese men that could be for a number of reasons, perhaps it's not encouraged by the company, or  they might be judged that they're a slacker and we need to change the stigma associated with that and make it mandatory thatmen also take paternity leave. And in fact, that's a new plan that the Japan's labor ministry is actually thinking of to make it mandatory, for men to take paternity leave, and it it's to counter Japan's declining birth rate, which is a huge problem in Asia, because women don't want to have children anymore since it impacts their career. And, you know, as an individual, all individuals must have the courage to exercise their rights and stand up so others can follow. And, you know, as an individual in my former company, I was sort of a trailblazer and paved the way for other women to woman to, you know, discuss remote working and part-time working. But, you know, granted that was over 15 years ago, but that former company, they did not allow any, remote work or part-time work, and, you know, they were very supportive of promoting women, but only as long as they were single or childless or, you know, dincs, dual income, no children. So I think I was one of the first women managers to say that I was pregnant, and I really felt guilty to do so. To announce my pregnancy, which, you know, should be a joyous occasion, and especially, you know, it was coming after two miscarriages, miscarriages that I kind of, embarrassingly did not say to my employees of my employers, and I found out later that many women in that, that company had miscarriages. we were working long hours and on paper, the company even had, less than, required working hours, but nobody took that. I mean, especially nobody who were a high potential person climbing the corporate ladder. So, you know, when I did announce my pregnancy to the company, I told them things like, Hey, don't worry. You will never even think that I had children. I'll be back full time. I'd be here until the very last minute, and then I will take the bare minimum of maternity leave and I'll will be back to take off where I left off. And, you know, and I actually even did that for my first born. I enrolled him full time in the daycare center. I had babysitters to take him after it was closed and or whenever I was traveling because, you know, I didn't have extended family nearby to help, but, you know, I slowly came to realize how flat I was in my head thinking and it wasn't sustainable. You know, when he was about 18 months, he started acting up at the daycare center, you know, I kind of broke down and I went to my boss and, you know, I finally said, you know, that's it I'm leaving unless the company allows me to work part-time or work remotely and you know, the company finally relented, you know, and that action is so interesting because after that a whole lot of managers became pregnant or they were able to say, I had a miscarriage to Nina, all these kind of things and, you know, and it became okay to work like part-time, at least 80% or work Fridays at home. And, you know, so kind of, I take comfort that I finally became brave and ask for support from the company and it kind of benefited former companies, former colleagues of mine in that company.   Rouba: (06:26) No, but you're right, by the way, bravery has a big role to play in this one, to dare, to ask for more or for support Hanadi, how's that been for you?   Hanadi: (06:36) Well, I think Nina touched on, on a very important point, which is the change in mindset. And I think both men and women need, need to change that, and man has to realize that actually gender equality is beneficial and it's, in their interest as much as it is in our, interests. And of course the bravery for women, they have to proactively ask for their right. But I also want to add, three more, even actually four, more challenges, that we are facing saying, maybe these apply most to upward in the Middle East,. For example, education. Although we've done tremendous, effort and improvement in education, there are still 130 million girls who are, who don't have access to schooling, and there are 12 million who are married, that are under the age of 18 every single year. Of course also the gender gap. I don't want to talk extensively about that. I know we're all aware of the gender pay gap. Although we've seen that women now are more qualified, or if I may say, as qualified as men in terms of their post-graduate studies, and of course, women participation in the political arena, where again, in our region, there's a lot of effort that needs to be done on that front. And unfortunately, as if all of this is not enough, the, the COVID the pandemic, unfortunately, as well, had, a major impact or more negative impact on women as it was on men, because women are the main caregiver and they had to, to take more, unpaid leave from their work, which affected their, their job. And there's actually a very interesting report by McKinsey, on, on, on this topic with really interesting, statistics. Now from an individual level, I really do make a conscious effort every single day to challenge and recognize biases. As, as a mother, of course, I started at all. I have a daughter and a son, and I raised them both, and I make sure that, I raised them to raise their voice and to be active, contributors and agents of change, and as a team leader in my company, IMA, of course I strive really to become a mentor and a coach, to my team to create an inclusive environment where again, as Nina has mentioned, when team member are able to attain the right work life balance, which is also something I suffered from, throughout my, my career, and I'm really fortunate to finally work with IMA with a company that, really, cared for the employees. That being said, like the work-life balance, but as also, being able to achieve our full career potential.   Rouba: (10:16) Thank you for that,, and, you're right, by the way, we're very fortunate to be working, with IMA and I agree with you, you know, personally, I consider them to be one of the most gender equal companies that I've ever worked with, in my entire career. So I I'd like to turn to the only male, on this call, Aand so I support, first of all, thank you for supporting the cause.   Alain: (10:38) I'm really supporting it. So I think it's a really important topic, and that we should to reach gender equality as soon as possible.   Rouba: (10:46) Yeah. Before 250 years, I agree. And I think people, I mean, on an IMA level, there are so many initiatives that we've taken globally to kind of drive the conversation on diversity and inclusion and, you know, put these messages outwards by sharing, say for best practices, for example, but also, I mean, the focus is indeed on the finance and accounting profession, but when you look at the messaging of diversity and inclusion, it is a very global message by default. So what are some of the initiatives that you're undertaking in your region? The European region, to promote such values, on, you know, inclusion and diversity and what has been the feedback both externally from IMA team members and from external stakeholders as well. It'd be great to learn about your experience with that.   Alain: (11:35) Yeah, so, so what we do here in Europe, is that we really provide them platform for our members, but also, non IMA members where we can have this debate. So we have to Women Leadership Summit, we started at four years ago in Amsterdam, but now also do it in Switzerland and that's really a great forum for men and women to discuss what we need to improve on. So one of the things we found out last year, for example, during the summit, when we had some very open discussion and you know, how Dutch people are, they are really bold in their opinion during the event, and this was really good because they basically said, okay, we, what you often see is when women are making a career and they are doing ajob interview , for example, for their next promotion, that's men, or to hiring men, starts to think for that woman.. So for example, okay, I want to give her that great promotion, but maybe she can not handle it at home because she has to do the households and she has to raise the children. And that's a pitfall hiringmanagers make because we need to stop thinking for them. If they are, going for the promotion, then give them that promotion, and don't think about any issues that may arise in the future. And so we get great results with holding those kinds of events, because this was really an learning opportunity for female, of course, but also for the men who are attending. So next time when they are doing an interview, then they will stop thinking for them, and I think that's really a great achievement.   Rouba: (13:21) Absolutely. Hanadi in the IMA D&I toolkit that we were just referring to as well. One of the essential approaches for leaders to create a diverse and inclusive corporate culture is for them to promote a high level of self-awareness that kind of rewards that willingness to course correct. How much of this is dependent on the team leader who's managing, you know, people on a daily basis, but also what are some of the qualities and the skills that they need to actually possess or evolve, in order to become more self-aware, and when you've been in situations like this, do you intervene in order to bypass or highlight or deal with, you know, unconscious bias or do you effectively, how do you accelerate the process of fostering this kind of allyship, if need be?   Hanadi: (14:08) I think like everything we should lead by example, and it starts with the tone at the top and with, the, with the team leader to make sure we are fostering the right environment for our staff, but most importantly, it's the sell-side reflection because we have to start by our sense. And, I remember two years back of attended at IMA when we were still able to travel, in Montvale office, a cultural awareness training, and we had, at the end of the training, we had to do, an assessment test to see where we are in our cultural awareness, and I used to, like, I proud myself of having a diverse background, worked in many countries, and it was such an eye opener for me too, to see that there are still lots of, conscious and unconscious biases that I have to to deal with to understand and, to resolve. Actually I've, I've just, I was reading that the, in one report that says like 73% of women experienced bias at work, and yet less than 30% are able to recognize bias when they see it. So this awareness of and this education around biases is extremely important. And of course, as a team leader, understanding the cultural nuances, and navigating and pointing to being vocal as a matter of fact around, about these biases and encouraging most importantly, encouraging team members to be vocal whenever they either experience, bias, or, witness bias, a bias behavior. So that is really, it's really about the team leader to embrace this culture of a D&I and again, create that safe environment where employees feel heard and their concerns addressed.  Rouba: (16:50) Doreen, your a female CFO. I mean, if anything speaks female empowerment that does, and if anything speaks loudly about the values of IMA that does. So first of all, I, we are all inspired by you. That's something that I just want to put out there. So when we go back to the IMA D&I toolkit, it also notes, you know, that the whole program, in order for it to be successful, it needs to be part of the company's overall business strategy. So it affirms that top down nature of the process. How can a business strategy be diverse and inclusive, and what does that look like for you as a regional leader, as a global leader, actually, when devising your annual business strategy, for example, which has very key operational components to it and financial targets, you know, right at the core. So how does this so-called soft element for lack of a better word come into play, and how does it influence, you know, business performance in your view and your tremendous experience?   Doreen: (17:55) Well, thank you, Ruby. You're very kind. Yeah, I think there's a misconception among accountants that business strategy is all about the numbers, right? It's all about the budget and the forecasts and all of those things, but strategy really precedes the numbers and we call these soft skills, but they're actually the hardest skills. So when we look at our environment, we recognize that our membership is extremely diverse, across the globe, and, that's true for most companies. I think they have a diverse customer base. We want to make sure that we understand the needs and the differences, amongst all of our members and that we're, we're here to support our members. So that's our strategy. We need to make sure that we have diversity amongst our staff in order to be able to communicate effectively with membership in different regions, different ages, different career points from student to professional, to CFO, to CEO, to board member, these, these things are important and you can't have a good strategy without these skills of, you know, environmental scanning and understanding your, your customers and making sure that you know what they need. Hanadi referenced, an exercise that we as staff leaders undertook a couple of years ago, that was eye opening for many of us. And, you know, one of the things that was eye opening for me personally, I'm going to bare my soul here a little bit was that I had always, all my life looked for the commonalities, you know, the commonalities amongst people. I still believe that, you know, we're all equal, that God created us equal, but I would overlook the differences in order to find the commonalities. And what we learned in that bias training was that there are real differences and that we need to be able to respect those differences, navigate those differences, support each other, in who, as we recognize differences and, you know, different cultural differences or gender differences, age differences, that was eye opening for me. I had not realized that I have that bias. and now since then I have read more, I've been reading about different cultures. I've been really trying to overcome that, and, and it's been a wonderful journey for me. So I think I went a little off track there, Rouba from your question about strategy, but I am responsible for the strategic planning process. at IMA and, recognizing our customers, understanding the differences amongst our customers and making sure that each segment of our customer base our member base, I should say, has what they need at their point in their career to support them to be able to achieve their maximum potential, and we all have the same potential.  Rouba: (21:10) And we all have, the same potential, no, that's, so much to learn from. I really hope that we rub off globally and, you know, we teach these best practices, and I refer back a lot to our, you know, DN& toolkit, because that's been really, a really a body of work that I'm extremely proud of as, you know, coming out of our team at IMA. Alain, you're using this with your team, in Europe as well, you know, to kind of distribute these, share these ideas and these best practices for that can be shared by organizations and various different functions. So these have been used a lot, the insights have been incorporated into a lot of content. you know, whether it's editorial content that's distributed to the media, or even shared with members, how has the response been, in Europe in general and maybe beyond as well, is there an appetite for this type of conversation to kind of be driven even further? and, and how, how is gender equality treated in general, you know, as, what are the common practices that you've seen, or not so common in your area?   Alain: (22:14) Yeah. Fair, good one. Though there's a greater appetite, actually, what I see at the moment, here in Europe with, especially here in the Netherlands for gender equality, you really see the, the political debate, of course. so in the Netherlands, for example, we do have an issue, in like in many other countries that there's not enough represent representation of females within the, in the top, therefore in the board really often, in all the management of companies, I believe it's below 30%. So you really see that there's momentum at the moment that people want more diversity in companies because many people or most people, at least within companies now understand, like the reset, that it's also for a strategy, much better. if you have a diverse company, then also your customers will recognize themselves, which are company more and also your brand. So that's something they see, but also, I was scrolling on social media a few weeks ago, and then I came across research from the international labor organization. and it was really interesting because it was showing, the countries where it's most likely they have a female as a boss, and Jordan was on number one, and what you often see is that people think that in Western Europe, we have equality, but actually that's not the case in Netherlands. 70% of the women are financially dependent of their husbands income, and, or 50% that says, and what you see is that 50% of the women work part-time, and then, then that's, and if you work part-time, or full-time actually, that doesn't matter because it's about the quality of your work, but what you now see in, and then on that the majority of women start working part-time when they just graduate from university, and then it can become an issue, because if there's a promotion within a few years, then the, the men, they have much more experience at that moment, and that's the debate we see here in the Netherlands at this moment that the inequality between part-time and full-time is becoming an issue here. And this also a debatewe see now here, that that's something to improve on.   Rouba: (24:44) You're right, by the way, even I have that perception that the Netherlands are the most equal, it's the most equal country in the world. So, yeah, misconception there.   Alain: (24:54) That's indeed a misconception, and, of course in many things, we are equal here. but in, in, within this issue and this topic, then it's, there's much more work to do.   Rouba: (25:05) Do you find, like, like Andy mentioned earlier that COVID has kind of, revealed that a problem even more, and especially in, in a country like yours?   Alain: (25:17) Yeah. That's something you see at a moment, because what you now see is that, women are most, they are when they work full-time or part-time, then they're also doing many things in their household to raising children. And if you have to do both, that's becoming an issue. And some men, they only work and they don't care about things going on within households, and that's something that has been refueled by COVID. And I believe that that's really something that has to be changed. I think there is no excuse for men to do nothing within the house. So yeah, so, but you have to have the discussion with your partner. What, how, what, how you define things, because for example, I'm a horrible cook, so I'm not going to do this, but I love cleaning the house. So that's something that I do, and this is how that's how, yeah, and, but my wife is much better in other things. And then she's focusing on that. So that's really the discussion you need to have within your own household. And sometimes, maybe the other one is doing a little bit more and sometimes the other one, but that's really the discussion you need to have, and once again, there is no excuse to do nothing within your household.   Rouba: (26:38) No, it's a wonderful attitude to have. I like that, and yes, if the cooking's not working, please stay from the kitchen. Alain:Oh yes, I will stay away from it.   Doreen: (26:48) I have a question for Alain. Do men have equal opportunity to work part-time in in the Netherlands? So, you know, in a family, maybe where the woman's career is where she has extreme talent and is on a track to a leadership role, is it acceptable for her husband perhaps to work part-time, and, you know, take a step back? Is that socially acceptable?   Alain: (27:19) That's actually a very good question. Unfortunately, the answer is no. So of course, when you ask people here in the Netherlands, okay. Is can men work part-time or stay at home? For example, then most people will tell you, okay, yes, that's possible, but socially it's not respectful that people will not do it, actually. So that's also what you see, for example, at schools, when you ask the discussion, when, when mothers work full-time, they blame the mother for sending the children to daycare. They don't blame the men. So that's, I think over the announcer that's, they're blaming the women for it and not to men.   Rouba: (28:03) That was a good question. Doreen. So Nina let's, let's pause this chicken and egg scenario or catch 22 situation, if you like. In many ways, diversity inclusion is considered a societal issue and that the burden truly falls on the shoulders of the community leaders, basically, you know, the grassroots level, but with so much practice or malpractice, if you like spilling over into the workplace, it kind of becomes this magnified version of the problem. How much of the responsibility is shared by corporate leaders in your view?   Nina: (28:39) Yeah, so I think Hanadi and I, we touched upon it in the, you know, the very first question about how companies should also encourage the employees to take, make the most of their parental rights and benefits, but what I think is very interesting is that in our field, in finance and accounting, there is the movement towards sustainable and integrated reporting. I hopefully think that this will improve, the attainment of gender quality, because, you know, it is part of the ESG, the environmental, social governance metrics, corporate social responsibility reporting, hopefully will also help in that. You know, Hanadi and I have written about some, articles about gender quality, number five of the UN sustainable developmental goals, and you know, you, if you're in, you're not hypercritical, if you're walking the talk, you have to, all companies have to, do their best to meet this, And, I wanted to point out that I heard a podcast recently, the CEO of This is, a very interesting podcast. is a data analytical company, and they actually rank US public companies according to their D&I metrics and the CEO, she is a black woman herself in a very male dominated tech field. So, it's very inspiring, and, she formed this data analytical company to prevent unconscious bias in recruiting, but then you can use that data to actually rank the companies, and this data is very helpful for ESG reporting, but it also helps potential employees to, before they accept a position. So new diverse talents can go through and see is this company, I just say, like, Amazon, how are they ranked here? And would I fit in, in this am I, if I'm a diverse talent, would I fit in as a woman, et cetera. So this is pressuring companies to improve. and, I think this is going to be very positive for everyone.   Rouba: (31:04) Absolutely. I mean, it does start somewhere.   Hanadi: (31:07) Yeah, so I like to add just one thing here. We've talked again about the shift in mindsets, for the individual, but that also has to happen on, on the corporate level. Companies have to understand that they are a social entity above all thing, and they have a responsibility to where it's the community, the country, the market, they, they operate. And we've seen that shift, still a shy shift from the shareholder to the stakeholder, but a lot, is still to be done. And I think once, once companies, senior leaders start, acting as social, you know, as leaders of social entities, we, the impact, would it be great on the community and on individuals.   Rouba: (32:10) You're absolutely spot on, I think, you know, this perception of it being a soft element and whereas Doreen highlighted, so, you know, correctly, it's actually a very hard and difficult element to achieve, but I think, it's a misconception that, that happens on a corporate level. And when you look at the staggering evidence, like you have the likes of McKinsey global Institute, you know, their study found that gender diverse organizations have a 15% higher chance of gaining above average profitability, then, say non gender diverse companies, another study found diverse workforces experienced 35% increase in performance over non diverse ones. And then again, over that, a Boston consulting group study found that such companies generate 19 times more revenue than non diverse teams. I mean, it's really good for business, but why do you think, is it good for business? I mean, we've seen that. Why, why is it so important? Why does it work?   Hanadi: (33:11) It's actually not only good for a business it's also good on a country level because there are also a research by the World Bank and thereby, and by the IMF, that points to a strong correlation between, the countries progress in closing the gender gap, particularly in education and labor force and its economic competitiveness. So everybody's a winner on a corporate level and on a country level. Now, I think, mostly probably because women tend to work harder to prove themselves, and they are able to create a more engaging, work environment, and as a result, I think they are capable of rallying the team around the company's, goals and mission, which will also result in higher retention and in job satisfaction which we all know increases as well, productivity. It's really, really about creating this diverse workforce. Also in a diverse workforce, you, you could see resolve problems or look at opportunity from different perspective, and point of view and your team is, is I think more place, to challenge the spectra school and, the way things are done. yeah. That's, which of course will improve the decision-making, and as I mentioned, increased productivity overall.   Nina: (34:54) I actually wanted to add something there too, because I completely agree with Hanadi and what I think is interesting is very brief, but working parents in general, I think, again, I'm going back to this that, you know, it's not how long you're working, but it's how you work smarter and more efficient. And I think if you have a set end time. So I'm talking about working parents where you have to pick up somebody from the day care center, every hour working hour, that you're there, you are much more efficient. And if I compare it to, when I was single and working long hours, I had no time when I, you know, I have no set return time, then you could stay on forever. But I don't know if my productivity I don't think it was as good as now when I have, okay, now I have to do cause I want to go and correct the homework with my daughter or whatever, and I think it's much more efficient, and for the company, the event, the company performance of course improves that weight. That's what I think too.   Rouba: (35:51) Nina, I read a study today that said that the parents are saying, you know, parents who work from home and homeschool, they're saying the biggest interrupted an average of 10 times per day. Is that an accurate number? You think some people said, no, it's 10 times an hour.   Alain: (36:10) Yeah, I think so. But yeah, but that is true, and I think that, that, that's one of the positive things of that we are now all working from home is that a lot of people, a lot of companies now see that it's actually possible to work from home, because we used to have some companies or managers who were a bit reluctant of that, and they really wanted to have their stuff five days a week within the office. And maybe that's one of the improvements at this moment is they see, okay, it really doesn't matter if people are maybe for a few days working from home and a used the lunch break or a few hours during the day to do some homeschooling with the children or to, to something else. And then they work in the evening. So I think that's one of the positive things of this moment, and of course, technology is also a big enabler for that, because it doesn't matter where you are. If a thing is in the cloud, you can work wherever you want. So it doesn't really matter anymore.   Rouba: (37:07) Actually, that, that was very connected to my next question and Alain this question is to you and to Doreen, indeed, you know, this past year has been so insightful beyond measure and so educational. It disrupted some sectors, accelerated others destroyed, a multitude of others, but ultimately it put a huge burden on not just women as we noted earlier. Yes, indeed, probably women suffered the grades are grunt, but on parents and families in general, and that whole idea of working from home, but how do you think companies can actually help to reduce that pressure and, you know, at a time of pandemic, and I'm sure we've had to do a lot of that at IMA and as leaders you've had to do that for your team. So what are some of the best practices that you've seen with regards to alleviating that pressure of your team members?   Doreen: (38:03) Well, I'll start question was for me and Alain, but, know we are concerned not just about the pressure on women, but also the pressure on our male colleagues as well. And I think that both genders benefit from family friendly workplace environment, I think Alain would agree with that. So we've, you know, we've, scheduled Friday afternoons. Most of us continue to work. It's not like we have Fridays off, but, and this, of course it's different in Hanadi's region, but no meetings on the, you know, some days they're just no meetings blocked. I think that's important. We've also, brought in resources for employees to access for mental health counseling. Those kinds of things are also really important to recognize the stress and to alleviate it. I think that we need to make sure that, the man that we're working with who also worked very, very, very hard are also given opportunities to support their families and, and be, available to their families. This pandemic has, changed all of us changed the workplace. It's going to be very interesting to see, how we all come out of it in the coming year.   Alain: (39:23) Yeah, true. And in that thing, indeed, children is to share its obligation between men and women's. So, if there is something, yeah. If they are sick for, for example, then don't make a fuss about it. If you're a manager, allow them to go to school, to pick up your children and then to take care of it.  I think that's really setting an example, not to make a fuss of it. It's, they will probably do within the evening and then it's all fine again. And, yeah, as a manager, sometimes you'll do something, something, sometimes you win something. So they, for a few hours, they are way, but later on, that will, that will be fine again. So it's a shared obligation. I really believe.   Rouba: (40:04) And I mean, we talk about the, the, the role of corporations in, in all of this diversity and inclusion conversation, but when, when it comes down to it, where IMA, and IMA, has a dedicated D&I Director, I mean, their core focus is driving the practice internally, and then seeing that resonate obviously with external stakeholders, but let's be realistic here. You know, not all companies have that same level of luxury or scale or capacity to assign a dedicated D&I lead position. So, and this question is to you Doreen, because you're, you're a part of the steering committee, if you like at IMA, and if you were to give advice to corporate leaders, you know, who in the interim, until they have a dedicated D&I director, how can they create encouraged breed that kind of culture and nurture it on the long haul? And then who's supposed to actually take ownership of this when which function is it HR? Is it a C-level position? Is it a function leader? Is it all of the above? How do you go around doing it?   Doreen: (41:09) Those are really, really important questions. So it has to be owned at the top of the organization, know at the CEO level, it must be embraced diversity, equity inclusion must be core values that are embraced at the very top of the organization or anything else will be meaningless. So, you know, I think that's, that's the most important thing. there needs to be an element throughout, so HR needs to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion in its hiring practices and making sure that supervisors are acting appropriately. Of course, that's an HR function, but it's also in a, the market development function. You need to recognize who your market is and who, who you're marketing to and understand that for diversity, equity, and inclusion. I hope that we're not, that companies are not jumping on a bandwagon and thinking, okay, we need to create the diversity and inclusion role and that's it, you know, then we're done. That reminds me of tokenism. that was so prevalent when I started my career, you know, back in the seventies. That's just not going to work, you know, saying, okay, this person is the face of diversity at our organization is absolutely the wrong approach. It needs to be, throughout the organization and smaller companies can absolutely achieve that, through, consciousness raising, awareness training through, you know, embracing this as a core value through reading, through sharing, bringing in consultants there are remarkable consultants that can help organizations to recognize where they have gaps and what they need to, to fill. Our diversity toolkit that you've referenced, Rouba, is one of many resources, that companies have available to them, but it needs to be made a priority at the top of the organization and embraced throughout and not resident in one department or one role.   Rouba: (43:28) A beautiful recommendation actually. Thank you, Doreen. So this is a question that I would love to hear all of your views on, and whoever's comfortable answering first, please go right ahead. So when we look at women in senior management roles, the big, big question, you know, that everyone's been researching and investigating for years, it's probably one of the biggest challenges because no matter how much that segment has grown, it's still a minute. So when we look at say 2019, the numbers grew by 29% and that was maintained throughout 2020. and then you look at the fact that the global midmarket and global midmarket companies have at least one, a woman in a senior position, but senior position, that's 87% of them. So these are really promising figures, but then you look at, you know, the history of that when you all started your careers, this was not the scene and it was far from it. And having three women on this podcast probably you've had to really find your way to the top, to become of the senior leadership team. What was a kind of defining moment that you've been through where you thought, wow, I can see a dynamic shift. Things are not the same anymore, I'm in a new era. So what was that instant that you realize that things are really changing and I'm privileged to be in that? And I can, I can go all the way to the top.   Hanadi: (44:54) I can start actually, and without really undermining all the encouraging steps that companies and countries are making, are making two words, equal opportunity, equal, gender pay and what have you. But I cannot say that the dynamic shift has happened. I mean, to me, yeah, to me, I still see around me, women paying a very high price for their success, making huge compromises, especially if they're a working moms. And, you know, I touched a lot on that. So, and to me, as long as we still meet the quotas to ensure the equal participation of women in leadership position, that means that there's still a lot, to be made. And I, and I think it also, there's a, there's a big role for the government, especially in our region because legislations have to be made to tackle these social and cultural barriers to encourage more women to enter the workforce, and again, I also think that with the fourth and the fourth industrial revolution, the digital revolution, this also will have a great impact on women participation, because we've seen, women, presented and STEM education is still low, especially in our, region. So there's still a lot to be made to, for me to say that there's a dynamic, a dynamic shift. Yes. that are, you know, there's the willingness to change, but still a lot, a lot to be done.   Nina: (46:55) Yeah. I have to agree also with Hanadi, but what I see to be like, maybe put some positive spin. I believe that the, the generations after us, so we're, there's baby boomers on here. We're Gen X, most of us on this call. I mean, we faced a lot of, this old fashion cultures., but I think that maybe the millennials and Gen Y Gen Z, I mean, they're going to be, I think they're going to put work-life balance also, have that as major focus. I mean, we already, we hear from Alain that he has a, as a male saying, this is good, but it's actually, you know, our parents, you know, do they support that? They were also had this old fashioned ideas, you know, maybe not all I'm saying, but you know, you men couldn't take paternity leave maybe because their parents said, Hey, what, what are you? You can't do that. You're a male and things like that. But I think that's changing now, and, and that is not yet a dynamic shift. I agree with Hanadi, but I see it changing and Rouba, you know, we did that webinar last year together about reinventing organizations. You know, this teal organizations people want to get out of this toxic work culture. They don't want to be just climbing up the corporate ladder just for money. I think they want to master all of them. They're embracing more, even this pandemic. I mean, you want to have family, hobby work-life balance, you know, not be stressed, you know, meditate, all these kinds of things. I think this is going to help everybody in the end. Hopefully the, our younger generation.   Rouba: (48:41) No, you're right. That Generation Z takes, takes everything, at a much higher volume and they fight for their rights so easily. It's effortless to them. And Doreen, how's your view on this?   Doreen: (48:54) So I've been in the workforce for four decades, quite a long time and old stories I could tell, but yeah, breakthrough moment when I, when I had a great deal of hope was when my son, you know, I have three adult children. My youngest is in his thirties, and I remember when he was, you know, mid twenties and had just gotten a promotion and he was working for a leader, a female leader, and to him, it was no different. Like he wasn't, he wasn't complaining about the boss lady or he was looking to her for leadership, for mentorship, for, you know, career progression, and I thought, yes, that's great. So that was a moment for me that I remember really clearly. but there have also been other moments where, where it's a stark reminder that there's still work to be done. You know, where, you know, where a woman will be automatically tasked with taking the minutes of a meeting, for example, or, or excluded from, you know, some social aspect of work, these things still happen, and, we need to be conscious of them and we need to focus on equity and make sure that we are filling those gaps and giving women the same opportunities and the same respect in the workplace. So one, one thing that I think is really important for all of us is to pay attention to other people's daughters, to think of people entering the workplace, as you know, the sons and daughters of your friends, your family, men have always taken an interest in other people's sons and, coached them and, you know, been leaders on their sports teams and, boys grow up knowing what their, parents, friends, do, you know, the male partners. We need to make sure that we're paying attention to other people's daughters and making sure that they understand what opportunities are available to them and giving them a leg up, explaining something to them, helping them to see what the path is because it's not always clear. You don't always know. I wish I had had that as a young professional. I wish I had had somebody paying attention to me that way and giving me good advice and not having to figure it all out. So that's something that I have tried to do.   Rouba: (51:42) And yet you've done so wonderfully for yourself without all that mentorship. Can you imagine if you had mentorship, you'd be president.   Doreen: (51:52) Maybe queen, I don't know.   Rouba: (51:57) And I mean, Alain, you're the male, kind of a participant in this conversation. And so have you noticed any kind of, maybe it was like, Oh, there are quite a few women in this room, or when was it like that you noticed that women were gaining more ground and more freedom and, you know, how has that felt for you?   Alain: (52:20) Well, actually my first manager is she was a female, so I'm really used to it when I graduated from university, but, but for, well, you, you see that it's really changing now. So, of course IMA is a great example. I believe almost 50% of the global board of directors are women. Also, when I look at my colleagues within IMA, like now most of them are women. So I think that's really good, for IMA, but what I really think was a breakthrough moment was, and not for my own career, but a while ago I saw a press release from an audit firm here in Europe, announcing the new managing boards, and all of them were male. So, and that, that's not good of course, because we just had this whole discussion. So, and then you saw people within, on social media, but also on, in the media itself, questioning that company. Okay, why are you doing this? And I think that's really important. That's when we see that the companies don't have representation or really low representation, you know, female within their board, that we questioned them. And that's something we should do as a customer, as an investor, etcetera, but as an employee as well, because it's not a good thing, because of financial reasons, because of ethical reasons when there's not enough diversity. And I think that was really an important thing because you didn't see that at least I didn't see that 10 years ago.   Rouba: (53:51) That's great. I mean, I don't think anything celebrates, an International Women's Day like hearing all of these beautiful views, very empowering from the males and the females equally, and again, you know, being part of IMA is truly empowering on its own. And I'm glad that we get to record these podcasts and share these kinds of messages with the world. So thank you so much for your generous, sharing and contribution to this session, and indeed Happy International Women's day to all of you.  Closing: (54:26)This has been Count Me In IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard, and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at

Mar 8

54 min 47 sec

Contact Miguel Molina: EPISODE TRANSCRIPTMitch: (00:00) Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA’s  podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Mitch Roshong and today's conversation will cover the topic of leadership and how finance leaders accelerate change. In episode 112 of our series, Miguel Molina, CFO at Avocados from Mexico talks about his career journey and what he has been able to overcome and accomplish through effective leadership and change management. Stay tuned as we listened to his conversation with Adam now.   Adam: (00:41) So Miguel, can you tell me a bit about your career journey?   Miguel: (00:45) Sure, Adam. Well, I'm the son of Carmen and Hector, and Carmen, my mother was a visionary woman and, my father was a successful entrepreneur in southern, Mexico. I'm a first generation going to college. Actually my, my mother was the one who convinced me to go to Northern Mexico to pursue a degree. And even she said, look, who knows, maybe you may end up working in the U S. And so I did my undergrad in accounting in northern Mexico in one of the most prestigious university in Latin America, which is Monterey tech. I graduated with honors in December, 1994. 1994-1995 was a difficult years in Mexico. There was years of economic and political turmoil. Mexican economy style deficits rose. Politics became unstable and even some politicians were assassinated. And after 75 years, the PRI to the main party in Mexico, lost government control to another party after 72 years. But, so despite all these changes as a young student, I always wanted to represent Mexico and work for an international company in the US. So I've quickly realized that I needed to improve my skills, Adam. I decided to sell my car both to Canada, I spent three months to improve my English skills. Vancouver, Canada was a great, great experience, but also my last year in college, a teacher of mine, actually a corporate executive and one of the largest tortilla corn meal companies in the world invited me to join Mission foods here in the U.S., and I did. and I started, I started internal auditor. I had been fortunate to travel to the U.S, and I spent a fantastic 18 years careers at mission foods. And I took a position in Southern California as a sales and distribution accountant. Company gave me a full region moving from Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. Eventually our corporate offices were moved to Dallas, Texas, and we relocated in 2003 and they gave me all U.S. responsibility for the sales and distribution accounting. Then in 2009, as all we know the U.S. experience a great recession, and also needed to improve my skills. So I pursued an executive MBA at Southern Methodist university, and graduated with honors in 2011. Around 2014, the former VP of marketing for Mission foods moved to Avocados from Mexico, as his precedent and CMO, and he invited me to join Avocados from Mexico.  I  accepted, and now I'm at the CFO, one of the most exciting and successful problems, marketers organizations in the U S Adam.   Adam: (03:39) That's great, and I'm a consumer of avocados from Mexico. So that's very exciting to talk with you today.   Miguel: (03:47) Excellent. You'll be surprised that eight of every 10 avocados consumed the U.S. come from Mexico. And just as a trivia, you need to know that avocados is a berry it's from the same family of a berry.   Adam: (04:01) So you have a quite, quite a journey that you've come from, you know, where you grew up in Mexico, all the way to where you are today. What leadership characteristics have enabled you to get where you are?   Miguel: (04:12) Well, there are a few topics that I can see in my career. I'm borrowing some items from the leadership tools begin with the end in mind. I think that that is very important. Be resilient and lead by example, and yes, some, some good old luck, Adam. Let me tell you a quick story about, about that. When I was in college, a classmate, invited me to spend a spring break with him at his house. He is from Queretaro, a state located in central Mexico. And during his family dinner, he talk about his plans. I remember him saying that he wanted to finish university, pursue his master's degree at the University of Michigan, go back to home to his hometown, and became the mayor of his hometown and then become the governor of his state. I was in awe. So wait a minute, here's a guy, my same age, same age, education level, both  were doing very well at school. With such plans unbelievable because until then my goals was to go back to my hometown and work for my father and my family. But I have to say that that made that night, my life change, I dare to dream. I decided to do well with school, learn English, pursue an MBA and work for an international company. So beginning with the end in mind, I think is, is important, be resilient, be consistent and always lead by example, Adam.  Adam: (05:46) Definitely, and you know, I'm sure as time has gone on your job role has changed as an expectation changes. We're in the middle of a pandemic still, you know, how have you been able to develop your change management skills and make everyone aware of the necessary changes as you've gone along?   Miguel: (06:02) Change is always being consistent, and I follow an author, Yuval Noah Harari, and he wrote one of the best sellers book, Sapien. And he's an extraordinary philosopher, historian, and storyteller, highly recommend to you and your audience to look for him, Yuval Noah Harari. So he makes an interesting analogy. He says, Hey, listen, in the past, we were thought to have any strong and deep foundations, it was very important, right? So like a house, if a hurricane or a strong wind passes, that foundation will keep you grounded. Well, today he says the knowledge is different. We need to have a mentality of a tent. Yes, like a camping tent and be ready for significant changes on a strong winds. So when that happens, now, what we need to do is to pick up a tent and move to another place. So let me say Harari talks about the most successful skills in the future will be the capacity to that capacity to change, right? Including the psychology of change, because in our lifetime, we need to reinvent ourselves so many times. I'm sure you Adam, me and all of us, your audience have we need them force or to reinvent ourselves. Right? So during my career, I've been very fortunate to work with great leaders, Adam, and it gave me the freedom and the confidence to make changes. So over the years, I have reinvented my position many times, I expanded my responsibilities to other areas, including technology, and continue process improvement, and I'm upstairs. We've improving processes and finding efficiencies and  changes come with risks. I have some battle scars for sure by that. However, if you're prepared to business case and take a small risk to test your ideas, you gain confidence and that the company where you're working with also begin building that trust in you, Adam. Adam: (08:00) Definitely trust is a huge factor, in, in any type of change management. Is that what you use to kind of get buy in from your stakeholders in your organization as you made those changes? Miguel: (08:14) Yes. Yes, Adam, listen, I would like to talk about a time when I failed and I failed badly. I was working for my previous company. I convinced your management that we needed to invest in a trade promotion application. I created a vision, tackle it at a potential savings company, senior management authorize the investment and I failed. And I failed because I used the word I all the time, and I felt that working hard was enough, but is imperative is critical to include all the stakeholder and all the senior management, but a way I have to move from the word I, to the word. We, because as the saying goes, there is no I in the word team, right? So in any new initiative, it's critical to get buy in,\, not only from a good way to test your ideas and how viable those ideas are, but also to make it a reality. So I have four main observations that I will recommend in my experience. And first we need to begin with your team or your immediate circle of influence. And so that includes people reporting to you, your supervisors, but also be mindful of those indirect hierarchies in the organization. There's always some key stakeholders that they may not have the title, but they have a big influence. Number two, is that, it's all about the why. So I read also I follow Simon Sinek. He's a best-selling author, and he talks about people come to bid the best when they believe in the why on why they do that. And of course we are the finance team, right? So we need to find a strain in the numbers we are finance. Our job is to allocate capital, to support a company goals and prepare a robust business case. That is the must. You have to have a robust business case. I mean, build others, Adam, share ownership and recognition. Bottom line if your coworkers are more likely to succ