Ep. 25: Khaled Chowdhury - Finance Culture Transformation

Khaled Chowdhury, CMA, Certified Corporate FP&A Professional, and Six Sigma Green Belt, is the Finance Director for Analytics and Business Intelligence at Cabot Microelectronics. He joins Count Me In to talk about transforming the culture of the finance function. Data is of the utmost importance in today's accounting and finance industry, but to start a culture transformation, it starts with the people. Management and leadership is responsibility for getting the people on the team properly trained and prepared to use the emerging technologies present in the profession. Investing in people will lead to the highest returns. Khaled shares his experience and perspective on allowing employees to be curious so they can be pioneers for the organization by making mistakes and identifying new opportunities or solutions. This episode is a unique blend of culture, technology, and leadership, and a valuable listen for accounting and finance professionals of all levels!

Contact Khaled:
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/khaledchowdhury/

Blog: Getting started in #PowerBI for #Finance and #Accounting
Unleashed  | Beast BI - http://beastbi.com/unleashed/


FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Mitch:
(00:05)
Welcome back to Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm Mitch Roshong and in today's episode we'll hear Adam Larson talk with global finance data and tech leader Khaled Chowdhury as they discuss finance culture transformation. Khaled is the finance director of analytics and business intelligence at Cabot Microelectronics, but even with such a focus on data and technology, he really emphasizes the importance of focusing on people first and how any business transformation starts with the culture of the organization. Let's go to the conversation and see what else he has to say. 
 
Adam: (00:42)
What is your philosophy on finance culture transformation? 
 
Khaled: (00:51)
My philosophy around cultural transformation, I think it's not really exclusive to finance, but a culture is a living organism, which are the some off the people, right? And when it comes to cultural transformation, investing in technology usually backfires. And the best way I have found the philosophy of finance, culture transformation is to invest in people. However, investing in people, you also have to kind of go from an agile methodology. You kind of have to have small proof of concept, see if that works, if that works, you kind of push them on. And one of the key things as I pushed for change, even to this day, I think it's a quote from a peaceful warrior that's is the key to change is to spend all your energy building the new, not fighting the old, well. We're talking about culture transformation. It's not necessarily about finance or whatnot, it's people change, right? So essentially culture is what is acceptable, how people behave and what is and there's some at one point, what is acceptable and what is expected, right? The kind of culture dictates that part. And from that perspective, if we don't ask the question, especially in we're in the precipice of the fourth industrial revolution, it is about to change big time. I mean it has already, but it's the impacts are starting to shop in smaller spaces. People have been talking about all this new technology, whether it's gonna work or not, but the end of the day that most of the technology actually are in pretty good shape that it actually can be used. But the problem is we don't have any gold drivers. Driver means meaning the people who would drive the technology. 
 
Adam: (03:03)
So then how would you take technology, you know, thinking about how technology is going to not take away jobs but change jobs. How do you infuse technology into your organization to kind of enhance its capacity? 
 
Khaled: (03:15)
So I think I will quote something that I say to my boss, right? I say, if you want me to be around, I'm going to cause a rebellion. And he's looking at me like are you crazy? I'm, my answer was you want a revolution. But a revolution is only as successful rebellion. Right? So, and the reason I liked the concept of revolution is it happens from inward, not outward. And the reason I'm saying that is because think about in our finance organization, it would come to us saying hey, we have this great product called SAP, BPC or whatnot. They'll come to you, try to install those and it's going to make all our problems go away. At the end of the day, it takes our life. I want to try to do the implementation. But again, when it comes to actually using it, we've become slaves of the tool. So in terms of infusing technology to the business or the finest profession, I kind of see it as a relationship with the technology. Whether are you the master of the trilogy or are you the servant? Technology is an absolutely awesome servant, but absolutely a horrible monster. And coming from that perspective, the best way to infuse technology into any business on the finance function is to see how we can start inward. See take things that we're currently doing. What is it that we can do to automate and liberate so that we can focus on the next step. Right? And instead of trying to go from crawling too, running you have to kind of learn how to call better before you can even walk. Then you go from walking to running. And it is a lot of dependent on investing people to send them for training and giving them exposure to what is possible. 
 
Adam: (05:30)
Thinking about a company that is, you know, trying to infuse this new technology and thinking that it's, you know, it's good for them, you know, having that business technologist on hand, you know, what kind of carry over similarities do you see in members of that transformation team that's kind of implementing these technologies? And then how do accountants and their skill set fit in, in that? 
 
Khaled: (05:59)
So I think it's more about a mindset. So one of the concepts that's taught by Clay Christiansen, he wrote the innovator's dilemma. He's a famous professor and strategy is to focus on job to be done. It's kind of be the people who looks at the task or as something there is a meaning behind it rather than completely a task. They understand what job is performing because from one perspective, the job we're doing is not going away. But the task, how it is done is going to change. And people who can kind of come break the shackles of what has done before to be able to see farther. Right? This goes back couple of years when I was a, I was talking to my chief accounting officer and a in FP&A, so I came, came up to management accounting, then FP&A for a pretty long time now. And most of us who are successful in our jobs tend to be excellent. Right now there is two things you can do with becoming an excel wiz. You can just develop something that's nerdy or something pretty complex and for the heck of it versus whether you actually get, use it to get some job done. So it's a lot about coming out of your desk and going and trying to solve a problem. So it's essentially, it's business technology should do you have a business problem, you have a technology, go solve it. So think about in the old days, the accountants who would know whatever's to sell whatever skill set, whether it's Excel as a media, whatever they had, they would see a problem person in problem, they will come out of the desk and go solve that problem. I think the way Harvard put it is there is a premium on curiosity. So it's actually the curious mind that has a huge benefit in today's world because they usually tend to go find out what's working and what's not. 
 
Adam: (08:18)
That makes sense. You know, it's good to have that curious mind. You know, and thinking about, you know, we've been talking about technology and how to, you know, transfer me and your team in getting that technology in there. But once you have that technology, you know, there's things like data analytics that are that seem to drive our decisions. You know, what would be the end goal of creating a data analytics kind of driven culture where you're looking at the data and making decisions based on that? What's the end goal of that? 
 
Khaled: (08:46)
Okay. I think if you think from that perspective, right? Regardless of what activity you're looking at in a business The way I see it, if it has fulfilled three things, that means it will be worthy of investment. Either it would have to increase my top line already is my cost. Both of them actually ends up in a higher bottom line and there's actually a third option considered as risk mitigation. So if something mitigates some exposure to my top or bottom line or the existence of the business, if you come from that perspective, the question becomes is are we investing in data analytics? Are people making the decision process faster? And let me be honest, right? You're never going to have perfect data. It's about like it or not, it's going to come down to a lot of gut decision. Now question is how informed is your gut, right? So that mechanism is starting to change of how fast and how often can we give that information to the decision makers. And to be honest as I'm trying to build my team and we're trying to achieve a culture change, the part that I like to highlight is the most important thing is your employees. And that's why I keep coming back to training. The most important thing your you have is your employees and the people that holds you accountable is your customers. So from a finance and an accounting perspective, we have our people, our senior contents, our financial analysts and all the people that comes with it. And they are our assets. But at the same time, our customers are our business, right? So we invest in our people for them to move on. So I mean, we keep coming back to the technology, but it's about what I want to highlight, if anyone wants to take away one thing from it is how well our people are capable of using those technologies and using technologies to requires technical skills, but at the same time, it requires soft skills. And one person on my team Evalina she highlighted his, what I was saying earlier about you have to know why we're in business and what makes the business money, what makes it profitable? 
 
Adam: (11:39)
You know, you've mentioned focusing on the people focusing on getting them trained and obviously the people need to have the inspiration to actually do that training, you know? So is that kind of the first step of initiating like a complete finance and analytics culture transformation. It's kind of been a theme we've been talking about transforming your culture and in analytics and finance is that that first step is getting them out there and almost like kicking them out the door and saying, hey, go learn something new. 
 
Khaled: (12:09)
So I think the way I preferred doing it, something that I picked up from a friend of mine often sentiment and the best way he put it is you create the stage for it. So, especially if my current stage, I would prepare the stage essentially, I would sure a little bit of what's possible and I will give them a little bit of help in getting started. I started a little bit of the fire for them to see what it is. And then after that you step away, you step away for a month or two months and see all of us are busy. Right? Even the task that might go away is keeping you guys busy right now. So question becomes is who even in that stent, the curiosity gets the better of them and they will take that fire, what do you call, take the little bit of kindling and turn it into a fire. So they're going to struggle, right? So as you try to change first it's struggle. So for me, the people that I look for to be on the team or my pioneers are the people who gets started on their own, mixed up highest amount of mistakes because they're trying. So like another girlfriend of mine while in Lamar, she was a director of accounting in the beginning, she said there's a friend from Texas and she said I don't know if I can fix that. Don't want to know your mama broke. You can't fix you. But coming back to the same point, right? Yeah. So she's from Louisiana, Texas. But anyways again, it comes back to the fact that you have to be willing to learn. And that's where my identifier is, essentially, is the people who get started with the little before you invest a lot in them. And that's why I also have the advice for people who are out there. It's to get started on your own. Don't wait for the company, because when you start showing results, a company will come to you.
 
Announcer: (14:38)
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 www.imanet.org.
©2019, Institute of Management Accountants, Inc.