Ep. 76: Shaila Bettadapur - Future of Work
Shaila Bettadapur, Corporate Treasurer & VP of Investor Relations at Mohawk Industries, joins Count Me In to talk about the ever-changing topic of the future of work. In this episode, Shaila shares his perspective on what further changes we will see following the existing evolution due to the global pandemic. He explains how his role has already changed and what he expects to see more of in the future. Additionally, Shaila talks about the importance of ethics in a technology-driven environment.
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT
Welcome back for episode 76 of Count Me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. Technology had previously changed many roles and forced management accountants to upskill and grow at a rapid rate. Then recent events have caused the accounting and finance profession to evolve even faster than ever, but that only leads us to believe that the future of work will look even more different. In this episode, Mitch talks to Shaila Bettadapur, Corporate Treasurer and VP of Investor Relations at Mohawk Industries. Shaila is a global executive with deep knowledge across multiple disciplines, industries and geographies leading to an informed perspective on what the future of work will look like and what finance leaders need to do in order to best prepare their organizations. So let's head over to the conversation and hear what he has to say now.
So we're at an interesting time now where the future of work really came at us pretty quickly, but I'm just curious if you have any perspective on what the future of work may still evolve into and, you know, what does that really look like in your eyes for the accounting and finance professionals?
I think, even, you know, pre COVID, you were starting to see, changes in the workplace overall. Just as, you know, telecommunications gets better, AI gets better, and so on. And of course yesterday you saw a news article where Facebook and others were talking about certain people working from home or working remotely kind of forever. Right. You know, we'll see if that actually happens. But I think, you know, so even pre COVID, you know, let's dial back the clock a little bit. If you went back, let's say 30 years or even 20 years for that matter, what an accountant might do or what a treasury person might do, is materially different than what they do today. A lot of what people did in those days, which was really, you know, getting the data, you know, recording the data and so on, which is what a lot of data entry , you know, kind of basic stuff is all automated. So for example, as the treasurer I had, we installed a treasury workstation close to eight years ago now, which automated a bunch of these things, and allowed, my people, which, you know, have it fairly lean staff, allow my people to, do higher level analysis and actually stuff that matters, as opposed to just data manipulation and so forth. I think that's true on the accounting side. I think that's true on the legal side, you've been reading a lot of stuff about how, you know, people coming out of law school or having a little bit more trouble finding work, because you know, a lot of stuff is being done by paralegals. A lot of stuff is being done, through AI simulation, right? My computer's right. You don't need to go to a lawyer to do your estate planning anymore and so on and so forth. So I think to a large extent, the middle starts to go away. That led to what I call the middle, being the, you know, where you're not really adding value, but you are, basically doing something that a machine or a computer program can do as software, it gets better as artificial intelligence gets better. That's going to happen more and more.
So that's really interesting perspective because, you know, it leads us nicely into what exactly have you noticed as a finance leader, as far as changes to your, whether it's day to day responsibilities or overall responsibilities because of AI and everything that has changed in the work environment, you know, how have you realized some of these changes before they actually become wholesale changes like you just referenced?
I think, the mistake that people make, is thinking about finance as a numbers oriented exercise. It is true that you need to understand the numbers. That's true. But again, if you dial back the clock, you know, 30 years let's say, a chief financial officer, and by extension everybody who works with the chief financial officer, just focused on the numbers, right? Not so basically, okay, the numbers are this and this X and Y, but less about why those numbers look that way, and what does that mean for the future? Because at the end of the day, the past is only as good as, you know, I mean, it's great for a topic of conversation, but it's only good if it informed you of what will happen in the future and therefore, what kinds of decisions you have to make, going forward. And that I think is the biggest difference. So if you look at the role of a CFO today, it is, it is more around strategy and the decision making process. Yes, you have to obviously, do the, do the accounting work. You have to obviously do the reporting that you have public filings, you have all of these things. These are all necessary things that you have to do, but they are not sufficient, to be a good CFO or a good treasurer or a good controller. It's really about what should I do next? How should I behave next? And that's really the key. And so the extent to which, you know, you are focused on just pulling numbers and putting numbers down on a page, but not being able to translate those numbers to a broader audience, that is a flaw and that will get exposed rather quickly.
I like how you just mentioned, you know, what should I do next? How should I behave? Because from our perspective, you know, the foundation of the management accounting profession is really rooted in ethics. And when you have a number of decisions to be made as a finance leader, and there is so much data at your fingertips and there's AI to be aware of. Ethics becomes a very strong part of your job, I would assume on a day to day basis, especially longterm planning. So, you know, as far as the future of work, your role, what role does ethics play in the behavior of you and your organization?
Well, and so I don't think that this has ever changed why ethics is huge. And I would go so far as to argue that, the rise of the whole Western world, is, is built on, you know, fundamentally on ethics, because in the end, contracts can only protect you to an extent. In the end when you do business with someone, or when you enter into any sort of agreement with someone you are, and you're doing so based on trust, based on your counterpart acting in good faith, and conversely your counterpart is doing that, assuming that you're acting in good faith, at the end of the day, if you don't have that, then it's very difficult to do business. And so, I would argue that ethics, if you want to call that ethics, but being open and transparent and ethical as you put it, is the foundation of doing business well and doing it properly, without which nothing actually works. So from an accounting , you know, you know, treasury and what we report to the banks, what we report, you know, to, you know, the, when we go raise money in the in the bond market, you know, all of those need to be honest, they can't be that you are not going to be, you are not going to do well if you are deceptive, particularly deliberately deceptive, because, because frankly, people aren't going to trust you and people are not going to lend you money. And if they do, they're going to charge you a premium, and so all it does was raised the cost of everything and that in the end, doesn't help you.
So with everything we've talked about so far, I'd like to kind of wrap things up by offering some kind of advice, or, you know, your perspective on this, going into the future of work, the changing role of finance and finance leaders, and again, rooted in ethics. How do you go about preparing your team, yourself, maybe others that you work with, mentees, things like that. What's your strategy for bringing everybody up to speed on what's needed for the industry today and the future?
I try, with my team and again, I have a fairly lean team, but even if I didn't, I try to give people as many experiences as they can handle, because I think the more things that you're exposed to, you know, the better off you are. And by the way, you know, you're going to have to learn some of these things, you know, going forward, I'm not going to be around forever and, you know, you want to learn these things. It is not in my mind, a function of, per se, what your training is you know, I believe, and I've always operated this way that, if you have the energy and if you have the gray matter, and if you have integrity or ethics, since you've been talking about that, I believe that I can teach you anything. I believe that you could probably do anything because none of this stuff is rocket science. We can all learn it, you know, there are certain rules and things like that, but these are not difficult things to learn. You just have to have the willingness and the energy to do it. And so that's what I try to do. I try to give people as many different experiences as I can get. And even if they're starting from ground zero, I am confident that, you know, I can teach them something or somebody else can teach them something and they can learn that. The extent to which you can't, or are unwilling to do. So that's the limiting factor that you're limiting yourself at that point. And so, but I think it's a good way to sort of segregate out, you know, who's gonna make it, and who's not.
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