When asked to share a few of the experiences that he feels prepared him for a CFO role, Ashim Gupta recalls what he characterizes as a significant accounting problem. However, it was not the nature of the accounting snag that Gupta wants us to know about but instead how his initial response to the problem was somewhat clumsy and ineffective.
The event occurred more than 10 years into his finance career and did not lengthen the path to his next promotion because he had only just arrived in a new role as a divisional CFO for GE Water, a General Electric Corp. operating unit specializing in water processing solutions. Gupta remembers the accounting problem as being “the first thing to pass across my desk.”
Realizing the gravity of the challenge, Gupta picked up the phone and called the more senior finance leader who was responsible for a wide swath of GE businesses, including Gupta’s group.
“I was nervous about it, and I did not articulate the issue in the way that I should have. I didn’t really treat it as a business issue. I almost treated it with some amount of fear,” explains Gupta, who says that the uncomfortable phone call later led him to reach out to a mentor.
“He said to me, ‘Your job is to help the business face reality,’” recalls Gupta, remembering the words of his mentor. In short, the mentor told him that the senior finance leader wanted facts and not fear.
“I had to learn through trial by fire, and I failed the first time,” admits Gupta, who believes that finance executives must be keenly aware of the facts when delivering bad news and seek to expose possible avenues to where a solution can potentially take root.
Says Gupta: “You have to demonstrate that you are now a partner in navigating through whatever the problem may be.” – Jack Sweeney
“Being with customers will inform you how to be better leader.”
Guest: Ashim Gupta
Headquarters: New York, NY
CFOTL: What are your priorities as a finance leader over the next twelve months?
Gupta: When it comes to pipeline … I would say we’ve done a great job of becoming good at the current quarter. We need to be good as a finance team at understanding and influencing the next two or three quarters. … Do we understand what our pipeline is? Do we understand our customers’ buying behaviors so that we can model and predict things efficiently? That’s kind of one really big priority for me. The second one is around data science and the digital environment. In our company, we don’t have hundreds of years of data pent up that we can put to (work) … Building the foundation of a truly integrated data environment to feed automation and to inform us on a real time basis is an important priority. This means more than just a fancy dashboard. That is true actionable information and using data science to help us be predictive, allowing us to understand the correlation of different variables.
And then the third priority is a little bit more mundane. It’s career paths. I would say being a new organization, our average tenure at UiPath for employees in finance, maybe nine months or 10 months. Over the next year, people will start asking, “Okay, what’s my next step? How do I grow? How do I develop?” At General Electric, that was just ingrained in the system. Here in the startup world it’s something that we have to nurture, develop, think about and really see how we can be leaders of the next levels of business. So those would be my three that I would put out there.