Phenom CFO Davinder Athwal tells us that he has a personal connection to his company’s mission. Near the beginning of our talk, he shares a touching story about his father, a highly skilled individual who struggled to find a job in the UK. This personal experience fuels his passion for Phenom’s mission: to help a billion people to discover the right work. It’s not just about finding a job; it’s about finding the right job that matches skills with aspirations, as Athwal is eager to explain.
Athwal tell us he joined Phenom during a challenging time in the industry, one that led to a strategic moment when he had to make the decision to prepare the company for cash flow break-even—a move that would turn out to be not only wise but also critical for the company’s future survival and growth.
Made Possible By
- CFO Athwal emphasizes the importance of aligning data sets within the organization for accurate reporting to the C-level executives, board, and investors.
- He reflects on his career journey, including his experiences at PWC, IBM, and UGI Corporation, highlighting the significance of continuous learning and growth in his career decisions.
- He discusses the challenges faced in reconciling different data sets within Phenom and emphasizes the need for a single source of truth, particularly in the finance department.
- He shares his perspective on the impact of AI in the finance industry, emphasizing the need for CFOs to consider its implications on both the enterprise organization and the finance department itself.
CFOTL: Tell us about Phenom … what does this company do, and what are its offerings today?
Athwal: I’ll start off by saying that all of us at Phenom are really passionate about the mission of the company, which is to help a billion people to discover the right work. I would say that most of us are here because we’ve somehow experienced how this hasn’t happened, either for us directly or for people whom we know. This is the reason that I actually joined this company: I saw how it didn’t happen for my dad.
To backtrack and give you a bit of context here, in the late ’60s, my parents emigrated to the UK from India, where my dad had been in the military. He was trained as an engineer in a new, exciting, emerging field at the time: electronics and communications. As he was thinking about his own transition from the military into civilian life, he was in really hot demand in India. There were a bunch of people who were almost literally tripping over each other to hire him, so he assumed that this same dynamic would hold true when he went to the UK.Read More
Well, he gets to the UK, and unfortunately this is not how things panned out at all. Once he got there, he found that he couldn’t get a job or even a response to all of the applications that he was submitting—which makes you wonder what happened. I mean, you went from being this hot commodity to being someone who all of a sudden is basically a non-entity. It was highly unlikely that the technology was different because all of what he had trained on and used was either from the U.S. or from the UK—so this couldn’t really have been the reason.
It’s more likely that what happened is that employers at the time in the UK were using proxies to assess his skills and suitability for the work that they needed to get done. Unfortunately for my dad, he just hadn’t gone to a school that they recognized. He hadn’t worked at any brand that they recognized. And, probably on top of all of this, it could have been that the only Indians whom employers or recruiters knew at the time in the UK were manual factory workers, perhaps with a strong accent. So, all in all, he was just a very unusual candidate for the type of job for which he was applying.
Now, I would say that the right work for my dad at the time would have been to actually do what he was trained to do, loved to do, and had done for years at a very professional level—to the point where people’s lives literally depended on him doing it right. Had the companies in the UK to which he was applying used different kinds of skill assessment tools to figure out whether he was a good fit, I think that he might have wound up in a very different situation, with a life that was very different than what it turned out to be.
So, Phenom’s mission is to change all of this. In plain English, what we do is basically to develop this pattern recognition technology that you can use to match candidates with jobs. You can use it to help employees to identify where their skill gaps are and how they can grow and develop their own careers. You can also look at how skills gaps relate to work that needs to be done.
Let’s look at a hypothetical example of how this works. You take any individual—take me, for instance—and you go and look at my LinkedIn profile. I probably have, I don’t know, 15 to 20 skills listed there. In reality, though, I actually have about 100—like everybody else who does my job. We don’t have all of the others at top-of-mind all of the time, but they are all also sort of essential in getting the job done. What our technology is able to do is to actually infer those skills. It will take what you do, your job title, who you did it for, and how long you did it for, as well as this database that we’ve been building over the past 10 years, and use them all to basically infer the balance of these 100 skills.
We can do the same thing for jobs. Think about a typical job description, with maybe 10 kinds of requirements listed on it. In reality, for a knowledge-based position, there can be anywhere from 50 to 75 actual skills and abilities needed in order to perform this job proficiently. We call these two kinds of inferred skill sets “talent graphs.” What we do for our customers is to pattern-match the two. When we find candidates who have a 75% or better match with these two graphs, we offer them up to employers.
“Embrace failure as a prerequisite for lasting achievements—but always plan to fail fast! When things go awry, don’t automatically shoulder blame. Instead, reflect on what should have been done differently to avoid the setback and disseminate the lessons learned. Keep a learning mind-set and stay resilient because this is what propels breakthrough success.” –Davinder Athwal, CFO, Phenom
Phenom | www.phenom.com | Ambler, PA