Sunday, May 9, 2010

10 years A-counting

I had dinner with an old friend last night. We caught up with each other's lives over salad and crabs. I updated her with my MBA plans and mentioned that I decided not to enroll in an Accounting pre-MBA course available for incoming students at Darden. As one of my closest friends during our BS Accountancy undergrad years, she said "You shouldn't! You've been doing Accounting for 10 years!" Instinctively and defensively, I started to say, "Of course not!" and then I realized that I spent almost five years in college studying Accounting plus another five years in corporate finance doing Management Accounting. So yes, my love/hate affair with Accounting has been going on for 10 years.

I never thought I'd end up in my career now. I wasn't the most enthusiastic Accounting student during college. In fact, I hated doing debit/credit journal entries and much more memorizing Auditing principles. The one subject that I liked was Management Accounting--a more niche market in the world of Accounting. Lucky for me, I ended up in what to me is the lesser (Accounting) evil.

I still clearly remember how I landed my job now. When I was first offered a spot in the Management Trainee program in my company HR asked me what function I wanted to pursue and I automatically said "Marketing." Ah, the enticing and sexy world of Marketing. Who wouldn't be lured in its glamour? Some Sales managers tried to sell me the perks of the sales job--the free car, gas allowance, meal allowance, incidentals allowance, etc. But I figured I wasn't patient enough to be in Sales. A Finance manager tried to convince me to choose Finance. The promise of a free calculator and Excel training weren't enough to sway me. So Marketing it was. I spent a good nine months as Assistant Brand Manager. Yes, it was fun, exciting and sexy. But the type A in me was looking for the method amidst the chaos. I yearned for something more concrete than "instinct" and "gut feel."

I moved on to my Finance (Management Accounting) stint and that's where the ball hit home. Corny and disappointing as it felt to me then, I was home. The best part was I felt that I got the best of both worlds as a finance business partner for Marketing. I satiated my need for order and method by doing Management Accounting work. But at the same time, I pursued my inclination for Marketing by being the business partner for Marketers. Essentially, I was the translator of Marketing's plans into viable business cases. For me to be an effective business partner, I had to speak Marketing and Sales language. So I was still actively participating in idea and insights generation but at the same time reminding my team of the financial implications of our decisions. So yes, it was the best of both worlds.

What made me stay and love my job? It wasn't the perks or the power and authority a finance manager holds. It's not an obsession with numbers. But the story behind the numbers. When people look at the small black and white Excel columns filled with seemingly senseless numbers, they probably see the number glare--the low or high sales growth, the so-so profitability, the high overheads, blah, blah. No argument there, b.o.r.i.n.g. What I do see is the story behind those seemingly senseless numbers. A growth figure is not conclusively high or low. It's the perspective and context of it. It might look low but you have to ask, "What happened in the past year?" "Was there a big sales upsurge not present this year hence an incomparable sales offtake?" If sales growth is so high, it doesn't automatically mean that the company is doing just great. "What is the market growth?" "Is the company growing alongside the market and competitors?" You get the message.

So to me, numbers are not just numbers. They have (believe it or not), very interesting stories behind them. I even came across an abnormally high sales month and no one knew the reason why. All other factors were normal except the unusually cold weather. So, my financial commentary read, "High sales is attributed to cold weather." Shoot me.

You know how painters feel when they see a blank canvass or what architects see when they see a barren piece of land? Painters see their masterpieces while architects see skyscrapers. I, on the other hand, look at plain old boring numbers and investigate the stories behind them. Sometimes I feel like a storyteller or a writer. It does make the work more interesting.

So that's me after 10 years of Accounting. Will there be 10 years more to add to this? Or five? Or none? I don't know. Let's see how the numbers add up. For now, it's 10 years and (a) counting...

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