Current Gig: Finance Director: India Controller at Amazon India
One word that best describes how you work: Teamwork
One quote that you live by: Work hard but work smarter
Favorite Book / Movie: Swadesh
Education: Chartered Accountancy (1999), CPA - Singapore (2009)
1. How would you like to introduce yourself to our community?
Hi, I'm Akhlesh Chowla - a Chartered Accountant for 19 years with experience across geographies like Singapore, Australia, and Europe in the profession and the industry.
2. What prompted you to choose CA course and a brief about the journey so far?
I was born and initially, brought up in Bombay and then moved to Delhi. I have done my major schooling from Delhi and did my graduation from Delhi University. As I was from a business family, so the urge to do something on my own was there inherently. My father perhaps realized I was ambitious and suggested I should study to be a CA. I gave my CA foundation as it was called then and I cleared, rest, as they say, is history.
In the 19 years, I have worked across cities in India and overseas. Having worked in public accounting for a big part of my career I wanted to broaden my horizons which is why I have moved to the industry and the CA qualification gives one the ability to be able to do that. During the journey, I was able to develop industry specialization in addition to my domain knowledge. CA is probably one of the few professions which provide an opportunity to do so.
3. What is the most challenging thing you faced in your current role?
I am part of an extremely fast-paced industry and environment, it is difficult to say what the most challenging thing is because every day it's a new and exciting challenge. My colleagues are really smart people and perhaps the challenge of being able to keep pace with them excites me the most.
4. What is your favorite stress buster?
I live here in Bangalore and my family is in Mumbai. So, I get little family time. Therefore, spending time with the family becomes my biggest stress buster. Also, I love sports. I am an ardent fan of football (Manchester United) and cricket until recently have been playing cricket regularly but playing and watching sport is also a stress buster.
5. What's your secret hack of making office hours super productive?
There is a lot of multitasking that goes into the work. So, I have set aside time for me every morning as I come into work to think through what the rest of the day will look like and also think through the priorities for the day. I prepare a to-do list to control my tasks throughout the day. There are hundreds of things happening around you and it is important to assess which one you need to dive into.
Also, for the emails, I have a fixed schedule (Like once in the morning and once in the late afternoon) where I check email and respond to them. Moreover, another thing that I follow religiously, I do not work on the weekends. That helps me to hone my focus on workdays, as I have a limited amount of time to complete all my tasks.
6. What is your leadership that you follow while working with juniors and other teams?
In my opinion, while delegating the work there must be a perfect balance of ownership and responsibility. The person concerned should feel that he has the necessary ownership/ powers with respect to the project and similarly, he is the one accountable for its success and failure.
7. What is the best professional advice that you've ever received?
My boss who I also consider my guru always told me to 'do the right thing'. I have always tried to follow that advice and it's not always clear what the right thing is but it helps me get focused. Here I would add that, the term 'right thing' can be different for different people so one needs to sit down and think clearly - what is the right thing for you?
Another thing to consider here is that, whenever you take the decision, you should also know how to take the responsibility for the consequences that come along. Expect for the best but prepare for the worst.
8. How much has the finance function changed in terms of digitization so far as compared to last decade?
The finance function has changed tremendously. Clearly, with business models becoming more complex and scale of businesses increasing at a fast pace it is impossible to keep up without focusing on digitization. There is an increased focus on efficiencies, reduced error rates, scalability etc. and there are many advantages to digitization. The faster we align with this new reality the better it will be.
9. Through the course of your 19 years' plus experience, what have been your key learnings?
I have realized that there is no stupid question. One is not expected to know everything and not asking the basic questions will only be detrimental. The other learning I have is that whatever problem/challenge you are facing, someone else has already faced this and overcome it. Do your research well and you will find a solution.
Last but not the least is that the devil is in the detail. One must deep dive and understand the root cause of the problem. Once you do that it becomes pretty clear on what the action plan should be.
10. Lastly, what will be your career advice for the budding finance professionals who aspire to achieve great heights in their career?
Whatever you choose to do in your career, it is not a sprint; it is a marathon. In a marathon, you can fall but you also have the chance to make a comeback. Generally, a candidate becomes a CA when he is 23-24 and he has 35-40 years of career ahead of him. Therefore, be patient, work hard and never stop learning. As you start working in the profession, you would come across a lot of new things, there I would say you need to dive deep and learn it thoroughly.
Also, in the initial years, you have the time and opportunity to take risks and try new things - you need not be afraid of things like what will happen if I keep doing this work.
So, just keep doing what you really love.