Sriram is a young man going places in the corporate world of finance. I am currently co-authoring a book with Sriram that we hope to publish by the end of 2008. Sriram has important things to say about why both hard and soft aspects of leadership and management are required as much today as ever in the competitive business world.
TREVOR: Hi Sriram – can you tell us a little bit about your background, your career and how you came to working in Hong Kong please?
SRIRAM : Hey Trevor, Firstly, I’d like to thank you for interviewing me in your Friend of Simplicity series. To introduce myself - I was born & raised in Chennai (erstwhile Madras) and come from a middle-class South-Indian family with strong southern values (like emphasis on good education, decent career, firm family bonding, deep-rooted commitment to excel and remain contended). I graduated first-class with a degree in Commerce & Accounting from the University of Madras in ’98 and decided to pursue my Chartered Accountancy - guess I was just numerically inclined. I enrolled with a leading firm of Chartered Accountants in Chennai & completed my articled training alongside my ACCA exams. Having successfully qualified in ’02, I was fortunate enough to join PricewaterhouseCoopers, Chennai as a Jr.Officer in their Global Risk Management Solutions (GRMS) Division and was engaged in various risk-assessment / audit & business consulting engagements for almost two-and-half years. I also qualified as a Chartered Secretary & later moved on to join a leading banking & financial services technology company ‘Polaris Software Labs Limited’ in the role of a Business Analyst and was instrumental in developing the functional requirements & specifications for ’Intellect Online’ – an online internet banking product. To gain international exposure & as providence (and timing) would have it, I had the opportunity of joining a diversified retailing / trading group in Hong Kong as their Group Finance & Administration Manager in Sep’05 and have since enjoyed both my life & work in Hong Kong, an exceptionally exciting place.
TREVOR: You are a highly qualified accountant and I know how hard you guys have to work to achieve your qualifications. How do you feel as a qualified accountant about recent high profile financial scandals like Enron / WorldCom etc?
SRIRAM : Well, sadly the reputation of accountants was tarnished & tested during those difficult times and ever since. Basically, accountants are trained to lay emphasis on substance over form when it comes to financial reporting & disclosure but I guess the contrary happened resulting in 'creative accounting' and such high-profile scandals. Actually, you may find the book ‘Conspiracy of Fools’ by Kurt Eichenwald interesting – a book that tells the Enron tale with a cinematic narrative style. I personally feel 'miserable' when such scandals surface primarily because of the bad publicity it brings to the accounting fraternity, which was always respected for its diligence & conservatism – its like people looking at you like a con man instead of custodian, which is really sad.
TREVOR: What do you see as the key financial issues for small businesses?
SRIRAM : Key financial issues for small businesses according to me are:
*Managing working capital for growth / expansion
*Funding (including identifying / evaluating method of funding) new projects
*Managing inventory i.e. ensure optimal inventory levels
*Managing foreign exchange exposure
*Ensuring an optimal capital structure i.e. right mix of debt & equity.
*Prudently investing excess cash & cash-equivalents in income-yielding assets / projects.
*Having a strong balance-sheet & ensuring steady future cash flows (not necessarily profits!) – as the saying goes ‘Sales is vanity, profit is sanity, cash is REALITY’
TREVOR: You and I are co-authoring a book about the hard and soft sides of management. Do you think there is enough emphasis on the softer skills of management in the formal training of accountants?
SRIRAM: Yes, I am really excited about our project & the co-creation experience. It’s been fun, so far. I guess, accountants have been both taught & trained to use their ‘left brain’ more than the ‘‘right brain’ and get too analytical / judgemental about almost everything. Well, you must understand that the professional demands are also such – especially in a controllership / trusteeship function where business accountants & finance managers act as ‘custodians’ of money / wealth for their owners / shareholders & therefore have to wear their ‘prudent-hat’ before a financial / business decision is taken – where the focus is more on the *hard* skills. That being said, anything in excess is not good i.e. an accountant / controller should not ‘stall’ a decision by getting over-critical. Typically, accountants are a conservative flock but things are changing, hopefully for the good. Emphasis (during training) is laid on being a team-player, grooming ones’ interpersonal skills, engaging in dialogue (rather than debate), being proactive (rather than reactive) and honing the softer skills to succeed both personally & professionally.
TREVOR: Compared to me you are a young man in the early stages of what I am sure will be very successful career. What qualities do you look for in leaders in 2008?
SRIRAM: Thanks for reminding me my age Trevor! I believe ‘Age is in the mind’. Having said that, one cannot just sit back & watch time pass by. As Geoffrey Chaucer once remarked “Time & tide wait for no man”. So, there must be a 'purpose' for our existence & that’s where the challenge is – in finding YOUR PURPOSE. Leaders should lead by example and set the ‘tone at the top’. The qualities I look for in leaders are Integrity, Excellence, Enthusiasm, Commitment, Execution, Confidence & Empathy.
TREVOR: Are you excited about the potential for the Indian economy?
SRIRAM: Ofcourse Yes! The whole world is excited and so am I. Despite the fact that there are now a whole host of global issues like the sub-prime credit crisis and mortgage melt-down, soaring inflation, rising oil/gold prices etc…I believe India & China could stay insulated for a while (to a certain degree) due to increasing foreign exchange reserves and a large domestic market / consumption. I therefore think it’s the best time to lure the locals. Nevertheless, there are a few concerns like crawling infrastructure, food & power shortage, low welfare expenditure & lack of political will that could pose a problem for the growth of Indian economy in the short-to-medium term .It would be really interesting to watch the elephant & the dragon dance together in the future – there’s already a new word for that ’CHINDIA’ i.e. China & India!
TREVOR: Do you have plans to visit England in the near future?
SRIRAM: Definitely! I’ve heard so much about England and that makes me want to get there sooner rather than later.