Sangeeta Sumesh is a senior finance professional and currently an Independent Director in Corporates as “The Gain Enabler”, she works as a high-performance business coach and advisor, blending her 25 years of experience in finance along with coaching skills, that results in accelerated business growth. Sangeeta is also a best-selling author and professional speaker.
Her mission is to enable, empower & elevate businesses & individuals with a purpose to serve Entrepreneurs, Leaders & teams to shine and succeed.
Sangeeta holds CA and CMA designations, a BCom, as well as an executive education in organisational leadership from Harvard Business School. She is based out of Chennai, India
Key Quotes from the Episode:
[On leadership] “So I think you need to first set out a vision, a path for yourself. What is it that you really want to do? What is more meaningful to you? What is satisfying for you? Because once you are able to identify that, then you know, you obviously work around it. Whichever field that you’re in.” [6:31]
[On values] “What I believe is if you need to be a finance leader or you want to sharpen your leadership skills, I think leadership is all about values, the kind of values that resonate with you as an individual.” [7:44]
[On life advice] “So what he told me was, do not hold the hot potato in your hands. Imagine throwing a hot potato on to you. You’re not going to be holding it, you’re going to be passing it on. So anything just ensure you’re not holding on too much to it. So just let it go and do what is required.” [19:28]
Key Points from the Episode:
- Transitioning from an executive CFO role towards an entrepreneurial path
- Deconstructing Leadership and values in a memorable way
- What possessed her to write a thriller book as well as other finance books
- Managing yourself, the most important thing we need to be doing as a modern finance professional
Stamped Show Notes
[02:51] Sangeeta gives a quick introduction to her career
[04:47] Sangeeta shares what drove her to jump from an executive CFO role towards an entrepreneurial path
[06:31] Sangeeta gives tips on how we can effectively scale within our finance work or in leadership roles
[07:42] Sangeeta talks about the most important thing we need to be doing now to be a more modern finance professional and accountant
[11:05] Sangeeta explains how she became an accidental author & why she wrote a thriller
[14:39] Sangeeta shares what she wishes she could’ve done differently in her career
[16:26] Sangeeta talks what’s exciting in her new avatar
[17.27] Sangeeta speaks about the common challenges that finance professionals face in their career growth
[19:23] Sangeeta mentions the best advice she has ever received
[20:15] Resources that Sangeeta recommends
[21:46] Sangeeta gives her parting thoughts on career growth for the audience
A Glance at the Unknown: Sometimes Answers to Life Come from Unusual Sources Paperback – March 3, 2017 by Sangeeta Shankaran Sumesh (Author)
What the Finance: Easy-to-learn finance practices for entrepreneurs who want to achieve high performance Paperback – April 11, 2019 by Sangeeta Shankaran Sumesh (Author)
Get High: How to coach yourself for high performance in your work Paperback – September 10, 2020 by Sangeeta Shankaran Sumesh (Author)
Where’s the Moolah?: Financial Growth Hacking for Business Profitability Kindle Edition by Sangeeta Shankaran Sumesh (Author)
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell Hardcover – April 16, 2019 by Eric Schmidt (Author), Jonathan Rosenberg (Author), Alan Eagle (Author)
Connect with today’s guest:
[00:00:30] Andrew: Hi everyone. And welcome to this week. Strengthen the numbers show and hope you’re having a good week so far. And we can add to it by sharing with you. Today’s gas mentor and actually Sangeeta is quite well known in accounting and finance circles.
[00:00:47] Having gone from being an executive CFO to a best-selling author and professional speaker and coach. one thing that I love when I chat with Sangeeta is her energy. And she also brings that to this interview. We’ve done together.
[00:01:01] Because of that, we cover so much in sorts of short period of time. Some of the topics we actually do discuss are how she transitioned from an executive CFO role to the entrepreneurial path she’s on now. And I think that gives a tip for anyone in finance, regardless of level or seniority, how you could also get onto the entrepreneurial path. Sangeeta does an amazing job as well. Deconstructing leadership, what good leadership is.
[00:01:25] And also our values are in a very memorable way. So literally it has great value in that. Also we discuss what possessed her to actually write a thriller as well as published some other of her finance books and Sangeeta also gets her opinion on what we need to be doing to be considered a modern finance.
[00:01:45] so just want to say thanks to Sangeeta for making herself available for the interview and I’m coming on our show, being a great guest mentor. And if you want to know more about Sangeeta,
[00:01:54] some of her key quotes, I timestamped show notes as well as a full transcript of our conversation. You can find out more at sit and sitnshow.com.
[00:02:03] and as always, really appreciate you tuning in to our show and also recommending it to friends and colleagues. You can subscribe on all the major platforms, iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify, and Amazon music. And I think that’s enough for me for now. So without further ado, over to Sangeeta and the show. So Sangeeta, welcome to the show!
[00:02:27] Sangeeta: Thank you so much, Andrew. It’s awesome to be part of the show.
[00:02:30] Andrew: Hey, it’s awesome to have you. And by the way, I am really excited to share your energy and some of your really great insights with our audience. Some might already know you, but before we get to that part of the show, would you mind maybe giving a brief introduction on your career and how you got to where you you get to today?
[00:02:46] Sangeeta: Sure. So let me break it into three phases. The first is a student. My parents actually wanted me to take in medicine because my granddad was a very famous doctor locally, but I didn’t want to take science because I had quite an aversion to physics. Yeah, so that kind of made me, by the process of elimination, I jumped into commerce and finance and accounting.
[00:03:07] So that’s where I got started. And then of course, moved on to the corporate once I completed my chartered accountancy and the cost accountant. So I moved onto the corporate. I started with PricewaterhouseCoopers where I got trained and then I moved to Alstom, the French multi-national. And then I was a brief stint with Tupperware.
[00:03:29] I got married. I moved continents. I went to South Africa. I went back to PwC again, and I was there for about eight years. Then decided to relocate back home to India. So came back, joined the French multinational Thales. Brief stint with Lebara and the last decade with Dun & Bradstreet as a CFO and executive director.
[00:03:53] So that was the second phase. And my third phase now is as a kind of an entrepreneur, I would say, where I’m a business and leadership coach. I’m also like, a best-selling author and a professional speaker. So that is a brief of my journey so far.
[00:04:12] Andrew: Yeah, there’s a lot in there. And I think some of our listeners are thinking, oh my God. So you’ve moved between continents, you’ve held senior executive finance roles, and then you took the plunge to become an entrepreneur, as well as best-selling author and an awesome speaker as well. I have to say, Sangeeta.
[00:04:27] So what sort of drove you to jump from the relative safety of, say an executive CFO role? Because I can imagine, a CFO was quite in demand, a very important job. What made you seek an entrepreneurial path towards what you’re doing now?
[00:04:43] Sangeeta: Great question. So the thing is I have about 25 plus years in being in the corporate. So just got me thinking. I said, if I can contribute to the success of one organization, how can I scale myself as an individual? How can I create more impact and, reach out to more businesses, more individuals? And see how I can enable them to grow.
[00:05:02] This thought that was in my head for quite some time. And I was wondering, how do I go about the entire thing? And that’s when I chanced upon coaching. I got myself credentialed from International Coach Federation. I completed my PCC, which is a Professional Credentialed Coach. Then I thought, how can I integrate the two?
[00:05:19] And that’s when I said, yes, this is what I really want to do because it resonated a lot with my personal values and something a lot more meaningful to me as an individual. So that’s what kept me going to jump into this space.
[00:05:32] Andrew: It’s interesting you’ve managed to balance something that played to your own interests, your own strengths, what resonated with you, but also allowed you to scale your impact. And I know you made that jump to the coaching, but I even think for some of our listeners in finance world at the moment, I think there’s really important essence in there because I think in our roles, we should all be questioning, what are my strengths? What are my interests? Does this role give me that? And if it does, how can I then scale my impact across more outcomes, whether that be cross other teams, my own team. Across an organization. Your organization.
[00:06:04] Even with this podcast, these conversations, rather than you and me just share in this conversation with each other, and now we’re sharing it with people in 170 plus countries. So that’s scaling, and I think that allows us to make a bigger impact.
[00:06:16] Do you have any sort of tips on your experience, Sangeeta, on how we can also effectively scale within our finance work or even in leadership roles?
[00:06:27] Sangeeta: So I think you need to first set out a vision, a path for yourself. What is it that you really want to do? What is more meaningful to you? What is satisfying for you? Because once you are able to identify that, then you know, you obviously work around it. Whichever field that you’re in.
[00:06:43] Andrew: I think so. Yeah.
[00:06:44] Sangeeta: So the key is to set yourself a goal and work towards it.
[00:06:49] Andrew: I suppose, there’s a bit of a journey and a process there as well. You probably won’t get it right all the time, but you learn about it and you can readjust. I guess it, how do you say, like doing the extra certifications and trainings away from the core finance training you’d done and the experiences you had as well in your career, probably it was a lot more work because it’s not easy. It just doesn’t happen, does it?
[00:07:09] Sangeeta: Yeah, it doesn’t. But if you have the interest, I think that’s what drives you, the interest. The inclination to do more.
[00:07:15] Andrew: Yeah, no I completely agree with you. I look, you touched on the high-performance coaching. I loved your session to Finex. How we can be better modern accountants, modern finance professionals, better leaders.
[00:07:26] I don’t know where to start in terms of my favorite insight from that. So I would ask you is what you find is the most important thing we need to be doing now to be a more modern finance professional and accountant?
[00:07:38] Sangeeta: Yes, that’s a very great question. What I believe is if you need to be a finance leader or you want to sharpen your leadership skills, I think leadership is all about values, the kind of values that resonate with you as an individual. So I’m an acronym person and I love to share acronyms simply because.
[00:07:56] Andrew: You are actually amongst the best, Sangeeta. Your acronyms are awesome.
[00:07:59] Sangeeta: Thank you. Thank you so much. So it’s simply because the recall value is better and you can remember it a lot easier. So if values were an acronym, what would that look like? So I would say V is the vision for the future, so what is it that you want to plan for your path ahead.
[00:08:14] So the, V is for the vision. A is adaptability with integrity, because as a leader, integrity is very key. And at the same time, you must be able to adapt yourself to any kind of challenges, any kind of changes. So that becomes very vital. L is to lead with responsibility, because if you’re a leader, you have so much responsibility. So it’s very important to lead with responsibility and you are actually showing the path to the team. U stands for being unbiased. And at the same time
[00:08:46] Andrew: Yeah, I tell ya, it’s a tough one.
[00:08:50] Sangeeta: Yeah, yes. Yeah. I know we all come with biases, but then yeah. But if we can become a little more aware on the biases, yes then, we can try and be unbiased as much as possible. And at the same time as a leader, you need to uplift, right? Uplift your team members because that’s what a leader does.
[00:09:08] E is to empower, you empower your team members, you need to inspire them. Yes. So that the best in them comes out. And it actually creates a win-win. You win as a leader. And of course the team also wins. So E is to empower. And S is to serve. You serve your people. That’s where the concept of servant leadership is becoming very popular. Serve and you need to build trust.
[00:09:33] So that’s very important to be a successful leader. The kind of values that you bring along. So this is the values that I think resonate as a leader. Feel free to pick whatever you think is required for you. So that’s what I wanted to share.
[00:09:50] Andrew: Yeah, I think that’s just a great list. I think if those listening in today, if they could get towards all of those on that list, I think you’d be a pretty good leader if you’re ticking all those boxes. Thanks for sharing. That’s an awesome one.
[00:10:01] By the way, do you have a favorite part of the values? What are those that you’d like more?
[00:10:04] Sangeeta: I think all of them are important, but having said that, I think a leader needs to lead, that’s why you call them leader. Yeah. So I think the leader needs to show the way because the culture whatever, it shows from the top. So you need to set the right tone as a leader.
[00:10:20] Andrew: You can’t really call yourself a leader if you don’t have followers. I think that is the general classification of being a leader, so people say like, how do I define my leadership? And it’s all those acronyms within values they’re great sounding things. But how would you measure?
[00:10:31] I actually think you measure it by, if you’re doing those things, I reckon you’ll see the number of people following you and buying into what you’re doing. Increasing.
[00:10:39] But thanks for sharing that, Sangeeta. By the way, you did touch on it being an author, best selling author. In finance and accounting we actually, if you think about our books, they’re not generally the most exciting. They’re a bit dry.
[00:10:51] I have to say I’ve written a couple of myself, but what I would say is that you wrote a thriller, right? Okay. So what possessed you to write a thriller?
[00:11:00] Sangeeta: I’m an accidental author. I never had plans to write. I was on a family vacation to Cambodia. I had visited The Killing Fields and something touched in me, because when I heard about the mass genocide in Cambodia from 1970 to 74, it just got me thinking what happens if man becomes so cruel.
[00:11:18] It just had me thinking and unknowingly, weave the story in my head and I said, okay, what if I write about it? And that’s how the whole thing started. So when I had come out with this book, it’s called A Glance at the Unknown. And when I started telling people that, Hey, I’ve written this book. Everybody assumed it to be a finance book because, they said, you’re the CFO and we want to find out, where is the finance book. So since quite a few people who are asking me and like you said, I said, there are a number of books in finance and it’s quite dry, so I didn’t want to write another finance book but then since so many friends asked me, I started realizing that there are quite a few people who do not know finance. They’re very good technically, but then, they’re not really aware much on finance. So I said, how can I help people out there? So that’s when the idea of What The Finance WTF, came about to me and like you said, I didn’t want to make it dry.
[00:12:10] So what I did is I needed like a very practical handbook. So what are the common challenges that businesses face and what can they do to overcome it. So it could be from your revenue management, your cash management, your spend management, so the different aspects, the compliances and everything.
[00:12:27] So this is what I bundled up and it’s a very practical. So the practical things, what they can do, and I have also interviewed some of these successful entrepreneurs, on their learnings, the mistakes that they did so that, everybody else don’t have to do the same sort of mistakes. So I have made it as interesting as possible, I would say.
[00:12:46] I think the book has been doing quite well and the book is now what, four or five years old. And yet it’s still doing pretty well. And that became a bestseller as well. So I’m hoping a lot of people are benefited and yes, quite a few strangers wrote into me saying that they did enjoy the books. So it’s definitely a very feel-good factor.
[00:13:07] Andrew: Yeah, I could definitely second that, Sangeeta.
[00:13:10] Sangeeta: Yeah, so then that led me to writing Get High, which is on the high-performance, how to coachyourself for high performance. It’s an activity-based book and my latest book, which just got released, it’s called Where’s the Moolah? Moolah means money. So during these unprecedented times, what can businesses actually do to grow themselves financially is what the book is about.
[00:13:32] So I made it as a business wheel to see how businesses can actually pivot on finance. How can each business function contribute to the success of the business is what this book is about.
[00:13:43] Andrew: That’s fantastic and great timing cause I know like we’ve had epidemics and pandemics in certain areas we’ve emerged from, but I suppose as a world, as a planet, I think a lot of us are in similar choppy waters. Maybe different boats, but similar choppy waters. So I think you’ve got a really good shot with reaching a lot of people with this one.
[00:14:00] And we were just talking a bit off air about your launch event last night. So that went pretty well and it was already well received. So that’s a good sign for the future.
[00:14:07] Sangeeta: Yes. Thank you.
[00:14:08] Andrew: One of my favorite things discussing is actually mistakes.
[00:14:11] Cause you know, you said in your book there that you interviewed some entrepreneurs and you from there to hard won lessons things that made mistakes on. I think that’s a very effective way of learning. Particularly because it saves the rest of us a lot of time going down, same old battles, or at least if we do our eyes are a bit wider open. Was there anything that sort of comes to mind that you probably wish you might’ve done slightly differently earlier in your career, or even later on when you embarked on the coaching and the authoring?
[00:14:34] Sangeeta: What could I have done differently is I could have started my coaching journey a lot before and not just.
[00:14:44] Andrew: Oh, dear. Yeah,
[00:14:45] Sangeeta: No but I would also tell you what I think I did. I wasn’t really sure this is what I wanted to do. So what I also did is for the last, I think, five years, I managed my full time role as a CFO. And I was also working parallely as a coach, as a speaker, as an author because yeah. So I wanted to know more, is this something I really want to do? Will I be able to last those interests, over a long period of time. So these were some, like a check and balance that I was having for my own self
[00:15:17] Andrew: Yeah, it just resonates with me because we’ve had accountants, like in our DNA. We are not going to just jump from one to the other. We are going to have to dip our foot in first, and then test the waters out. And I say, that resonates with the people who’ve been on a similar journey, but also you didn’t just suddenly one day stop being a CFO and go into high-performance coaching or do the book authoring. It was a gradual process of figuring out if that was going to work for you and if it’s something you liked.
[00:15:41] Sangeeta: Yes, absolutely. I think finance professionals would know that is what is taking calculated risks.
[00:15:48] Andrew: Following our own advice. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I wouldn’t say we’re always the best at following our own advice. We’re very good at giving it to the business and entrepreneurs and so on. But following that sometimes ourself would probably be a bit slow. So that’s where I thought you were going like. Oh, that’s awesome but thanks for sharing that one Sangeeta. I think it normalizes it for folks, just that feeling and that it is possible to do that. Just need to allocate the time and build towards it and keep putting in the time. So appreciate you sharing that.
[00:16:17] I was also curious to know, like you’ve had a lot going on but is there anything else exciting you at the moment?
[00:16:22] Sangeeta: Oh, yes. I am very pretty excited about the fact that I’m able to contribute, working with different corporate leaders and entrepreneurs because I enable high-performance and enhance the financial growth. Like I told you, when I started off, I wanted to see how can I impact as many people as possible.
[00:16:39] I’m really going towards my goal, working with many different people to see how I can really make them realize their own potential, be their individual potential or the potential of the business. More than anything else it’s a feel-good thing and extremely self satisfying moments for me.
[00:16:55] So every time a client says, I managed to complete this or when they express their gratitude or thanks to me, I think there’s nothing that can make you feel even better because I feel that this is my purpose. So I feel very rewarding mentally and satisfied.
[00:17:14] Andrew: Yeah. That’s really great. And it’s wonderful that they’re appreciating you as well. And I know we’ve known each other in a short time, but you bring great energy, Sangeeta and that definitely comes across. So I’m not surprised.
[00:17:24] Sangeeta: Yes. Andrew, this is something been exciting for me to work as a coach with a lot of finance professionals. And what I have noticed is some of the common challenges that seem to be standing out, especially for finance professionals is the transition. They want to transition as a CFO or as a board director, and then they grappling around what they need to do.
[00:17:45] So a lot of them will come and like to work with me on that simply because I’ve been a CFO and I’m also currently an independent director with a listed company here. So theywant to know how they need to shape themselves better to jump into this transition. So that’s one common challenge that I’ve noticed and also the communication. The communication skills. In most finance people.
[00:18:06] Yes. The non-finance people look at finance people as being grumpy. I’m sorry.
[00:18:12] Andrew: Yeah. Actually, no, in fairness. Yeah. I’ve got a few stereotypes in my head.
[00:18:16] Sangeeta: Exactly. So we just wish, people to be a little more communicative and be a lot more friendly. And the third thing that I’ve noticed common is managing emotions. Because emotions play such a key role in whatever role that you’re playing in.
[00:18:29] It’s knowing how to manage yourself better projects you as a much better leader. I thought I’d just highlight because these are some common, it’s not just one or two people who come to me with this, there have been quite a few people having these similar challenges. And I thought it would be good to highlight this, so that people can work around areas. Yeah.
[00:18:48] Andrew: Given that finance is quite global now I can actually say they’re very similar what folks come to me with as well, Sangeeta. So I think our audience could definitely identify with those. I also like your last point as well as like, how can you be credibly expected to lead others, if you can’t lead yourself and manage yourself?
[00:19:05] Sangeeta: Absolutely.
[00:19:06] Andrew: Now I do have some rapid fire questions for you. So this is my favorite question, but I always get worried that there’s probably loads of bits of advice out there that you’ve received over the years. But I’m curious. What’s been the best bit of advice you’ve ever received?
[00:19:18] Sangeeta: Oh, yes. So this is from one of our very senior finance professionals. So what he told me was, do not hold the hot potato in your hands. Imagine someone is throwing a hot potato on to you. You’re not going to be holding it, you’re going to be passing it on. So anything just ensure you’re not holding on too much to it. So just let it go and do what is required. I have always held this advice as close to me as possible because it’s been very useful to me in my career.
[00:19:48] Andrew: I appreciate you sharing that. I think our listeners had a few hot potatoes in their careers as well. So don’t hold onto them too long, folks, I think is the message here. And then I suppose in terms of yourself, Sangeeta, are there any go-to resources. Obviously, I’d love to include your books in the show notes, but are there any sort of go-to resources that you like reading or documentaries or anything you’d like reviewing that you go to?
[00:20:10] Sangeeta: Yeah. One of my favorite books has been the Trillion Dollar Coach. It’s about the late Bill Campbell, who coached many of the leaders in the Silicon Valley. That book has amazing stuff on leadership. So whoever wants to sharpen their skills on their leadership and want to lead and manage teams better I would highly recommend them to read this book.
[00:20:31] It’s amazing. And it has tons of great insights on leadership. So that would be a go-to book for the leaders.
[00:20:40] Andrew: Yeah. Love those practical books. Stuff that really happened in real life and yeah, Silicon Valley, I’m always curious how that sprouted up. That’s going on my reading list, Sangeeta. Thanks for that recommendation. And if most of our audience wish to connect with you and continue the conversation, where’s the best place to find you at?
[00:20:56] Sangeeta: I’m on social media. They can find me as The Gain Enabler. The best place would be LinkedIn, of course. Sangeeta Sumesh The Gain Enabler is my LinkedIn handle and I’m also there on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. So they can just look up as The Gain Enabler and they will find me.
[00:21:14] Andrew: Awesome. So those links will go into our show notes as well. Sangeeta you even shared fantastic advice. I loved your journey, how you shared so much of how you made your decisions to move into high-performance coaching and also as well as your story about the book authoring, as well because I think I’ve read a statistic somewhere. It’s 80% of people want to write a book and only 2% ever do and you’ve done it a few times so there’s probably even a smaller percentage of doing that. So awesome stuff. But before we bid you adieu, is there any sort of parting thoughts you could share with our audience?
[00:21:42] Sangeeta: What I would like to say is, there are plenty of opportunities for finance professionals. So if I were to broadly classify them, one is you could go and find your niche, a niche in finance. If that’s something you’d like to pick. You could specialize in your international accounting standards or it could be taxation if it’s something that you like or compliance, or maybe even corporate governance. A niche for yourself, that could be one way.
[00:22:06] Or what you could also do is to see how you can supplement your finance skills with another skill. Probably you’re too good at tech. Finance and tech is a great combination.
[00:22:16] Andrew: Yes.
[00:22:18] Sangeeta: Or it could even be finance, with sales & marketing or finance and legal, or even finance and HR. I would like to just quote this from the book, Trillion Dollar Coach. The people are the best asset that you have. So I think by combining this, you become so powerful to manage both finance and your people.
[00:22:37] So that could be a great strategy as well. So I could go in for a niche in finance or see how you could supplement yourself with some other skill so that, you’re able to grow better in your career is what I would like to share here.
[00:22:52] Andrew: Yeah. That’s great advice. I love it. Like having that niche, that appreciation or niche where you’re really awesome at or just having that skill is your extra. It’s that little bit of difference. I love it.
[00:23:01] Sangeeta, thanks for being such a great guest mentor on Strength in The Numbers today and coming on the show.
[00:23:05] Sangeeta: Thank you too, Andrew. I enjoyed the conversation as much as you did. So thank you so much once again for having me.