An Audit Officer’s Journey Towards Becoming A Business Partner

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Many finance professionals are aiming to become business partners these days. However, this role is different from most finance roles making the journey from a chartered accountant to a business partner a challenging one. A great way to better understand how to get there is to learn from others. That is why I am today launching a new series titled “Profiles in Business Partnering”! 

This series will feature interviews with finance professionals who talk about their career path to landing a business partner role. Many of them will also share examples of what they did afterward to make them successful. Some interviews will tackle specific topics like how to create a stand-out resume for a business partner role or shine at the interview stage. Others will feature full career journeys. 

Today we kick off the series with an interview with Rajul Kambli, a senior finance leader with experience from across the world. I sincerely hope you will enjoy his story and take many learnings from it. 

Let us turn it over to Rajul 

Please tell us about your career journey so far 

My journey started in 1996 as an audit officer and now I am a Senior finance leader, with 19 years+ post-qualification experience, with assignments in Finance Controllership, Transformation, and Change Management. I had the opportunity to work in various geographies of Indian Sub-Continent, Middle East & Asia, and the United States. 

I have been in leadership roles since 2008 with Schlumberger to lead the transition of AP outsourcing of 18 countries in scope for APAC and Middle East countries. Then I moved to be a finance controller for various verticals in Iran and Indian Sub- Continent. 

As a finance controller, I was recognized for successfully partnering with Operations and Sales and was recommended to be part of a Global Transformation team in Houston, the US in 2015. The team should handle the key role of change management for finance and non-finance stakeholders to deploy a new SAP platform. 

Later, I become a Business Insight Manager and interacted with Executive Management to design and maintain vital business reports. It was an important role in integrating data from multiple ERP systems to enhance decision-making with real-time data. 

When did you first hear about the term business partnering? 

In the later part of 2010, when I was offered the position of Finance Controller in Tehran, Iran. Schlumberger had emphasized the role of the business partner in our induction. These were the early days when Schlumberger was carving out this role. The emphasis was on influencing the performance metrics of the business moving on from the siloed role of only publishing cashflow and profitability etc. 

Was it before or after you had actually done business partnering/worked as a business partner? 

It was about 6 months before I took the position as a business partner I heard about this concept in the making. 

Could you describe in simple terms what business partnering means to you? 

Firstly, it is moving out of the comfort of reporting the numbers at the month-end and being passive. More so though it is coming out of the silo of Finance to spend time on understanding the business and its core drivers. It is engaging with other stakeholders including operations and supply chain daily and influencing decisions whereby moving overall performance metrics in the right direction. 

The approach is not only to be a scorecard keeper but a driving force to create bottom-line results. 

Here is one example from my career of business partnering in action that was appreciated immediately by our country head of operations. 

Three weeks after I took over as finance controller in January 2012 in Mumbai one of the compressors on the drilling failed and required immediate attention. The quote for the repair was not much but the third-party vendor declined to attend since a small invoice of $20k was pending payment for about 90 days. 

It was brought to my attention in my daily 30-minute engagement with our location manager. The accounts payable team had communicated that the payment cannot be made since the invoice was not traceable or received. All this delay could potentially impact our work on the rig with the vendor being adamant not to proceed with the work. 

It would have taken time for us to investigate the details so instead, I recommended getting a quote from the vendor for the new job and immediately approve an advance payment. I had the authority to do it, however, it was a big EXCEPTION at Schlumberger which had a policy of payment after 45 days of receipt of service or goods only. 

Instead of incurring downtime on the rig due to the incident the vendor now began the work immediately and the decision to approve the payment helped me to win the confidence of line management. Therefore, I see the business partner role to understand the impact on the business, positive and negative, and provide decision support to influence the outcome positively. 

What do you think it takes for an accountant to become a business partner? 

Being a business partner certainly calls for more than just the technical skills of an accountant. An accounting mindset most often focuses on booking the entries and publishing numbers. However, that is a very passive approach that does little to drive performance. 

To be a business partner one needs to come out of their functional silos, be ready to take a risk, and open to understanding the core business drivers. Collaboration and continuous engagement are two critical elements from my personal experience that can go a long way in being a very effective business partner. 

In fact, continuous engagement can surprise us as to how we can contribute promptly even when we would not have thought about it at all. The above example of making a payment to a vendor through advance payment and putting back the operations on track was from a daily engagement meeting. Most typical finance people would assume operations would ensure that the vendor re-submits the invoice, and we follow the standard policy of making the payment only after the invoice was received. 

Can you give some practical examples that helped you develop into a business partner? 

One example is what I learned from challenging the “status quo”. 

When I arrived in India from Iran, I was told the average daily sales outstanding (DSO) in India is about 102 days. In my third month, after I was acclimatized enough, while I had the history for the last 2 years, I could see, that the average DSO indeed had been in the range on about 100 days. While the contractual terms with the client were only 30 days after the invoice was received by them. 

I took this up with our line manager considering it slowed down our cash inflow and was assumed to be normal. We did a deep dive on the granular steps below which constituted the overall invoicing process. 

  1. Average days it took our engineer to create a job ticket after the job was done
  2. Days it took to get the job signed from the well site witness
  3. Days it took to receive the service ticket from the rig to land location
  4. The time it took for the local client representative to countersign before it could be invoiced
  5. The time it took to key into the system and get approved for revenue booking
  6. Consolidating and summarizing the invoice and dispatching to the client 

When the above details were plotted for the last six months, we realized that the client representative on average was taking 20 days for turning around the service orders. This was one of the major causes of delays since he would consolidate and approve in one go. This had a big impact on our invoicing process and effectively our cash flow. 

Additionally, there was some re-alignment in the process from steps 1 and steps 5. After addressing the internal inefficiencies and agreeing with the client for a quicker turnaround, we improved the DSO by 22 days overall. This was not possible without “challenging the status quo” and collaborating with the operations and invoicing team. 

Do you have any final piece of advice for accountants wanting to become business partners? 

The path to being a business partner is an evolution and not a revolution. Those in the early stage and planning to move into this role should factor in that learning about the business is key. As accountants, it is required to come out of their passive role at the month-end and engage with all business stakeholders. 

Underscore the areas where improvement can be driven with your expertise. Once you learn you will build credibility and with the credibility you are able to influence. 

Speaking the language that is common to them brings a sense of belonging. I will give this specific example, which helped me to blend with my operations/line managers. 

Earlier, whenever a provision was taken against revenue the finance function would refer to it casually as “tool failure on the rig”. However, once, I started attending the morning huddles and started addressing it with names like “tool failure on Aban 2, Sampling job on Discoverer” the line managers could discuss many things casually with me with a more open and welcoming attitude. 

A two-decade-long journey 

What a great story and journey from Rajul! Many practical examples were shared of Finance by coming out of its silo can have a profound impact on the business. Considering these examples suddenly it seems very down to earth to succeed as a business partner. What were your main takeaways from Rajul’s story? Do you have a similar story that you would like to contribute? If yes, send me a message to get in touch and let us discuss. 

Business partnering is indeed simple to understand and once you accept to come out of your comfort zone it also becomes easy to do. Rajul’s story is a fantastic example of that. So get out of the comfort zone this week and start or accelerate your journey towards becoming a business partner!

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This was the first article in the series “Profiles in Business Partnering”. Together with the series “Becoming a Business Partner” there is a lot more content coming. Do not forget to subscribe to this newsletter to avoid missing a beat!

Here you can read previous articles in the series “Becoming a Business Partner”.

The Accountants Journey Towards Becoming A Business Partner Unlocked

Your Career Path From Chartered Accountant To Business Partner Defined

If you want to become a better business partner you should consider taking our online course “Business Partnering Explained – Value Creation Unlocked” to get a better handle on the role. It’s accredited for 5.5 CPD hours.

You can read a lot more articles about FP&A, Business Partnering, and Finance Transformation below. It all start’s with “Introducing The Finance Transformation Nine Box” where you set the ambition for your transformation. You should join the Finance Business Partner Forum which is part of the Business Partnering Institute’s online community where we will continue to discuss this topic and you can click here to follow me on Twitter.

All Successful Business Partners Are “Leaders” (the last article in the series about our new capability model)

Should We Keep Talking About Business Partnering? (part of a 17-article series where we deep-dive on the WHY, WHAT, and HOW of business partnering by putting it on a formula)

Your Journey To Successful Business Partnering Explained

How To Create Value Through Business Partnering

Everyone Can Adopt A Business Partnering Mindset (part of a six-article series about FP&A Business Partnering)

From Business Partner To Working Within The Business (part of an article series where I interview finance professionals about their careers in FP&A and Business Partnering)

Is Your Product Optimized For Value Creation? (part of a toolbox series where we look at what tools FP&A professionals should leverage to drive value creation)

How Business Partners Turn Analysis To Insight (part of case study series where I interview business partners about how they drive value creation using real cases)

The Future Of FP&A: Two Ways To Take The Reins

What Is The Accounting Profession Paradox?

What Defines A Finance Master?

The New Career Path For Finance Professionals

How Finance People Can Be More Successful

The CFOs Roadmap To Transforming Finance

How To Become A Finance Business Partner

Financial Analyst vs. Finance Business Partner

Finance Business Partner Is A Bullshit Job

How Business Partners Keep A Plan On Track

Anders Liu-Lindberg is the co-founder, COO (Chief Operating Officer), and CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) at the Business Partnering Institute and owner of the largest group dedicated to Finance Business Partnering on LinkedIn with more than 9,000 members. I have ten years of experience as a business partner at the global transport and logistics company Maersk. I am the co-author of the book “Create Value as a Finance Business Partner” and a long-time Finance Blogger on LinkedIn with 50.000+ followers.