Amy C. Waninger chats with Janani Kannan, an accounting professional with over 6 years of experience in building, managing and scaling the accounting and finance function at start-ups, on this installment of See It to Be It.
You can connect with Janani on LinkedIn.
Amy [00:00]: Hey everybody, this is Amy C. Waninger of Lead At Any Level, and also with Living Corporate and you are joining us today for See It To Be It. See It To Be It is just one of Living Corporate’s podcast series. We come to you every Saturday with stories from different industries, different professionals who are kind of everyday role models in their space. There are tons and tons of great programming coming out of Living Corporate right now, I can’t even keep up with all of it, but if you go to living-corporate.com you’ll see all of the shows, webinars, web series, podcasts, and so much more, blog posts, articles, everything that Zach and the rest of the Living Corporate crew have going on over there. And for those of you who are new to the See It To Be It series we’re every Saturday under the Living Corporate umbrella. This is such a fun thing for me and it’s such a passion project for me and so for those of you who are just tuning in for the first time, or maybe you don’t know me very well the show is not about me, let me start there.
It’s about all these wonderful professionals who share their journeys, their career journeys, so that people who maybe don’t know about all these different jobs can see themselves in different places in the economy and different roles, and maybe even make a career change to something that might spark their passion a little bit more. The reason I do this series is for two reasons, number one, Zach asked me to help out with content and I thought, oh my gosh, what am I going to write about or what am I going to do on this platform that is not by me and not for me and how can I contribute in a really authentic and impactful way. So I started thinking what’s something that really resonates with me and for those of you don’t know me, I grew up in the middle of Southern Indiana in a very rural, very white community, very small town. It was all working class folks. So farmers, service workers like grocery stores and that sort of thing and manufacturing. Not a lot of people went to college where I grew up and the ones who did, did not come back, there was nothing there for them.
So I didn’t really know what people did who went to college and when I went to college, I had no clue what to do and so I knew that doctors, teachers, and lawyers went to college and I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher so that left me with doctor or lawyer and I didn’t do so well in organic chemistry, so that left me with lawyer and I had read about the ACLU somewhere. I thought, well, it’d be really great to do some work with them. ACLU, if you’re listening, I’m still available, but I never went to law school and here’s why, my senior year of college I found out how much law school was going to cost. I found out what pro bono meant at about the same time and I realized that was not in the cards for me. So I ended up getting a second degree in computer science and took a 20 year detour into a lucrative field, but not when I was terribly passionate about and the reason I tell you all of this is because I didn’t know what opportunities were available to me because of where I grew up.
In fact, my husband, he and I went to the same high and he’s the youngest of four and every single one of his siblings, all four of them have two college degrees as well. So when we get together, his three siblings and the two of us between the five of us, we have 10 bachelor’s degrees and think about how expensive that is, just not having that exposure to what people did for a living that didn’t work on farms and factories, or in service industry, that’s a lot of money spent on college tuition, especially those first degrees that didn’t get us anywhere, it didn’t get us jobs and when I got into a corporate setting for the first time I didn’t have anybody to talk to, to say, how do I do this? How do I show up here and fit in? But I had the advantage of my white skin and I was able to kind of look like everybody else enough that people kind of assumed that I belonged there. And I realized like some people go into this, folks who are black and brown go in, not just necessarily with not having the role models in their own family sometimes, but also having to overcome everyone else’s biases and everyone else’s expectations of them. So I was lucky then I only had to get over my own limiting thoughts and limiting beliefs about myself and not everyone else’s limiting beliefs about me.
But anyway, all of that brings me back to when I was thinking about what can I do to contribute in this space under this Living Corporate umbrella and I thought there are probably a lot of young people out there who are first-generation college students who are first-generation professionals who are looking for role models and not just any role models, but role models who look like them, black and brown professionals who have made it, who’ve made it into jobs where they’re satisfied, where they’re happy, where they’re doing things that really speak to their passion, speak to their interest and speak to their talents. So the goal of this series is to bring all of those everyday role models to you, so that if you are wondering what your next step is, or you’re wondering how to break into a different field, you can get some real life advice from some real people and maybe even find your next mentor from the guests in this series.
Now, before we get to today’s guests, we’re going to tap in with Tristan, he’s going to give you some great career search advice and then we will come back with my interview with Janani Kannan. Janani is an accounting specialist and she joins us from Toronto Canada. So we’re going to tap in with Tristan and then the next thing you’ll hear is my intro of Janani and our conversation.
Tristan [05:30]: What’s going on Living Corporate, it’s Tristan and I want to thank you for tapping back in with me as I provide some tips and advice for professionals. This week, I want to discuss two questions I ask my clients to ensure they are prepared for their job search. Many of us decide that we want to start looking for a new job, but we haven’t taken the time to reflect on our experience and what makes us the best candidate for the role. There are two fundamental questions that I always suggest job seekers take time to reflect on, to ensure that can make the case that they are the best candidate for the position. The first question is what makes you different in the work that you do? Most of you have heard me talk about the importance of thinking of yourself as a product throughout the job search. When you walk down the water aisle of the store, there are easily 40 different types of bottled water, while they all have similar qualities each one of them has a selling point. Some are alkaline, some have fluoride in others come from natural aquifers. Those are their selling points and help them stand out from the competition.
Similarly, when you’re on the job search, there are typically 50 other people who make it past the applicant tracking system and are sifted through by a recruiter or hiring manager. You have to be able to adequately articulate what makes you different from all the other candidates. Take some time to reflect on your experience, to really understand what makes you stand out. Now, not only do those different types of water have the differentiating factor, but they also know how that factor provides a return on investment to the person that buys it. Proponents of alkaline water suggest that it neutralizes the acid in your body. Fluoride water helps prevent tooth decay and water from aquifers, help reduce the amount of pesticides you consume. Each one of these provides the person who buys it with a different return. Similarly, depending on your differentiating factor, you provide a different result. So you should be able to answer the question, how do you make an impact or what results do you provide?
Both of these questions are designed to help you better understand your unique value proposition for the companies you’re applying to. Remember every company isn’t looking for the same thing. Your job is to find the company that’s searching for what you have to offer. Thanks for tapping in with me today. Don’t forget I’m now taking submissions from you all on questions, issues, concerns, or advice that you think may help others. So make sure to submit yours at bit.ly/tapintristan. This tip was brought to you by Tristan of Layfield Resume Consulting. Check us out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook @layfieldresume or connect with me Tristan Layfield on LinkedIn.
Amy [08:31]: My guest today is Janani Kannan. She’s an accounting professional with over six years of experience in building, managing and scaling the accounting and finance function at startups. She’s a well-versed financial planning professional with experience in variance analysis, financial and management reporting, finance controllership, setting up new processes from scratch, improving efficiency in existing and ideating for ERP setup and process automation. She’s a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion, and consciously does her bit in espousing beliefs to have a more inclusive environment for one and all. She’s also an amateur bodybuilder with a love for traveling, tracking, and reading. Please, welcome to the show Janani Kannan. Janani, welcome.
Janani [09:17]: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Amy [09:19]: I love your bio and I have to tell you that as I was reading it, when I got to the part where it said what your pronouns were, I was really hoping I was using the right ones. So thank you for including those, I should have asked. But thank you for including your pronouns. So tell us a little bit about how did you land in accounting? Was this a childhood dream of yours, or did it find you?
Janani [09:41]: Well, as much as I wish that it would have been a childhood dream I’m in accounting because of my mother. After school she told me go into accounting, we’ll see what happens and I went, and while I got into accounting because of my mother, I stayed in it because I absolutely love what I do. I love the numbers. I love the setting up of new processes and especially my expertise, which comes from working with early stage startups. I absolutely love my job and I’m not just in it because it’s a job I’m in it because I love it.
Amy [10:12]: So how did you niche down to startups? Because that’s a very specific place to work within this huge space of accounting.
Janani [10:20]: Now that I think back on it, it’s a good thing that it happened the way it did. I was pursuing my childhood accountancy back in India, and I wasn’t able to clear the last round of exams. So I decided to take a pause from the course and focus on a job search and see what comes too and at the time I was a student, I didn’t really know what I wanted. So I was focused on the larger organizations and public accounting firms. None of them were willing to take a bet on me because I don’t come with a full chartered accountant qualification while there was this one startup Exeter that offered me the role of being their first accounting hire and setting up everything from scratch. So I was going into it, not knowing anything and I was with the company for almost five years and it has a lot of the best memories that I have of the workplace, but that’s how it got started and I stayed here.
Amy [11:09]: I love it. So do you work within a startup firm or do you have your own firm and then you serve startups?
Janani [11:14]: I’m an employee with the current startup that I’m working at here in Toronto. But eventually that is my goal, I would like to start a consulting firm and provide these kinds of services to multiple early stage startups.
Amy [11:27]: Oh, that’s awesome. I know there are so many startups like mine, we’re really passionate about the work that we do, but we have no idea how to keep books or file taxes or even set up processes. I just in one of my companies set up payroll, I say, I hired an accountant to set up payroll because it freaked me out and so, so grateful for people who will step in and save the day on these necessary steps in building a business. What is it about startups that excites you so much?
Janani [11:56]: The fact that there’s nothing in place. I love the fact that there is absolutely no sort of; there is chaos and everything, and therein lies the fun, therein lies the excitement. You need to sieve through a lot of information, a lot of kiosk, a lot of decision-making, which keeps changing every minute, every day, and just try to build the best possible structure which can be used in the long-term by the organization. So while everyone else is thinking from the customer’s perspective, from wanting to build something that serves the customers in the short-term to keep them happy. I think accountants and the accounting team have to think long-term and think, okay, is this process going to survive whatever scale, whatever expansion happens, five to six years down the line, because nobody in a startup actually thinks that far ahead because people typically only plan for the next year or two, not more than that. So it’s a beautiful challenge, that’s the fun part for me.
Amy [12:57]: So just in terms of shattering stereotypes, a lot of people think about accountants financial controllers, financial planners, as very buttoned up, very structured, there are all these rules, it’s all about the rules and following the rules and lining up decimal points and when you said, I love chaos, you kind of set me on my heels because it’s not what I expected to hear from an accountant.
Janani [13:22]: I do love chaos. I mean, I have my rules as well, but I do love chaos and I guess it is more the fact that I get to organize that chaos and make it into a more structured presentable chaos is the fun part for me.
Amy [13:37]: I think that’s awesome. So what about accounting surprises you that you didn’t expect coming in as a college student or as an early professional? What did you learn that you’re like, oh, that would’ve been interesting to know in advance?
Janani [13:51]: So in accounting, the teach you theory through and through, at least from the Indian perspective, we are not given a lot of case studies to actually implement all of our studies and see how it actually works in the practical world, it’s a lot of theory. So when I joined the first startup, I was in for a surprise because I held the ideal case scenario in my head, and it’s not even close to that and nobody tells you that the ideal case scenario is just in the textbooks. Real life is very messy and even larger organizations who so-called play by all the accounting rules, it’s actually quite messy. That was extremely surprising to me and I was very fortunate to have really good mentors and managers at the company who walked me through that chaos, that mess, and really helped me implement the best practices in the organization.
Amy [14:46]: So I think it’s interesting to hear that because people who are going accounting expecting it to not be messy because they like structure and they like rules and they are subject to the same stereotypes that they carry about accountants, be warned, that it’s not all pretty and buttoned up and you have to bring a lot of that to it.
Janani [15:07]: To some extent, it also depends on what sort of organization you joined because you do have MNCs wherein once you join for a specific role, you do that specific role and that specific process for, I guess, however long you’re there in the organization or until you move, but the smaller the organization you join, the more hats you’re wearing because that’s just the nature of the job that you’re joining this organization, you need to do everything because nothing gets done if you don’t do everything.
Amy [15:31]: Yes, that’s great. So is there a particular industry that you find yourself working in, startups is kind of a niche type of organization, but is there a particular industry that you’re particularly fascinated with or want to stay tied to?
Janani [15:44]: I have thus far worked only with three companies and I’m with my third company right now and all three companies have been into building a software for the product that they’re selling. For example, the first one which was Exetel was in the telecom industry wherein we built this software called Exetel for the whole cloud that if anything. Second, I was with a company called Head Up, which was in the travel and tourism industry and now I’m with a company called Rescue to be are servicing the restaurant industry. So no specific industry as such, it’s all just, we’re developing a software and therein lies my expertise. Well I hope to think so that therein lies my expertise.
Amy [16:21]: But I think it’s important too, that people understand every single company needs accountants, every industry needs people who can harness the chaos of the business into real information, not just data, but real information about how the company is doing, where the company is going, how the money’s flowing in and out and I know in startups, especially, you need those stories around your number, so you can attract investment and so you can attract funding but even outside of startups, business owners need a good handle on how’s the money coming through and I think it’s an interesting seat from which to understand a business, because you probably understand much more about the business, even in some ways than people who are customer facing or people who are in delivery roles
Janani [17:07]: To some extent, yes, because when you think about it from the operations team that is handling all the customer facing issues, for them, customer is King and customer is King because without the customer, we have no business. However they fail to look at it from a 360 degree angle where you do have backend operations that are suffering as a result of X, Y, Z decisions that have been taken. So it does give me a better view, but then I do find one thing very lacking in accountants and that is a fact which I have also been working on. Accountants, lack, empathy, accountants, lack, empathy, when it comes to customer facing issues or vendor facing issues, because for us numbers are king, right. For us, it starts and ends with numbers. So I think accountants can put in a lot more effort to look at the issues from the customer’s angle, from the vendors angle, and then arrive at a more comprehensive decision rather than specifically focusing only on the books and I used to be like that. I know for a fact I used to be like that and like I said, I’ve had amazing managers, mentors. I have an amazing manager even now who really makes me focus and empathize with the customers, with the vendors before I arrive at a decision that is really important. That’s still missing with accountants.
Amy [18:23]: So let’s talk about managers and mentors for just a minute. What advice do you have for young people who don’t have good managers or haven’t found a mentor, or maybe have identified somebody that they’d like to have as a mentor, but don’t really know how to approach that conversation. That can be very intimidating.
Janani [18:42]: Well in cases where you do not have a good manager, you do not have a good mentor, if the person you’re choosing to spend eight to ten hours a day with one voluntarily is causing havoc for you mentally, it’s a very toxic workplace and look at the end of the day, it depends on the individual circumstance. There will be some people who need that job desperately so they would have no other option, but to stay at that job, but others and I categorize myself as others because I’m very privileged that way, I have the option of just making the decision to quit my job within a day and doing it and finding another job. When I found myself in a toxic workplace, I did just that because I realized I need to focus on mental health first and only then will I be able to be productive both at home and at work. So it depends on your circumstance. Look at the end of the day, if you are not able to change your job just overnight, like I was able to it’s best to keep things at work, at work and not take it too personally, not let it affect your moods outside of work. You need to draw that line, ensure you stick to it and it is okay to draw boundaries with your managers as well. Because look, there are people at the end of the day, they may not come across as the nicest of people. They are people at the end of the day. So treat them as such, know that they must be going through something in their personal lives, which is at the end of the day, affecting their role as managers and mentors at work and that’s why they are behaving the way they do. But if you get the chance to move out, a toxic workplace is never worth it.
For people who have found managers and mentors, hopefully within their workplace, follow them, follow them for everything. The one thing that I kept asking myself throughout my career, even now that I ask myself, is what would this particular mentor that I look up to, this particular manager that I look up to do in this particular situation and that’s how I’ve guided all my decision making and it has really helped me. Be it my career, be it my work life, be it even my personal life, because I look up to these people, not just as professionals, but as human beings, as individuals and that has really helped me and these are people I absolutely worship and in my head, it is like, you know what, when I grow up, I want to be like them. I want to be the people that they are. And if you have found a mentor outside of work, talk to them. In fact, I make it a point to schedule once a month or even once a quarter calls with my mentors outside of work, mainly to just tell them what’s happening in my career, give them updates, ask more about them. How is it going? I may have some specific career related questions, just ask them that, pick their brains, if they’re really wonderful, you want to absorb as much of them as you can, because that experience is amazing.
Amy [21:31]: Absolutely and so there was so much of what you said, and I have so many follow-up questions, but for young people who are maybe looking to get into accounting, or maybe they want to learn more about this field, where would you recommend they start doing some research or even start to kind of dip their toes in the water?
Janani [21:50]: Start with the chartered accountancy, CA or CPA institutes in your country. That would be the starting point because one, it is always good to have these qualifications, especially if you’re going to be working at a public accounting firm, either medium sized or a large company. In a smaller company, it’s not really needed because they are quite flexible and startups off late have slowly stopped focusing on qualification specifically and they look at people’s experience and their potential and capabilities. Starting point for a majority of the folks who want a nice stable job at a medium to large size company would be focused on the accounting institutes in your organization and start from there, start the course, get the qualification and as you move through the course, you’re going to find resources on the way to help you with the next step to help you with even the decision that needs to be taken at the next step.
Amy [22:44]: That is great advice and where can somebody find some community around this? Do the CPA institutes offer that sort of, I want to use the word fraternity, that’s not the right word, but kind of offer that community as well?
Janani [22:57]: I would say look at a lot of groups on LinkedIn, which are specifically focused on location, specific accountants. So there are accountants in India, I don’t remember the exact name of the group, but there’s a group for accountants in India and there’s a group for accountants here in Canada. In fact, I’m currently pursuing my CPA here in Canada and I have found a group for CPA students in Canada, in Ontario, specifically on LinkedIn. So it’s all just one Google search away.
Amy [23:25]: Yes, absolutely. I love how you said that because I think some people sit there and say, well, I don’t know what to do and the obvious answer nowadays is Google it because if it exists, you’ll find it and if it doesn’t exist, then it’s not there to find.
Janani [23:42]: Yes, and I find one more thing, very helpful. In fact, this is what did before. So I landed here in Toronto seven months ago and before I landed, the one thing I did was I logged into my LinkedIn account and I searched specifically for second level connections and first level connections with the location as Canada, because this is where I was building my new life and with CPA, somewhere on their profile and I connected with those people left right and center and I asked a lot of questions on what needs to be done. In fact, I have two specific mentors for my CPA course alone because I need that guidance as I do my course to go ahead with it. There are a lot of people, when you look at second and third connections, there are a lot of people out there, connect with them and you thinking that, oh, how can I just send a stranger a connect request, add a message. No one is going to say no, nobody’s that big of a jerk. They will say yes when it means they want to help you out.
Amy [24:37]: Absolutely. Online networking is so overlooked I think as a career development tool, I think a lot of people see it as a marketing or a sales tool but when we’re talking about our careers and we’re talking about really making connections, there is so much opportunity, especially on LinkedIn to find people in a very specific way. So searching for CPAs in Toronto can yield a lot of results. So I would imagine there are a lot of CPAs in Toronto, in a lot of different industries and a lot of different kinds of roles. So Janani, just in the time that we have left, what advice would you give to young people who maybe don’t see themselves in this work, but would like to, who are looking for role models?
Janani [25:18]: You’re not going to find role models just out of the blue. This is where our previous conversation about networking comes in, network network network. In fact, when you talk to people actually schedule time to have a conversation with them, video call in this case, just a half an hour conversation, because I believe the impression that you get from people within the first five to ten minutes is sort of a lasting impression. And you can actually tell whether you would click with this individual or not. And once you do, and you know for a fact that they have more or less a similar career trajectory to what you want for yourself, it’s pretty easy once you have that connect with that individual, ask them whether they would be willing to be your mentor and ask them a lot of questions. How do they go about their career? How is it that this specifically landed whatever XYZ, whatever role, because you want that kind of role and what is it that you can do to improve your resume, to land that kind of role.
So network, talk to people and actually have conversations for 30 minutes, do not expect the other person to have all the answers and to actually just know whatever it is that you’re wanting to find out. They are not going to just launch off on an explanation, you need to ask the questions, you need to put in the effort to actually have those lists of questions ready, without that your organization is not going anywhere. So once you have that in place, and once that informational interview is in place and you have what you need to know to actually do those things in your career, it’s one step at a time.
Amy [26:51]: So if people want to connect with you and learn more about your journey. What’s the best way for them to do that. Is it to find you on LinkedIn?
Janani [26:58]: Yes, that would be the best way to do it.
Amy [27:00]: Wonderful. So you’ve already got the inside scoop on where to go find a mentor, if this is something that interests you, you can connect with Janani Kannan on LinkedIn and Janani thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for helping us make sense of your work and your journey and for controlling the chaos a little bit for us today.
Janani [27:22]: Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate your time.
Amy [27:24]: Thank you.
So how was that everybody? I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Janani and sometimes there’s this magic that happens when I turn the microphone off and when I hit stop on recording and we’re just chatting, how was that for you? Did that feel okay? And I’m always so bummed because what happens is usually I get some really good nuggets in that time because people kind of let their guard down because that record light isn’t on anymore. And here’s what Janani shared with me after the microphone cutoff. So she said, she opened this conversation with the fact that she doesn’t have her designation as a CPA, as a certified accountant and I thought that was curious, but I didn’t want to dive into it too much during the interview. But after we stopped recording, she said, she’s very purposeful about talking about that with people because she wants accountants or people who are interested in accounting to realize that you don’t have to have that CPA designation to get a really good paying job, to have a very lucrative and satisfying career as an accountant.
She’s still working on that CPA, she’s got some mentors, as she mentioned in the conversation that are helping her on that path. But she on social media and other places where she has conversations, she’s very open about the fact that she’s still in pursuit of the CPA, but she’s still working. She’s a working professional, doing amazing things as you heard, even without it. And she wants that to be a lesson to others that you don’t have to wait for your credentials to get started and so I’m sorry we didn’t capture that as part of the interview. But like I said, sometimes people relax a little bit once that record light goes off. One of the things that struck me about this interview was how personable, how relatable and how open Janani was about her career and about her experiences and how open she was to hearing from those of you who maybe want to know more about working in accounting or working for the startup industry. I think she’s got a lot to offer. I think she’s got a bright future ahead of her and I’m looking forward to touching base with her in the future and seeing kind of where she ended up and how she’s doing when she gets her designation.
Now, if you enjoyed this interview or you enjoy the Living Corporate series, don’t keep this to yourself, we’re doing some great work here and it’s not just me, it’s Zach and a team of, gosh, I think he’s got about a dozen different shows going on, but the way you can help us, the way you can share this work is really simple. Wherever you got this podcast, whatever platform you use to listen to podcasts, go and give us a five-star rating and if you can, you can’t give us six stars, we would love it if you could. So the way to give us that last sixth star is to leave a written review. Just some comment about great interviews or really appreciated the focus on accounting this week or whatever it is. Whatever spoke to your heart this week, maybe it was great tips from Tristan this week or something like that. Give us that sixth star by writing just a little bit, just a little bit of verbiage in the review, that helps us go to the top of other people’s cues, helps other people find us.
The other thing you can do is when you’re out there on social media, whether it’s LinkedIn or Twitter or whatever the new ones are that Zach’s always talking about that I have no idea. If you’re out there on clubhouse and you’re talking about great podcasts that you listen to, we would love it if you would share Living Corporate with your friends, with your followers, with your family, with your colleagues, because we really think we’re building something special here, something that needs to be done, stories that need to be told and you’re only going to find them here. So help us spread the word and we will see you next week.
Living Corporate is a podcast by Living Corporate LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Brown, additional music production by Anton Franklin for Musical Elevations. Post-Production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion, email us at email@example.com. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and living-corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.