Cisco’s Chief Accounting Officer on the ongoing transformation of the finance function and how it has affected his team.
Prat Bhatt was invited to join Cisco at the height of the dotcom boom. At that point, the Silicon Valley-based technology company was the most valuable in the world, with a market capitalization of $US500b. It was an irresistible offer to join an industry-leading finance function. He thought he would try it for a few years, learn about Cisco’s innovative financial practices and then move on to the next challenge.
Seventeen years later, Bhatt is the Senior Vice President of Finance, Corporate Controller and Chief Accounting Officer, with global responsibility for accounting, external financial reporting and controls. And he can’t imagine doing anything else.
EY Reporting spoke to Bhatt and asked him to share his experiences and insights on emerging trends in the finance function.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Becoming Corporate Controller of Cisco. It was the culmination of many, many years of preparation in public accounting, private industry and many other professional activities. It’s a job I’m really proud of.
I’ve also been extremely fortunate that I’ve always worked for outstanding bosses who are great leaders, not just great accountants. Each of them imparted skills, approaches, capabilities and ways of thinking that have expanded my own toolbox.
What are your key roles at Cisco?
In a company of this scale and complexity, there’s a clear expectation that it’s not enough just to be a good accountant. You have to work to solve business problems, and our CFO, Kelly Kramer, expects all of us in the finance organization to do exactly that.
I’ve got two aspects to my role: one, the core accounting and the foundational requirements, and two, solving business issues. The latter requires you to sit side by side with sales, engineering and operations, and to collaborate much more closely on broader issues. It’s not just about getting the numbers right – that’s the basic price of admission. It’s about working to address business needs.
Where is the finance function now playing a greater role?
The accounting team is typically one of the larger organizations in the finance function, so we have the people power. In addition, we have access to actionable data. So, if we can get our teams to think more broadly and take advantage of that data to drive business results, then we can be a big lever to bring about change.
Finance’s foundational responsibility is to bring the core data to the table, so you can have the conversations – often difficult ones – around challenging business strategy, and then help to drive successful business outcomes.
What does that mean for talent and skillsets?
I want extremely strong accounting and controls people, without question. Years ago, that was enough. And then it became: I want good accounting people who understand the business. Today, it’s more than that. It’s having extremely good accounting people who not only understand the business, but can also drive business dialogue and bring about change.
That’s tough. Financial people, especially accountants, are often reticent to step into that leadership role. We work hard to encourage and equip the team to develop leadership capabilities so that they can step up to that challenge.
What effect is technology having on the finance function?
We’ve been investing heavily in technology and automation over many years to get our financial systems to where they need to be. They now give us more sophisticated, detailed analysis of our financial results, as well as data to inform our planning and outlooks.