IMA Moments

Listening and Communicating Keys to Success

By Jim Gurowka, CAE
June 15, 2022
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Looking back to my first job, I worked for a construction company building roads. We would start at 5:00 a.m. and work until 6:00 p.m. or later every day.

 

It was difficult work and constituted long hours, but it was very gratifying to see the results of your work at the end of every day. I learned how to work with people from different backgrounds; that teamwork and communication are critical, especially when you’re working with dangerous equipment and hazardous materials; and how we can accomplish an amazing amount with hard work. Those lessons have served me well in my professional career.

 

VOLKSWAGEN TO A BOUTIQUE TO IMA

 

My first role at Volkswagen (VW) was to help negotiate and then implement a new agreement between VW and a newly formed union. That was a very rewarding experience, but a mentor and the general manager there sat me down one day and told me that if I wanted to progress to the highest levels in VW, I needed to be in either engineering or finance. Given my past education and experience, I jumped into the role of financial analyst and never looked back. Being a management accountant there showed me how important it was for someone in finance to be the bridge between the operations and the strategy of the business. I also learned how important it was to continually talk with those in operations, manufacturing, and senior management to do my job well. I made sure to spend time every day on the manufacturing plant floor. Seeing the importance of having management accounting experts on staff was a main driver of my joining IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) several years later and wanting to engage and serve the practitioners of our great profession globally.

 

VW was a client of Focused Management, Inc., an information technology services and management consulting firm, and when I decided I wanted to help other organizations implement some of the great performance measurement and management tools that we used at VW, I looked at options. I had to decide between opportunities at the Big 4 accounting firms, large consulting firms, or smaller boutique firms. Joining Focused Management gave me the opportunity to work with companies large and small, locally and globally. The company used a “train the trainer” mentality whereby we would teach clients how to use the tools that they were implementing so that they could be self-sufficient once we left. This seemed to me like the right way to run a consulting business, and I’m proud to say that we helped hundreds of companies to make better decisions.

 

I love working at IMA. As a mission-driven organization, IMA is focused on helping management accounting and finance professionals globally to improve themselves and the organization they work for. I’m in a unique position of being able to see firsthand how becoming a CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) materially helps individuals and their families. It’s very gratifying to see new CMAs being so proud of their achievements and knowing they’ll have a more successful career and a better life. Working at a typical for-profit company doesn’t give you the same daily satisfaction. Selling a widget isn’t as exciting as helping to fulfill a dream.

 

In my current role, I need to understand the intricacies of marketing and branding, but I’m by no means an expert at all. I also love to get into the details and the data around everything related to IMA, but I’ve learned that I need to let go and trust my great team to do its job. We hire amazing people here, and I trust that they know how to do their jobs well. But letting go—delegating tasks—isn’t easy.

 

I use my education, experiences, and life lessons every day at IMA. As an economics major, a management accounting junkie, and someone who travels globally, I strive to bring a sense of data analysis, fiscal responsibility, and global outlook in all the decisions I get to be a part of. We accountants are by nature prudent with our money, and my team ensures that every decision made has members’ interests at heart and is in the long-term best interests of our great association.

 

My current role is so exciting. I get to interact with staff and members around the globe on a daily basis. Within the space of a morning, I might be meeting with staff and partners in Europe, Dubai, India, Singapore, China, and the United States helping them serve our profession. Our biggest challenge is trying to manage all the opportunities in front of us and prioritizing where our limited resources should be deployed. It’s hard to say no. I’m looking forward to opening our new offices in Egypt and Saudi Arabia this year, as well as getting to visit all our wonderful team members again after too long of a break. I’m also looking forward to having more and more of our U.S. team travel with me to our various regions to experience firsthand all the great work we’re doing globally.

 

For the coming year, my goal is to integrate our various global areas even more than we currently are. Our business development teams will come together more as a unified global team instead of regional teams operating separately, and our global marketing team will operate as a single global team led from our Montvale, N.J., headquarters, but with local nuances on the global strategy. Our value delivery leadership team—Ellen Gurevich and I—will need to work hard every day to make our integrated team work at amazingly high level to serve our membership and our profession. but I know that, with our fantastic team, we will succeed.

 

CAREER ADVICE

 

Looking back and reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my career, I wish I would’ve pursued certifications sooner; I wish I would’ve learned more languages earlier in life; and I wish I would’ve followed my passion more aggressively and earlier.

 

Be the first person to volunteer on a special project or new initiative; be the first to learn a new technology to become the “go-to” person in the organization. Your manager can be a great resource for you. Make sure that you overcommunicate with them—especially your successes—and make sure that they know you’re ready, willing, and able to take on special assignments. Make your manager your biggest advocate for your future success.

 

To keep your skills sharp, acquire news skills and knowledge, and ensure that your professional experience remains relevant in a post-pandemic landscape; read, watch, listen, and talk to others. Find the smartest person in the room and talk with them about whatever their expertise is. Always be learning and always have a thirst for knowledge. My colleagues laugh at me, but when I run, I listen to the audio edition of The Economist newspaper. It’s my way of keeping up to date with a publication I love and getting my exercise at the same time.

 

To better understand cultural differences, listen. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit close to 50 countries in my various roles at IMA, and I have the great pleasure of visiting our amazing staff at our 10 offices around the world on a regular basis. My best advice to everyone is to listen. Listen to the people you’re visiting with, ask questions, and don’t assume anything.

 

I also find that it’s very beneficial to have a colleague with you in meetings to pick up on the verbal and nonverbal clues you might miss and debrief with each other right after every meeting. All societies are changing very rapidly right now, and what was once a strict custom in a country today might not be the same tomorrow. We’re witnessing dramatic changes in the business norms in countries such as Saudi Arabia and China, and it’s exciting to see the continuing evolution.



Jim Gurowka, CAE, is senior vice president of membership and growth at IMA. You can reach him at jgurowka@imanet.org.
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