Closing the books, reconciling accounts and performing flux analysis are essential activities for every corporation. Failing to close properly and efficiently can put organizations at a competitive disadvantage and potentially run into regulatory and compliance issues. Mid-sized companies, in particular, are challenged with having to manage complex operations, close quickly and report accurate numbers, often with a lean accounting team. The task of closing each month produces as much administrative work as strategic work, forcing limited resources to focus on manual and low-value activities in addition to high-value work.
To overcome this set of challenges, Shagun Malhotra, the Founder and CEO of SkyStem, built ART – a SaaS solution that automates month-end close, from managing close checklists and reconciling accounts, to performing flux or variance analysis.
In an interview with Insights Success, Shagun Malhotra sheds light on the remarkable benefits of the unique platform and also recalls the interesting story behind the inception of the organization. Below are the highlights of the interview:
Can you give a brief overview of your background and role at SkyStem?
I started my career in the travel and hospitality industry, and through my experience in audit and investigative accounting, I ultimately fell in love with the world of audit, controls, and the accounting process. I was asked by a troubled financial services giant to lead the year-long remediation effort due to a failed regulatory audit. This happened due to broken controls around the month end process. After a year of arduous work, long hours and team work, we were able to deliver a clean audit and retain the banking license.
Due to various projects and being immersed in the accounting world, I knew firsthand the multitude of problems and risks accountants face when employing manual methods to close the books and complete reconciliations. Whether it’s a large corporation or a small company, closing and reconciling is part of the routine function in the accounting department. I also realized that existing platforms with automation in this area were barely existent, priced quite high, and often beyond reach for mid-sized companies.
Mid-sized companies are often operationally complex, and can benefit from automation during the close, but lack the excess capacity and resources to make a large investment and undergo a multi-month implementation. This motivated me to found SkyStem, a SaaS provider aimed to create an affordably priced solution to help automate the monthend close and reconciliation process. SkyStem’s flagship solution, ART, was brought to the market shortly after.
What people, what books, what life factors have influenced and impacted you?
My parents have always been a crucial part of my life, I come from a family of hard workers and problem solvers. They are very supportive and loving people who have modeled me into a successful and strong woman. My father started life as a refugee and eventually was able to live his dreams despite all the obstacles that he faced. He started his own business with a wife and two kids – believing that anything is possible. Years later we have enjoyed living in various countries, went to prestigious schools and have been given the tools to expand and grow our own lives. There are so many books that have influenced my life such as Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Each have themes of standing by your convictions even when others are not on your side and being able to be vulnerable to allow growth to take place.
What is your vision for SkyStem for the next five years?
Accounting is filled with so many micro processes and tasks and there has always been limited focus on the small things that make the accounting world tick. I would like to continue to build and refine our current product to mirror what our customers need. As we continue to acquire customers, I am always amazed at, and grateful for, how many great ideas are delivered to us by them. Continuing to inject intelligence into our tool will enable our customers to do more with less and we want that vision to be a constant focal point.
What are some of the vital attributes, in your opinion, that every leader should possess?
There are all kinds of leaders that have proven success so I don’t believe there are a few magical attributes that make it happen. However, in my opinion it is important to have passion, patience and a strong commitment to customers and colleagues who make the vision a reality. No business can be built alone and it is necessary to always remember that.
How do you maintain balance between your professional and personal life?
Make exercise a must do not a should do. I take a 6am yoga class every morning, it’s a great mind and body exercise. Yoga sets a positive tone for the rest of my day, I feel like I can tackle anything afterwards. A healthy body means a fresh mind, which means you’ll function better overall. I’m also an avid traveler, I’ve traveled all over the world and ensure I make time for taking multiple trips a year with my friends and family. Keeping things in perspective gives one the tools to be able to focus on the important things in the business and not get too derailed by the challenges and setbacks that are faced as a usual part of business.
As a leader, describe a challenge you overcame?
Being a female pursuing a start up in a male dominated industry has been a tough journey. The imbalance is very evident, but I feel lucky to have stayed our course even with these challenges. This has led me to become a different type of entrepreneur. SkyStem consists of a majority of diverse women in all departments. With this diversity, SkyStem has created several powerful and vibrant marketing campaigns to reflect the female mind. I make a conscious effort to continually include outstanding women on my team and have always encouraged women to take on growth-oriented roles regardless of the industry. I aim to put a dent in the gender imbalance in the finance and tech industry and have also been an advocate for minority women in the workplace. As a minority woman myself, I personally understand this issue by seeing it through my own experiences as an auditor.
What one thing, more than anything else, do you want to accomplish in your career?
Being known as a leader in the financial software space would be a great start. The primary reason for that is to be able to use that platform to get involved in women’s initiatives to afford women the opportunities in areas that have not been common. Mentoring young women who are on the path of entrepreneurship or set out to accomplish their dreams is something that would be very rewarding.
How do you sustain your entrepreneurial and leadership spirit in this changing technological era?
Strategic vision, commitment to innovation, and a progressive leadership approach has been essential to the success of SkyStem. My personal involvement in many aspects of entrepreneurship, such as being a member of a Department of State panel for women entrepreneurship and being a judge for the New York City Business Plan competition, has made me a known leader in the community. Through these programs I meet and mentor women entrepreneurs to motivate them to strive for their dreams. By maintaining a progressive leadership philosophy and involvement in every department, women at the company have excelled in their roles and have learned firsthand what it takes to run a company. I’ve also encourage my employees to take classes that will enable their career success and to strive for their passion. This has not only directly impacted the customer experience through frequent touch points, but also that of SkyStem’s employees.
What advice would you like to give to the emerging business leaders?
You can’t do it all. Focus on your strengths and hire qualified people to do the rest. SkyStem Headquartered in the heart of New York City, SkyStem’s flagship solution, ART helps CFOs and Controllers shorten the month-end close by automating balance sheet reconciliations, managing month-end tasks and performing flux analysis.
Learn more at www.skystem.com
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