by Patty Mah
Like many freshman university students, Dinesh Balakrishnan (MAcc ’14) did not have a definitive goal in mind for his career. One certainty was his vision to build a career focused on supporting others and providing value. “A vague goal but I felt it resonated with my core, gave me purpose, and started to define what ‘success’ meant to me.” Graduating from Waterloo’s accounting and finance programs may not seem like the most direct pathway to a career in helping others, so the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) caught up with the 2020 SAF Young Alumni Award recipient to gain a better perspective of his circuitous career path.
One of the biggest advantages Dinesh had as a student of the Accounting and Financial Management (AFM) program was the mandatory co-op work terms. Working for Deloitte provided opportunities for Dinesh to gain insights into potential career paths within the firm but he also learned through his interactions with clients. Dinesh's exploration continued into his Master of Accounting graduate year by leveraging electives available and gaining feedback from his professors and co-op mentors.
Dinesh summarizes his career path to date as “experiencing the conditioning that came with being on an audit team at one of the Big 4 firms, exploring my passion for supporting others and being entrepreneurial as a professional recruiter at a leading firm, and channelling my interest in driving process improvements and integrating my audit background through a business transformation at a private technology company. And now, I am experiencing the thrill of supporting a large team through all forms of operational challenges at a mature, but rapidly growing public company.”
TEAM BUILDING IN A REMOTE SETTING
Dinesh's desire to support others was put to the test this past year when he took on the role of Manager, Operations (Finance) at Calian Group Ltd., with his first task in leading his new team through the global pandemic. Communication and team cohesiveness were top priorities for Dinesh to establish to ensure his team continued to perform at a high level within a remote setting.
“Starting a new role during the pandemic brings a new set of challenges – training, establishing rapport with team members and other colleagues, converting existing manual processes to allow for online work, and coordinating day-to-day responsibilities, to name a few.” – Dinesh Balakrishnan
Within the first months of joining Calian Group Ltd., the company had to navigate through their year-end audit within a virtual setting. Dinesh attributes the strong team environment when working through the challenging process of a virtual audit. The process helped to identify gaps that motivated the organization to enhance and implement more robust processes and controls.
In the midst of supporting an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system upgrade, Dinesh implemented several strategies, including leveraging technology to establish regular team scrums and one-on-one meetings, focusing on alleviating operational bottlenecks, and building a positive team culture based on collaboration. Having his team’s best interests in mind, including their health and well-being, was important to Dinesh. When checking in on individual and team progress on projects, Dinesh used the one-on-ones to gauge the health and well-being of his team.
“As a concerned manager, I need to be able to read the signs of fatigue, burnout, or other indications of stress - especially when a team member may not notice or acknowledge it themselves… although there are always new challenges present with remote work, we feel confident in being able to tackle them with the tools we've developed.” – Dinesh Balakrishnan
BRINGING THESE STRATEGIES HOME
Like many young professional couples, working in a remote setting meant juggling and negotiating workspace, which was especially difficult when living in a one-bedroom condo. Dinesh and his wife turned to yoga and meditation as a de-stressing activity, but also found time to walk each morning and evening, something that they rarely had time for prior to the pandemic. In 2020, Dinesh and his wife purchased a house and moved to Ottawa eager to start a family there. Dinesh's caring nature extended beyond his immediate family. With the help of his mother and wife, Dinesh taught himself to sew face masks for family members. For friends and colleagues, Dinesh has set up regular group chats as a way to maintain social connectedness and to share good news, life updates, jokes, and positive energy. More recently, Dinesh has been involved in raising awareness and funds for grass-roots organizations providing humanitarian support in India in combatting the world's worst outbreak of COVID-19.
Beyond his day job and personal commitments, Dinesh also gives generously of his time to support young and aspiring professionals as an SAF Fellowship Honouree and VP of Young Alumni, working closely with the SAF Alumni Association. In giving so much back to his alma mater, fittingly, the SAF named Dinesh as the 2020 Young Alumni Award recipient. Honoured by the recognition, Dinesh credits his achievements to “the incredible and unrelenting support of my parents and wife, an aspiring CPA herself, who continues to inspire me to help others.”