Overcoming Obstacles and Building a Finance Career: Raj Kailasanathan, Pt. I

Raj Kailasanathan, Director of Finance and Corporate Treasurer at Real Matters, explains the keys to his success he discovered as he overcame obstacles to build his finance career – learning the language of numbers, and realizing the value of networking.

As a newcomer from Sri Lanka, early in his career and upon first moving to Canada, Raj Kailasanathan had to overcome a number of challenges early in his career – from the language barrier with which he had to contend, to his initial shortage of professional connections – in order to establish his successful accounting career. Currently the Director of Finance and Corporate Treasurer at Real Matters, Kailasanathan took out some time from his busy schedule to share with us some of the secrets to his success.

Kailasanathan’s inspiring story and diverse experiences offers other accounting and finance professionals some important takeaways about the importance of those early career decisions, the advantages of networking aggressively, and what you can do to stand out at work.

Early days, early decisions

Though he initially set out to be an engineer, intense competition in the Sri Lankan school system pushed Kailasanathan towards accounting instead. The path was, at first, a fairly bumpy one. “My first CMIA courses I got three C’s and a D,” Kailasanathan recalls. “It was the first time that I wrote an exam in English. My mother told me that she would pay for the courses again if I would study harder. She didn’t lecture me – she just encouraged me.”

Both Kailasanathan’s perseverance and his mother’s faith in her son paid off. “I then retook them and got three A’s and a B.”

After graduating, Kailasanathan took a job as an accounts clerk in a manufacturing company. For the first year or so, he was earning an equivalent of about twenty dollars a month. For some, that might have been discouraging and dampened their enthusiasm for their work. Not for Kailasanathan, however.

“I learned that numbers speak to you and they speak the truth. If you eat, drink and breathe the numbers you can read the stories of different companies. It’s like reading a language.”

“I didn’t care about money,” he says. “I wanted to learn everything I could. I learned costing, cash flow, reporting and all the agony that you go through being a finance guy in a manufacturing company.”

“I learned that numbers speak to you and they speak the truth. If you eat, drink and breathe the numbers you can read the stories of different companies. It’s like reading a language.”

Serious networking

After he moved to Canada, concentrated networking efforts helped him land a job at MIG Holdings, Inc. Kailasanathan insists that the importance of networking can’t be emphasized enough.

“I arrived in Canada and would attend every event with a card that said Raj Nathan and had my cell number and personal e-mail,” he recalls. “I would attend everything I could, even events that weren’t clearly related to my objective. Those events helped me build a great network and knowledge base that helps me to this day.”

Kailasanathan admits that he slackened in his networking after snagging his first group controllers job. The new position commanded all of his time and attention. However understandable, Kailasanathan regards the experience as his “biggest failure so far.”

“If you are standing still [and not actively networking, on an ongoing basis], you are actually moving backwards as the world moves by you,” he reflects. “Complacency also takes the fire out of you and you have to reignite it.”

It took a happy development in his personal life to rekindle that flame, so that he could resume a proactive approach to his accounting career. “For me, learning that I was going to be a father forced me to take action in my life.”

“If you are standing still [and not actively networking, on an ongoing basis], you are actually moving backwards as the world moves by you.”

Lessons in standing out at work

Kailasanathan’s work experience is as diverse as it is rich. He’s worked in a number of different accounting positions, including accounts clerk, accounts executive, assistant manager, staff accountant, financial controller, director of finance and corporate treasurer. He also underwent a transition from the food to the mortgage business, so he knows about the challenges involved in changing industries.

New Finance Manager Guide

Kailasanathan shared some of the lessons he’s learned about how to be noticed in your workplace and achieve progress in your accounting and finance career.

  • Dress the part you want to play: “One thing I did was always dress like the next [job] two levels above me. If I was an analyst, I dressed like a director – even on [casual] Fridays. The idea is to project the persona of the job you want.
  • Brand yourself: “Honestly speaking, I speak with an accent. I’m an immigrant. So I choose to brand myself as a hard, professional worker who is here before everyone and comes in ready to work.”
  • Say “yes”…a lot: “I never said ‘no’ to any opportunity that was offered to me. For me, ‘no’ means ‘no to new opportunities.’ I would always take on projects. My claim to fame was that I would own up to something if I didn’t understand it.”

Kailasanathan credits much of the success he’s enjoyed throughout his accounting and finance career to his positive attitude in the face of obstacles; he describes it as “the foundation for any success.” “I didn’t spend any time listening to people telling me why I couldn’t succeed,” he explains. “I spent my time trying to create momentum in life, by meeting people and collaborating with them to create opportunities. Opportunities are created; they don’t fall into your lap.”

Other accounting and finance professionals can learn from his example of leveraging your unique experiences, insights, and personality to advance in your career, and approaching life’s many challenges with optimism and enthusiasm.

Tune in for part II next week, to read about Kailasanathan’s insight on professional mentorship and development and balancing work and home life. He’ll also reveal the qualities he looks for when hiring new employees. 

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!