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Careers in Finance: A Day in the Life of an FP&A Leader with Vijay Maharaj

May 30, 2024 / 10:30 / E9

In this episode of FinPod, host Anna Talerico chats with Vijay Maharaj, CFI’s Director of FP&A, to discuss his career journey and what it’s like to work in FP&A.

Discover how Vijay’s path through economics led him to a career in financial planning and analysis. Get a glimpse into a day in the life of a Director of FP&A, including the balancing act of data management, forecasting, and partnering with other business units. Plus, handling the everyday fire drills that come with the role.

Vijay shares his approach to objective analysis, building trust with colleagues, and the importance of being a lifelong learner. He provides valuable advice for aspiring FP&A professionals on essential skills and the mindset needed to excel in this growing field.

Don’t miss this engaging episode full of career insights and practical tips!


Anna Talerico (00:13)
Welcome to Careers in Finance. I’m Anna Talerico and this is one of our first episodes of Careers in Finance. So I’m very excited to showcase a career in finance from somebody that works right here at CFI. I’m with Vijay Maharaj, our director of FP&A. Hello Vijay. I’m good. Thanks for joining me. It’s kind of like you’re being my guinea pig. And I’m very excited to talk to you about your

Vijay Maharaj (00:31)
Hey Anna, how are you doing today?

Anna Talerico (00:41)
Day in the life, your role, but more importantly, just your career journey and how you ended up in FP&A and in this role. And by the way, I love the shirt that you were rocking. Thank you.

Vijay Maharaj (00:51)
Well, I’m unlike many finance people in that I hate collared shirts and button-ups, so t-shirts are best, and if I can rep the brand, I’m gonna rep the brand.

Anna Talerico (01:00)
I love it, I love it. And tell us a little bit about the cat over your shoulder there, who’s that?

Vijay Maharaj (01:05)
Uh, that’s Gus. He’s eight years old now, and yeah, this is technically his room, but it’s also my office, so… ..I kinda have to share. He’s in my office.

Anna Talerico (01:13)
Yeah, he’s sharing it with you. Yeah, yeah. Well, let’s start with just, actually let’s start with your educational background. Did you go to school for finance or something related? Tell me about that.

Vijay Maharaj (01:28)
Yeah, so I went to school for economics

primarily. So my undergraduate program had a did so I went to a business school so they didn’t have a traditional economics program but what I wanted going into college was to actually become a professor in economics. So the closest I got was there they had an economics finance program so that’s how I have some finance background but yeah after I graduated I applied to grad school.

Not the easiest thing to do coming out of undergrad, especially with nothing published or anything like that. So I wound up in a master’s program at the University of Texas at Austin for economics. Did high level, like, economic work for a year and a half and decided, yeah, that probably wasn’t going to be the easiest path for me. So I ended up, you know, looking around and trying to see what was around.

So I was looking at data roles, finance roles, whatever I can get my hands on. And I fell into a internship for a financial analyst role and started to learn a lot of the ins and outs of the role there at a company called People Admin. That’s where I met Kevin Mellor, who’s the CFO here at CFI. And ever since then, it’s been a lot of learning.

About what is really FP&A which you know going into it I thought it was a lot of number crunching a lot of like just hey all you’re gonna do is look at spreadsheets all day you’re not really gonna be doing anything you’re just trying to make sure numbers match and like you know you’re not running out of cash or you’re profitable or whatever and

I’ve had a lot of great mentors in my journey here to this point where I’ve learned a lot of like it’s not just the number, the number crunching is important, the Excel work is important, all that’s important. But a lot of it is actually the communication with other stakeholders that more or less FP&A you’re not a master of any of those other business domains. You’re not a master of marketing, you’re not a master of engineering, you’re not a master in really understanding all those things

of the bits and pieces and synthesizing that into something that looks like the financial statements that you can then go present to somebody to try to tell the story of what’s actually happening in the business which

Really and truly is what is the most exciting part of it, in my opinion, because it’s not the, oh, I know exactly what to do or in this situation. It’s like, let me go talk to an expert. Let me go try to understand what they’re seeing, model it out with their advice and whatever, and see if that comes to a result that we’re agreeable on and we can actually go in action.

Anna Talerico (04:18)
Yeah. Well, as somebody who works with FP&A works with you, I would say it’s sort of similar for me in that oftentimes I’m collecting information and perspectives from across the business or even within a certain function. And I’m almost bringing back and bringing it back to you to sanity check or to vet or to be, you know, by sounding bored in a way. Right. So you’ve got, you’re doing that with the business and then I’m doing it and it’s kind of like we coming back together.

Vijay Maharaj (04:41)

Anna Talerico (04:46)
And especially if we’re trying to solve a problem or I’m trying to dig into something going on, I’m getting a lot of information. I’m synthesizing it, but then I want to get your perspective. So it’s interesting. We both kind of have different sides of it, but it’s the same thing. Yeah. So, okay. So I want to get into day in the life and everything, but first, first of all, so, so interesting because we’ve worked together for a while and I had no idea that you came to finance by way of economics. That’s super interesting. I wonder how many people do that. That’s yeah.

Vijay Maharaj (04:59)
Mmm, yep.


Anna Talerico (05:15)
Because I know a lot of people come into FP&A from being a financial analyst. So let’s talk a little bit about that path. So you leave school, your first role, financial analyst, by the way, with Kevin Mellor our fantastic CFO. And so what was that like? So how long were you a financial analyst? And then what was kind of your next role after that?

Vijay Maharaj (05:20)
That’s great.

Yeah, I was a financial analyst for probably a year and a half, maybe two years, I can’t remember off the top of my head, but um, yeah, it was a lot of like just understanding what…

how a financial statement is supposed to look, how do you reconcile data so that you can actually like trust what you’re doing, and then from there, what does a forecast look like, right? Like, I think a lot of the great things that Kevin taught me was like, hey, you need to make sure whatever you’re presenting is accurate. Like you feel like you’re confident in the data that you’re saying and you have the story and you can tell the story verbatim and like make people feel like they can trust it to go make decisions.

At my next role I worked at a company called Big Commerce Where I learned under

director there how to really like start to then talk to people about okay how do we really think about our sales forecast what does this mean for the business in terms of a revenue perspective from a cash perspective and like start to like really bring those things in and that was where I went to my next role as a senior financial analyst which was where I started to really start to dig in more to that story element like what is the story.

We need to hire X amount of reps, where are we expecting them to bring in? If they’re not performing, how do we think about rolling them off and then rolling, bringing it back in? Does that put us in a quota deficit at any point in time? Okay, how do we get around that? Like all these fun things where, you know, people don’t really think about all of it because it’s like, at the end of the day, it’s like, if you’re not performing, you kind of have to make a decision, but then it’s like, well, what are the ramifications of those things and how do we think about it

and does it put us in a situation where we have to act sooner than later? Like if we need to go ahead, if we know we have underperformance, do we need to go higher ahead of that? Owing that we’re going to maybe lose some money on a cash basis from hiring ahead, but it’s going to help us feel better about having the quota capacity in the like two to three months when we actually do part ways with the underperformer or whatever it looks like.

Anna Talerico (07:53)
Yeah. So you mentioned something right before you got into the senior analyst role where you were learning that it’s not just about taking the numbers and putting them in. It’s really understanding the numbers and having confidence in the numbers. How do you do that? Right? Even just going back when you were first doing it, but even today, how do you have that confidence in the numbers and that you know them, right? Just as well as those that kind of own those numbers.

Vijay Maharaj (08:22)
Yeah, I mean, so it depends on what the source, it’s knowing that where the source of data is supposed to come from. So for example, if we’re talking about accounting data, I need my accounting team to be like rock solid, rock stars, the best in order to like make sure that whatever they’re putting into our, gosh, our CRM or whatever it is, it is accurate.

Like we’re not, they’re not putting in something that’s gonna, you know, be incorrectly amortized or is in the wrong period or the revenue’s not getting recognized over a period of time. So it’s having some trust there and then knowing where their backup is. So if they have their schedules all saved out in an Excel folder, okay, good. I can go there, I can go verify and make sure that it matches up with what I would think, what I was thinking or that this is why this variance is happening versus what I had planned

for and then really digging in and making sure that I understand and feel comfortable with what is being presented at a higher level, right? Because all that data gets rolled up, more or less. And similarly, like, if Salesforce is our

source of truth for bookings, I need to go through and make sure I understand how the data is getting pushed into Salesforce. Okay, is this game entered by a rep? Okay, how are we verifying that the rep is selling? Okay, is it there’s a closed one process? Okay, how does how what are all the steps that take into account of them actually being the final?

The final number that we know is true and verifiable. So it’s knowing what the source system is, knowing understanding the process of how the data gets put in, and then always going back and verifying like does this match up with what you were expecting? And if it doesn’t, go dig through, make sure that you see the thing that might be throwing it off from your expectation and then like have that story in the back pocket of like, okay, yeah, we have this

one time event that happened here or okay this is a large customer that was booked this month so we’re gonna see a larger pop-in bookings and revenue or we thought we were gonna see you know most of our bookings come in on the first like the 15th of the month and actually happened on the 31st of the month so okay we’re gonna see a longer revenue recognition cycle whatever it is

Anna Talerico (10:52)
Yeah, and you mentioned something I think is really nuanced but important. It’s like knowing the systems, but you mentioned knowing how the data is put in the systems, right? It’s not just knowing the systems and the data and the source of truth, but really understanding how it’s flowing in.

Vijay Maharaj (11:07)
Yeah, absolutely. If you don’t know the process of how it goes in, like, technically, like, you know, you could put anything through a system and it might just be trash at the end of the day. So if the way that it’s actually coming up, going through it is not actually the way that you would hope for it to be recognized, then what you’re getting at the end is not reliable or isn’t going to be matched up with how you’re actually going to end up presenting it to whoever your audience is.

Because you really need to understand the little nitty gritties like okay, like here’s a really silly one but time zones if you don’t know when your when your payment processor for it as an example is Time zone is set like if you think that it’s on the last day of the month of the quarter and it’s like, oh, yeah It’s gonna turn off at 12 central Midnight 12 central, but it’s actually set to PST. You’ve got two extra hours of bookings

that you’re not actually accounting for. And now you’re like, OK, well, I’m shortchanging myself for this quarter and I’m giving myself extra benefit for the next quarter.

Anna Talerico (12:20)
Yeah, no, that’s actually a really good example. Okay, so, you know, knowing the system, knowing how the data is flowing in, knowing that source of truth, you also mentioned the Rockstar accounting team, for example, that you need, which I think we have amazing accounting team here. And obviously you have to trust the partners, right? So how do the different lines of business that interact with you, like…

how can they show up to be great partners for you, right? If you described how you’re partners for the business, but like, what do you need in the functional leaders, and including accounting, but really across the whole business.

Vijay Maharaj (12:55)

I mean, I think it’s there. You mentioned like, oh, there’s a level of trust that you have to have. And I think that’s true for every business unit. Like I need people to trust that I’m not here to looking to like, oh, go ahead and like say you’re doing a bad job or like, you know, there’s something about like divorcing the, um, the emotions of, of the actual process and the results of the process, right? Like

really bad at anything. I’m just saying this is what happened. This is the results. That doesn’t mean that the process was the best and or anything like that. It’s really about trying to be like, how do we then go take what we’ve learned from these results and then go ahead and go make improvements? Like how do we do the best for ourselves, for the business and everything like that? So like if sales is coming to us and asking for additional headcount

more sales reps. Okay, why are we doing that? Even if people are missing their number, why are we going to go hire additional folks? Is there something that we can do to like boost it? Is it some is getting ahead of underperformance that we need to think about? Like, what is the reality that we’re trying to do? Like, come with to the table, not thinking like I’m coming here as a bad guy going to go like slap your wrist every time. Because you

didn’t hit the number or whatever that my goal is to make it easier to help you guys hit the numbers or to you know come in at budget or whatever it is like you know if you’re in an engineering partner and you’re coming in it’s like hey we need another resource whether that be a full-time head or a contractor okay why do we need it were we not delivering on our product delivery schedule like do we need extra help or is there more bugs is a more complex problem than we

it was, what’s the business case, what are we actually going to get out of it on the top line, really like dissect the problem and have trust that I’m not going to come at you and say, yeah, this is a bad, like you’re a bad person for thinking this because that’s not the goal.

Anna Talerico (15:09)
Yeah. Well, you mentioned something that I find really interesting about interacting with you and your team. And I think this is important. You are objective, meaning when I was talking about earlier, when I’m kind of hearing things in the business or collecting my information, oftentimes you’re hearing conflicting information or you’re looking at different people with opposing views. And I always find when I’m coming to you, it’s for like, okay, let’s get objective now. But then also

when I’m working with you and we’re planning and things like that, you do have informed opinions and you do have a point of view and perspective. So there’s this balancing of like, understanding the business enough to have a point of view and perspective, but also being that very neutral objective party, especially as the day to day is like, we’re working through, you know, managing and running the business.

Vijay Maharaj (16:00)
Absolutely, yeah. Like, what we’re trying to do is just try to look at it.

How do we grow this thing or how do we keep this thing going? And we have, like you said, all that information that we’re processing, all that data that we’re just seeing. And we’re like, okay, these are the patterns that we’re recognizing it. And we’re trying to be like, take out as much emotion as possible from it and just be like, this is what we’re seeing from a results standpoint, whether or not it’s the right thing, the wrong thing, whatever it is, this is just what we, this is where we’re at. So whatever we need to do

Anna Talerico (16:06)

Vijay Maharaj (16:34)
change or continue seeing those kinds of results, like what are the, like let’s talk about the options, are the things that we did in the past working? Well, why might that have not have been the best, like, decision at the time? Okay, well maybe we didn’t have all the information. You’re never gonna have perfect information, like unfortunately no one in the world has perfect information and if you do, I don’t know what you’re doing. Yeah, so like that’s

Anna Talerico (16:54)
Thank you.

I want to know who you are, yeah.

Vijay Maharaj (17:04)
truth right like we’re essentially just information gatherers and we’re just trying to spit it back out in a way that can give folks a feeling of security that they’re making that we’re all making a good decision for what the business needs to go to.

Anna Talerico (17:20)
Yeah, well said. Okay, so I’m gonna first, actually, I have one more question before we do a little bit of rapid fire. Tell us about day in the life in your role. Like what’s a typical day look like or typical kind of like just, you know, monthly cycle if you will. Tell us a little bit about what’s a day in life.

Vijay Maharaj (17:39)
So there’s a lot. varies quite honestly from day to day, depending on what’s actually going on. So like, you know, if we have a board call coming up pretty soon. So a lot of it is taking all the quarterly results, getting it all prepared, making sure that we’re aligned in terms of like, what happened, what’s the story that, to help describe what happened, making sure we’re presenting it all in a cohesive manner across the business.

Anna Talerico (17:43)

Vijay Maharaj (18:09)
So that’s more or less this week and next week. If there’s a month end cycle, it’s helping accounting, going through and making sure that we don’t have any questions on some of their entries and making sure that we’re all in agreement about certain…

interesting or different like nuanced occurrences that might have happened in the month. And then once they’re done then compiling it all into our…

our monthly package, then presenting all those things to each of our business unit leaders so that they can see how they did and then talk through forecast perspective of like, what do they see that’s happening in their business that we aren’t aware of that we need to go think about from a forecast perspective, like, what does it look for, like for the next 6… 12… 18 months, whatever that is. And then, let’s see

Anna Talerico (19:06)

Vijay Maharaj (19:07)
ad hoc reporting that may be asked. So if you have a question or if our sales folks have a question or if engineering has a question or content has a question, we’ll field them and we’ll try to do our best to get an answer out in a timely fashion. So you’re balancing that as well. And then on top of that, there’s any other random day-to-day activities from a reporting standpoint…

Anna Talerico (19:09)
Yes, yeah.


Vijay Maharaj (19:35)
Get the balance so if you are in charge of like having bookings updated from a like a weekly perspective for pacing to understand how we’re ending up at the quarter that you might have to do that in a day. If we have a cash flow forecast that we need to go update we’ll be updating that. More often than not we’ll be in the forecast file that we use so we can update with all the new information that’s coming in every day. Like you know there’s a…

Anna Talerico (20:04)

Vijay Maharaj (20:05)
The funny thing about a budget is that’s a point in time view of the world. A forecast is a living, breathing thing, so you’re trying to keep it as up-to-date and accurate as possible.

Anna Talerico (20:16)
Yeah, yeah. And it wouldn’t be a day in the life without at least one fire drill, I imagine, right? Of course. Yeah. Okay. Put you on the spot a couple of rapid fire questions. Favorite part about being an FP&A professional.

Vijay Maharaj (20:20)
Of course, yeah.

I think it’s the constant learning, right? Like you can’t be successful in an FP&A role without having some level of curiosity. So like being able to just constantly learn. Like I said, you’re not an expert in any of the other business units. So like learning from experts is just, is really, really fun.

Anna Talerico (20:48)
Yeah. Okay. And any advice or lessons learned or skin to knees that you can share?

Vijay Maharaj (20:56)
Yeah, always have a check. So like if you think something’s supposed to balance, have a check. Or if you think something is supposed to be X, Y, Z number, have a check. Just have your checks so that way you feel like, okay, you know, this all ties out or this is going the way I hope it was to go. Or like, you know, have no way where you always have what your expectation is supposed to be. And then make sure that your model is either meeting that expectation or if it’s wildly out of whack, you really need to then go dig in.

and find those issues like that that will do it that will help you forever, and then if you are like me, have auto save on your files because I am the worst at remembering to hit that little save button, so yeah.

Anna Talerico (21:38)
I’m going to go ahead and close the video.

Yeah, yeah, that’s a painful lesson. That’s a painful lesson to learn. So probably listeners, some that might be not in finance yet, you know, coming out of school or in another role, they’re thinking about getting into a finance role. Some might be in finance roles, thinking about moving into FP&A. Any advice for somebody who wants to be an FP&A professional?

Vijay Maharaj (22:07)
I really think, like I said, having that curiosity mindset is going to suit you really well.

Be really strong on your Excel skills. Have like, this is more or less table stakes, like Excel skills, knowing what the right financial terms are for your industry, knowing your metrics that you should be looking at, like having those things like down pat is the stuff that’s gonna set you well for your foundation. And then just being curious, like never feeling like, oh, I know everything. Or I…

I can go ahead and do whatever without talking to this person. Like always feel like always err on the side of, well, let me go ask, let me go like try to learn some more and then, you know, take all that information, synthesize it as much as you can. And then like just try to learn from it is my big, is probably the biggest advice I could give.

Anna Talerico (23:04)
Well said. Vijay, thank you. This was fantastic. I know that already that I’m gonna ask you back because I’ve already got follow-up questions. Thank you so much and thanks for being so amazing. You have an amazing team and thanks for being my guinea pig. I loved it. Thank you.

Vijay Maharaj (23:20)
Thanks, Anna. Appreciate it.

Anna Talerico (23:22)
All right, see you around everybody. Thanks for joining and listening in today.

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