By Tina Mashiko, VP of Finance, Western Digital Corporation
Most companies face at least one major disruption to their business every couple of years, such as a market crash or natural disaster. A single event like this can cause catastrophe. Imagine what could happen if you encounter more than one.
Last year my company, Western Digital, faced two potential disasters within 30 days of each other: a major power outage in our manufacturing facility in Japan, and U.S. government sanctions against China, which disrupted operations with one of our trading partners.
Moments like these can make or break a finance career. The team must scramble to assess the potential impact, update forecasts, and recommend ways to mitigate the damage. These are the moments that the entire company is looking to finance and the team’s insights. The last thing you want is to propose a bad strategy—or, even worse, no strategy at all.
At Western Digital, our leadership team was able to pivot quickly and mitigate 98 percent of the potential issues for our customers, while still meeting government requirements. How did we do this? By having the right technology in place to provide fast access to real-time information, update our forecasts quickly, model new scenarios, gain new insights, and make the right decisions.
When I look back on these incidents, I see the power of technology to not only solve complex and urgent business challenges, but also accelerate careers. Women frequently shy away from technology later in education and in careers. However, technology can help promote women along their leadership journeys if they embrace and champion technology-driven change.
A few years ago, we merged three Fortune 500-sized companies together (Western Digital, HGST, and SanDisk). At the time, we made the strategic decision to move finance to the cloud to prepare for a more digital future. We laid the foundation for quick insight and agile response by standardizing on Oracle Cloud. The decision seems almost prescient now, since it gave us the ability to navigate quickly (and, for the most part, painlessly) through two potential disasters.
Our ability to quickly change direction was a huge win for my team—one of those “make or break” moments. By championing technology projects like these, women stand out as change champions, calculated risk takers, and forward thinkers. It can contribute to building their company’s future and capitalize on an opportunity for leadership.
Advanced technologies, such as AI and intelligent process automation, help people work better, faster, and with a higher degree of accuracy. By relentlessly automating as many transactions and as much manual work as possible, you can free up time for analytics and other higher-value work. This gives everyone—women and men—the opportunity to provide insights that can lead to faster decisions and execution, just like with our two potential disasters.
Advanced technology also breaks down narrow mindsets because it facilitates cross-functional collaboration. This changes the role of finance professionals from siloed specialists to valued partners of an enterprise-wide team.
At Western Digital, we have an enterprise Transformation Management Office (TMO), which I co-chair. It’s our governing body accountable for the company’s transformation projects including all technology-driven transformation (identification, approval, and management of portfolio and guide change management). One of TMO’s goals is to leave behind traditional, siloed thinking about corporate functions and have a broader enterprise responsibility to the organization. One of our most impactful TMO-sponsored programs is the End-to-End Process Excellence program. We created enterprise-wide processes, standards, and owners—we broke down functional silos. This established a foundation for cultural change, as well as a foundation for our successful transition to Oracle Cloud. It unleashed new ideas from all areas of the business—not just finance or IT.
In such an environment, finance professionals can contribute to developing business strategy. They can stretch beyond their traditional skillsets, beyond the degrees and CPAs, and learn more about the broader areas of the business. Technology, coupled with any functional expertise and the right transformational leadership, can provide an opportunity to enrich careers, adding skills to the personal tool chest.
Technology can also be a neutralizer. It doesn’t require highly technical expertise to understand its benefits and uses. You don’t have to be an engineer or an IT specialist to make an impact—to be an agent of change.
My advice is to push yourself to be uncomfortable, to be curious. Curiosity can be the biggest driver for innovation and acceleration. Learn all that you can about the advanced technology that is transforming enterprises. Explore other processes. Learn outside of your business expertise.
If you have a “functions” mindset, broaden that view. Build relationships with people inside and outside of your group. Be an agent of change and make an impact for your company, for your career.
The “make or break” moments will happen in every business, eventually. By pushing yourself to be an agent of change, and championing the technology required to face such moments with confidence, you can advance your career beyond what you might have imagined.
As VP of Finance, Tina Mashiko is responsible for Western Digital Corporation's enterprise and business unit P&L’s, corporate FP&A, cash management and forecasting including consolidations, revenue and business planning, global opex, R&D finance/portfolio management, and finance business systems. She also manages process and systems improvements for the finance organization working cross-functionally, and post-multiple acquisitions and integrations activities with Western Digital, HGST, and Sandisk.