Details matter: CFO J’shanthan Mudely’s meticulous approach to problem solving

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CFO J’shanthan Mudely explains how his detail-oriented approach to life, and an early brush with death shaped his journey to becoming head of finance for Image Guided Therapy at Philips.

J’shanthan Mudely, a Deloitte-qualified chartered accountant with more than 16 years of experience in finance, bears a scar across the right side of his head which is a reminder of the car accident he was involved in when he was just 12 years old.

“I was rushed to Kingsway hospital when they told my parents, ‘Unfortunately, we can’t do a CT/MR scan because we don’t have a working CT machine on site.” J’shanthan’s father, who is a physician, insisted on the scan, arranging transport to St Augustine’s, the nearest hospital with a working machine.

J’shanthan was rushed into the ICU, where he underwent surgery to remove two subdural haemorrhages, and would have died that morning if he had not been transported to the second hospital.

Skip forward a few decades, and J’shanthan finds himself working for Philips as the head of finance for Image Guided Therapy across the Middle East, Turkey and Africa. He is part of a team that equips hospitals and diagnostic providers with reliable equipment that helps diagnose and treat patients timeously. “For me, it’s all about being part of organisations that improve the quality of care patients receive,” he says.

Previously, J’shanthan worked at Stryker, multinational medical technology company. He also worked for the medical blood diagnostics company Abbott.

As a finance expert working in the healthcare sector, J’shanthan may not be improving healthcare with a stethoscope or scalpel, but his problem-solving approach involves a fair amount of dissection and expert diagnoses.


The answer is usually in the details

As a CFO, J’shanthan thrives on fixing problems. He takes the time to map out processes. This includes whiteboarding and understanding what controls are in place to make sure the underlying data is reliable. This is time-consuming, but it pays off in the long run.

This systems approach was evident from a young age. “I remember growing up, there would be a pile of electronics in our backyard as my parents were done with me opening up all my new toys and electronics,” recalls J’shanthan. “There was a photocopier, a washing machine and lots of appliances with motors so I could just sit there with my toolset, open them up and see how they worked. I also spent my free time working on computers repairing and building workstations for people in the neighbourhood.”

Applied to his role as a finance professional, this means J’shanthan is not afraid to get down to ground level and ask questions that probe at the root causes. For instance, when his previous employer, Stryker, needed to reduce freight costs, J’shanthan did a walk-through of their receiving, distribution centre and analysed a sample of shipping documents.

“An interesting fact is that freight costs are determined by the higher volumetric mass versus actual mass. Sometimes your volumetric mass ends up being larger because someone takes a small plate or screw and packs it into a 30cm box and ships it across the continent, because staff were sending items as they arrived rather than containerising items.”

J’shanthan helped Stryker create an inventory replenishment system for the market that would reduce inflated freighting costs by making sure their orders were containerised.

“I truly believe that you build insight from understanding the detailed processes, people and systems we work on daily and identifying ways to make the fastest and most significant impact, which is mostly through people.”


Big projects hinge on little things

This approach to detail also comes through when J’shanthan leads so-called ‘transformation projects’. These projects aim to use technological solutions to improve efficiency and ultimately, profitability.

For example, at Philips during the inflation crisis, he worked closely with a team of developers on a tool that uses artificial intelligence to extrapolate margin and improve forecast accuracy.

The tool considers all elements of cost inflation. It learns from market insights, factors in changes in how business connects with supply chain systems to formulate a latest view on profitability. What this means is that Philips can proactively manage profitability and mitigate risk rather than reacting when it may be too late.

J’shanthan finds that with these projects, there is always an element of trial and error, with the errors usually being in the details. “Machine learning and artificial intelligence are only as powerful as the systems and processes that support them. When these new tools are introduced to the business, there can be some resistance, especially when the insights may not initially make sense,” he says.

It’s at that point that J’shanthan again turns to investigating root causes. He likens this process to Formula 1, where cars are sent onto the track, then pitted and tweaked to function optimally and put onto the track with speed. “It’s so important that you map out the systems, understand how they are integrated, especially for master data, because your master data drives the insights. If your master data is junk, your insight will be junk, but you’ve got to put the car on the track, and when it pits, know what you want to tweak to get it up and running again,” says J’shanthan.


Embracing tech frees time for half marathons and nappies

“After the life-saving surgery, I spent a month in hospital and a month thereafter at home recovering. During this time, my dad instilled this affirmation in me:‘Every day and in every way, I’m getting better and better.’” For J’shanthan, embracing new tools and technology in business is not because of some fad. Rather, when done correctly, it makes lives better and better.

“These tools enable you to be engaged. Once you're engaged in your work, you're performing at your best, which has knock-on effects of less stress and more energy to give back to your family.”

For J’shanthan, this includes spending time with his wife, Shevira Bissessor, and two children.

“We both cherish our quality time with the children and with each other as a couple first. My wife and I set time aside to run, train and cycle together. One of the things we enjoy doing together on the weekend is a jog to breakfast before heading out with the kids for the day.” He and Shevira recently completed the Soweto Half Marathon.

Shevira is COO of Gateway Real Estate Africa, and J’shanthan is quick to point out her role in setting up a household schedule that helps them both remain focused despite their busy diaries – in particular, with J’shanthan recently completing his Certified Management Accountant (CMA) studies while also fathering a newborn.

“My wife is very supportive of my work, and the schedule works phenomenally to help be disciplined with our day. I remember when studying my CMA I would study between 9pm and midnight. My son would wake up, I’d take a break to see to him, and then study for another hour,” says J’shanthan. Children have added not only convenient study break opportunities, but also a more profound sense of purpose.

“When you have children, there’s a different drive and a motivation. It’s not just about yourself anymore. It’s about being able to reflect and tell your kids that you challenged yourself and achieved something. It’s about motivating them and for them to be proud of you.”

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