While accounting marked his road to success, Ryan Siurek finds his passion in promoting ethics and integrity in business. The 39-year-old signed on as Sprint Nextel's assistant controller in January 2009 and 10 months later was named controller of the $32.3 billion wireless communications company.
Siurek has also worked at Arthur Andersen and LyondellBasell Industries in such posts as senior manager of technical accounting, controller of European operations and director of risk management and global shared services. But it was his stint as one of four graduates selected for a year-long fellowship at the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) after he earned a master's in accounting at Texas A&M that planted him firmly in his chosen field.
What has been your biggest challenge or learning experience?
Gaining comfort with ambiguity. Most people think of accounting as black and white, but it's much more than that. Also, a big challenge has been planning how to develop exceptional people. I really have to set aside time for that.
What has been your most rewarding project so far?
In terms of personal satisfaction, it has been setting a tone of ethics within the organization, plus setting a tone of dignity in the office. Also, just dealing with the technical issues of accounting. I like working with new accounting standards, and figuring out how they will apply to the company.
What do you like best about your job?
Dealing with M&A issues. These are fun and intellectually challenging. They are also multi-disciplinary. You get to work with different teams in dealing with these deals.
Could you talk a bit about your role as a speaker on business ethics and integrity?
I worked for several companies (including Enron both before and after the bankruptcy) and saw early the need to set a tone at the top. I'm on an advisory board at the Department of Accounting of the May's School of Business at Texas A&M, and I have spoken on the importance of integrity in the workplace to hundreds of graduate students. I have also spoken at a number of accounting societies and organizations.
How did you get on the career fast track?
I had a good opportunity with the fellowship at the FASB. I wouldn't consider my career to be fast-tracked, but I have had opportunities. I've always been focused on trying to do a good job at the position I'm in. The next levels have kind of just happened. Certainly there's been an element of looking ahead, like asking people what I could do to move up, but I wasn't ever aggressive to the point where it would be annoying.
Did you have a mentor? If so, how important was that?
My boss at LyondellBasell Industries-- Charles Hall was my mentor. He is one of the few people I know who is more passionate than me about accounting and ethics. When he moved over to become Sprint's controller, I followed him. When he retired, I became controller.
Accountants aren't usually viewed as thinking much about people. What I gained most from him was learning the importance of developing special people, and the importance of a sense of dignity in the workplace.
He continues to be a mentor to me, even in retirement.
What advice would you give newbies starting out in treasury and finance now?
Find something you enjoy doing. A passion really helps. Also, strike a balance between work and home.
What finance area now offers the most opportunity?
Accountancy is a strong path to future success. It offers the individual a chance to start their career off, and to appreciate the relationship between business operations and finance. It can also be a great springboard to other areas of finance.
What skills are the most sought after now?
After ethics and integrity, I would say communications skills, both written and oral, the ability to think through issues, and executive presence--people who are comfortable with who they are. As for math? I always carry a calculator.
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