20/20 with Shailesh Bettadapur, Treasurer, Mohawk Industries

June 5, 2018
The C2FO Team

C2FO was founded by taking a clear look at a broken finance system, and redefining how it could work better in the future. Our vision is defined, not by what we created, but by the customers we serve. From business leaders who manage the world’s largest companies to the entrepreneurs of all sizes who access working capital to fuel growth, and build the economy and the innovations of the future, our network is a humbling collaborative of thinkers, doers, and creative and economic forces. They help us see lessons of the past and goals clearly, and visualize what is possible ahead.

Our 20/20 series focuses on the people who comprise the C2FO network. Through their stories, we reflect on goals and lessons and envision what is possible ahead.

Shailesh “Shaila” Bettadapur is VP & Treasurer for Mohawk Industries, the world’s largest flooring manufacturer and a C2FO Buyer since 2014. Prior to coming to Mohawk in late 2010, he held several senior finance leadership positions at Laureate Education and Johnson Controls, both of which were in Singapore, and at Holcim and General Motors. His MBA is from Northwestern University. Shaila and his wife, Jacquie, have two grown sons, and live in the Atlanta area.

C2FO: What has been your best decision and why?

Shaila Bettadapur: In retrospect, there have been several, and I’ve been lucky with those decisions. Going back to b-school turned out to be an excellent decision. Taking the leap to go overseas, first to Belgium, then to Singapore, was defining, both from a career perspective and from a personal (for me and my family) growth perspective. My kids more or less grew up in Asia and I believe that they’re better for it.

C2FO: Who contributed most to your success and how?

SB: Luck. First, I’ve been lucky that my wife and I see eye to eye on most things. We agreed on her “retiring” when my second son was born. She is an MBA from Northwestern too, and at the time, she was making half of our income, so retiring was no small thing. But it gave us the flexibility to take those overseas assignments and do other things, and on balance, therefore, it was the right thing. But it was still a significant decision.

I’ve also been lucky in my bosses. My direct boss at Holcim taught me real finance and what I do now is a direct outgrowth of that experience with him. To this day, I probably learned more from him than anyone else. He is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met and without which I could not have done all the other things I have. From my first boss at Johnson Controls, a European who himself had been an expat in his younger days, I learned how to handle multiple cultures (Asia is huge and diverse). All of these things have served me well later on.

C2FO: Name a mistake that you have made and what could you have done differently?

SB: You know that’s always a hard thing. The question that you usually get is ‘Do you have any regrets?’ My answer is no. I don’t. The reason I don’t — it’s not that I don’t make mistakes — it’s the whole idea that if you could rewind the tape, would you? My problem is that if you rewind the tape, you have to rewind the entire tape. I look at it holistically.

If you had shown me a movie of ‘This is Your Life’ when I was 20, I would have signed up for that. So, have there been things that didn’t work out in the moment? Sure, but they work out eventually. On balance, it’s been really good. There have been some obvious individual mistakes. If I had to do it over again, perhaps I wouldn’t have gone to GM right out of b-school. None of these things have been fatal though. No matter what you do, even if it turns out to have been a mistake, you can always get something out of it, you can always learn something. That is the key no matter what the situation is.

When I went back to Asia with Laureate in 2008, it was literally forty-five days before Lehman failed. But the Financial Crisis affected everyone, and so, who can say what would have happened had that road not been taken? It could have been much worse. You have to ask, ‘what did you get out of the experience?’

C2FO: Is there anything you wish you would have had more time for?

SB: In retrospect, I think, maybe more time to travel for pleasure. Time gets away from you. We say ‘ah, we’ll do it next year,’ and you don’t, or something happens. My wife and I have been doing a lot of this now that we’re empty nesters. One of the things on our list was Istanbul. We kept putting it off and putting it off. Given the situation now, we’re not going to Istanbul anytime soon. Hopefully, the opportunity will come back.

I thought about this a long time ago when my kids where smaller and I was determined not to regret not having had time for things like coaching little league. While I was still working a lot, it was important to do these things. Might I have been higher in the organization? Maybe, but I would have missed out on the other stuff. So I’m good with that decision.

C2FO: What was your most rewarding experience?

SB: Some combination of being a parent and overseas life. I just really enjoyed those things. Living overseas was … it’s hard for me to describe to people if they haven’t done it because they can’t relate to it. Before you’ve done the expat thing, maybe you are a little bit worried you don’t know how it’s going to work, you are out of your comfort zone. But, boy, I would have missed out on so much if I hadn’t gone abroad. For me, outside of my family, that is the single biggest thing. If I were to die tomorrow, I would say ‘I’m glad we did that.’

C2FO: Thinking ahead, what will be your next big challenge?

SB: I would say two things: First, staying current. This is a common challenge. It’s too easy to get comfortable and, therefore, trapped in stuff that you do all the time. I would say it’s not a bad thing to look for new challenges, and, therefore, discomfort. Second, what do the next twenty years look like? I’m 58, and will probably retire when I’m 70 or so. But even in retirement, what would I do with myself? As much as I love golf, I can’t golf every day. So, do I teach, or am I on a board or two? But, I need to do something, even when I am past 70. If not, I will drive my wife crazy, and I will also drive myself crazy. To me, that will be the biggest challenge, defining ‘what will I do next?’

C2FO: What is your most significant opportunity ahead?

SB: The most significant opportunity for me, is to take the experience I’ve gotten and put it good use. Not to belabor the point on the overseas thing, but if someone said, ‘I need to build out a finance organization in Asia or Europe or South America, would you do that?’ I could do that. Because at 58, I’m not someone they need to worry about saying “where’s the next job?” I can train their people to grow, and work myself out of a job.

C2FO: What one thing would make you most successful?

SB: The thing I have gotten better at is perspective. I don’t get too worked up over the things that happen in life one way or another. I don’t get too happy about the good news, or too sad about the bad news. I’ve seen the movie before. I am constantly amazed at how many people who, when something happens, run around with their hair on fire. I don’t think that’s necessary. For me, perspective matters a lot. Typically, you get that when you are older, but not everybody gets it the same way.

C2FO: What improvement will you focus most on?

SB: Maybe broadening my scope a bit, which I try to do anyway. Never stop doing it. Just because what you’ve been doing works all this while, doesn’t mean it’s going to continue. I think I do a relatively good job of expanding my scope now, but I can always do better.

C2FO: What is something new you will do in the future?

SB: I don’t know.

C2FO: Thanks, Shaila. Whatever you do, we know it’s going to be interesting.

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