When Sunil Deshmukh decides to do something, he dedicates himself to it fully. His pursuit of educational degrees and certifications to enhance his skills can inspire every professional seeking to push themselves beyond their wildest aspirations. With expertise in commerce, law, corporate secretaryship, leadership, business strategy, coaching, mentoring, and counseling, Sunil enjoys a broad background that goes well beyond finance and accounting. As Chair of IMA’s Global Board of Directors for the 2024–2025 fiscal year, he intends to share that commitment to lifelong learning with members and, in keeping with IMA’s vision, the global business community.

Early Accolades

Sunil grew up in what’s considered a small town in Western India: Nanded, in the Marathwada region, home to about three million people. He was a middle child but the oldest son, and his father, a schoolteacher, had high hopes for his future. “He wanted me to be an engineer or a doctor, but I didn’t particularly enjoy science.” Once Sunil realized that those two career paths didn’t interest him, he proposed another idea to his dad: commerce. His dad agreed that would be a worthwhile pursuit, as long as Sunil stayed focused and dedicated.

Sunil certainly listened to his father’s advice. Indeed, his time in post-secondary school (where he studied in his vernacular language) was marked by achievement and numerous accolades. He spent three years earning his first undergraduate degree, a bachelor’s in commerce, from Marathwada University, near his hometown. He won a gold medal for his academic performance, graduating first in the entire university. It was during this period that he initially took classes in accounting and related subjects: cost and management, economics, risk management, insurance, and more.

That early success prompted Sunil to want to continue his education and his 20s were a time of continued educational accomplishment. After earning his degree in commerce, he moved to Pune, an urban hub with a population of more than seven million and dubbed the “Oxford of the East” because of the many prominent universities located there. For the first time, Sunil studied in English, earning a second undergraduate degree, this time in law, from top-ranked Symbiosis Law College at Pune University in 1987. Again, he graduated at the top of his class.

Sunil Deshmukh seated at a desk

Sunil Fast Facts

  • He’s lived in five regions of the world: East Africa, South Africa, the Middle East, Singapore, and India.
  • He speaks and understands five languages: Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati, Arabic, and English
  • He’s taught management accounting for 10 years as a visiting faculty member.
  • He wrote a chapter for the book Mastering the Power of You on “Mastering the Power of Sense Making.”
  • His favorite quote is by his mentor Dr. Marshall Goldsmith: “What got you here won’t get you there.”
  • He’s written more than 75 blog posts on his LinkedIn profile.
  • He was recognized with the IMA Champion Award in 2020, the first person from India to earn this prestigious honor.
  • He served as Board liaison for the IMA Research Foundation.
  • He likes to live by these words: “Work hard and play hard.”

Sunil loved living in Pune, so much so that he wanted to stay there. He also loved the youth hostel for students where he lived. The key word here was “student,” though: to keep living in the hostel, he needed to be a student. So, he enrolled in another academic program: a master’s in commerce to complement the bachelor’s degree he already had. It was an elegant solution that not only kept Sunil in Pune, but also provided advanced training in the accounting and finance subjects that already greatly interested him.

After he graduated, Sunil embarked on his professional career with two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree. His first job was as a bookkeeper; following that, he spent a year as an assistant cost accountant for a manufacturing company. (During this time, he also became an associate member of the Institute of Cost Accountants of India, known as ICAI, and passed their exam in 1989. With that certification, he became the first qualified cost and management accountant in his hometown, which gave him recognition and strengthened his professional reputation.) Still, he wasn’t thoroughly content with his career path.

“I felt like I needed something else, another professional degree that would help me give me more flexibility in my career options,” he explained. So, soon after earning his M.Com., Sunil decided to spend two and a half years at the Institute of Company Secretaries of India (ICSI), earning a degree as a company secretary. The degree appealed to him for two reasons: first, company secretaries are heavily involved in compliance matters, a topic that Sunil found fascinating. Second, the role of corporate secretary is often shared with the role of CFO, something that by this time, Sunil was aspiring to—in addition to his ultimate dream of making it to a corporate boardroom.

Global Careerist

The strategy paid off: Sunil secured a coveted position at Goodyear’s South Asia Tires Ltd. as head of finance and (yes) corporate secretary. The company had recently established a joint venture with another manufacturing company in India, and Sunil, one of the youngest managers at the company, helped set up the plant. He also ran a 12-person department and developed processes for the company’s accounting and finance procedures. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of his three years there, however, was related to his role as corporate secretary.

“As corporate secretary, I got to sit in on the company’s board meetings every quarter,” he recalled. “I made board presentations and had the opportunity to meet all of the directors, getting a glimpse into how high-level executives behave and the way they think.” It was also Sunil’s first exposure to professionals from the United States.

Following a short stint as a financial controller for an East African textile company, Sunil next joined Foster’s India Limited, a subsidiary of Australia-headquartered Foster’s, as general manager, finance, administration, and corporate secretary. The position was based in Mumbai, India’s largest city, and the job enabled Sunil to travel all over the world: to Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, Vietnam, and China. During his five-year tenure at Foster’s, Sunil managed a team of 10 people and oversaw many aspects of the company, including human resources, marketing, and sales. Sunil and his team even implemented the company’s ERP system, MFG/PRO, a comprehensive manufacturing software solution that won awards in India, South Asia, and the U.S.

This was Sunil’s introduction to the fast-moving consumer goods industry, and it positioned him for his next opportunity with McDonald’s India, where he helped organize and manage a joint venture between the U.S. parent and a local company in India. At the time, the early 2000s, McDonald’s was trying to expand in India; the company had been in the country for about eight years, but only had 35 locations. Sunil was head of finance and information technology for the west and south region.

One of his biggest accomplishments was getting McDonald’s India to launch a same-day home delivery service, the first of its kind. The idea, ahead of its time, came to the McDonald’s team and Sunil after studying sales data and noticing that sales at restaurants dipped significantly on days when cricket matches were televised. “People didn’t want to leave their homes on those days; they were too busy watching TV. So, the idea became: how can we bring the food to them?” Sunil, along with his cross-functional and technology team, set up a call center and an ERP system and helped the company implement the plan, which involved food home delivery via bikes. Sales climbed by a whopping 25%. Eventually, Sunil’s finance team sold the home delivery software the team had created to McDonald’s in the Asia region.

After that success, Sunil moved on to other challenges, among them working for five years as managing director of Indo-Jordan Chemicals Co. Ltd., a leading chemical/fertilizer manufacturing company in the Middle East.

He was next offered a position to join a family-managed, large multinational conglomerate in the fertilizer, petrochemicals, and infrastructure business, AM International Holdings Pvt. Ltd., based in Singapore. Sunil served as vertical head and Group CEO for the “infrastructure and new business initiatives” of the company. He also managed Wilson Cables Private Ltd.-Singapore as a managing director and CEO, where he was responsible for driving the overall business growth of the group, devising new business strategies, acquisitions, and mergers, and developing new international and local markets.

After all that time in the corporate world, it was time for Sunil to move on to his next challenge in leadership and coaching, thanks in no small part to his involvement with IMA®.

Sharing Leadership Expertise

Sunil’s experience with IMA began in 2010, when he first met Jeff Thomson, IMA’s then-president and CEO, at a conference in Amman, Jordan. At the time, Sunil was working as a managing director and CEO and had just become a CMA® (Certified Management Accountant). He was impressed by both Jeff and the presentation he gave. But it wasn’t until 2018, after he had moved to Singapore and become Group CEO, that Sunil again encountered IMA at a conference it was sponsoring. “Attending that conference, I was reminded of my experience of meeting Jeff back in 2010. Here we were, now both CEOs, and I recalled how captivated I was with Jeff and IMA’s vision for the profession.”

In 2019, Sunil returned to India, where he immediately became a member of the Mumbai Chapter. He took a very active role there, joining the chapter board and eventually serving a term as president. During his tenure, Sunil reorganized the board and helped the chapter grow considerably, from about 600 members to more than 1,500.

“At the time, I was just embarking on coaching and consulting, and I had some time on my hands,” he said. “I found working with the board was a great intellectual challenge.” Later, after he moved back to Pune, he also became involved as president and board member of IMA’s Pune Chapter, where he remains a member. This chapter boasts a great many young professionals and is very active, growing more so every year.

Sunil’s Advice for Aspiring Leaders

  • When you don’t get what you want to get, what you get is an experience.
  • Credibility is the key for professional development. Being credible and being recognized as credible are two different things.
  • Save money and use your vacations for education and skills development.
  • Be kind to people. Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.
  • “Do your work, but don’t let the fruits of work be the purpose of your actions.” – Indian philosophy from the Mahabharata (Bhagavad Gita)
  • “Common sense to an uncommon degree is what the world calls wisdom.” – Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In 2020, Sunil extended his involvement with IMA by becoming a member of the IMA Leadership Academy, where he eventually assumed the role of associate dean in charge of the mentoring program. As a member of the IMA Leadership Academy, Sunil helped develop content and conducted numerous webinars.

“This was the height of COVID-19, and I had the wonderful opportunity to lead many virtual webinars on topics related to leadership, mentorship, decision making, and many other topics that I have studied throughout my life. I’m fortunate, because teaching comes naturally to me: My father was a schoolteacher and that love for sharing knowledge was passed on to me.” Sunil led sessions on “The Psychology of Leadership Decision Making,” “The Art of Negotiation,” “The Art of Asking the Right Questions,” “The Value of Mentoring,” and many others. He holds an impressive honor, something he’s particularly proud of: Among all IMA webinars, Sunil’s boast one of the highest average number of attendees—more than 2,000.

Sunil takes seriously his interest in leadership and coaching. He’s invested considerable time and energy in gaining additional training and certification to help develop his skills in this area. He’s an International Coach Federation USA - Associate Certified Coach (ACC), a Certified Executive Coach-Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching (MGSCC), and a Senior Practitioner from EMCC Global. He also holds his Advanced Certification in Team Coaching (ACTC), has completed a graduate diploma in Applied Positive Psychology from The School of Positive Psychology, and is a certified counselor in Singapore.

One of his most meaningful leadership experiences was his attendance at University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School’s Advanced Management and Leadership Programme in 2011. During this month-long residential program in England, Sunil met accomplished professionals from more than 15 countries. The experience reaffirmed his interest in academics and sparked his interest in leadership and coaching, an interest that had begun earlier in his career when he found that many of his colleagues and peers sought him out for guidance. “It really started in Singapore, and it got me on the path of going out of my way to help people.” That built into a business of private, one-on-one coaching, which he considers a great intellectual challenge. That experience at Oxford led to Sunil being invited to write a chapter in the book Mastering the Power of You, a collection of leadership insights. Sunil contributed a full chapter, titled “Mastering the Power of Sense Making.”

After his considerable contributions to the IMA Leadership Academy, it wasn’t long before Sunil was invited to join the IMA Global Board. He became a member in 2021 and was tapped to serve on the Strategic Planning Standing Board Committee and the Nominating Standing Board Committee, the latter of which he served as chair last year. One of his most important roles recently was being a member of the CEO Search Task Force, which was charged with the critical task of finding a replacement for Jeff Thomson after he retired. Sunil was honored to be involved in such important work. He also represented IMA at an International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) meeting in 2022.

Admittedly, Sunil’s journey to become IMA Chair began many years ago, with his career and leadership experience, but the idea truly crystallized for him when he was serving on the Nominating Committee with Gwen van Berne, IMA’s then-Chair. “Gwen was the first non-U.S. Chair, and that was a milestone for the association. So, I realized there was an opportunity for perhaps IMA to consider another non-U.S. chair at some point in the future.” After speaking with more than a dozen people, many of them former Chairs, Sunil decided to put his name forward for the nomination. “It was my first attempt, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be selected. But I’m certainly glad I was.”

Translating IMA’s New Vision

Now that he’s IMA’s new Chair, Sunil has several priorities for his term:

  1. Increase the long-term sustainability of the organization, ensuring its financial health and relevancy for the next 50 and even 100 years. “We need to think about what changes need to be made: What new offerings and programs do we need to provide, and how do we make them available to a broad number of business professionals around the world?” This includes thinking of new certifications, such as the FMAA, and models of delivery, such as IMA’s new corporate membership program that is currently in development, among many other initiatives.
  2. Focus on growth in new markets, including India, Southeast Asia (especially Japan and the Philippines), and the Middle East. “I’m fortunate to have lived in all these markets, which is one reason I think I’m the right person at the right time in IMA’s history. Much of IMA’s growth is coming from outside of the United States, and I think my expertise will be invaluable here as we seek out ways to address what in some ways are very specific needs for each individual market.”
  3. Help translate IMA’s new vision—of focusing on business professionals, not just accounting and finance professionals—into reality. Sunil acknowledges that the CMA will always be an essential part of IMA’s story. “We’re not compromising on the CMA. IMA is world-renowned for the CMA, but we’re also looking at providing a bouquet of certifications and programs that meet business professionals where they are and provide them with essential skills to empower their career and lives.”
  4. Cultivate strategic partnerships and collaborations, especially in the business-to-business area. Sunil believes the contacts he has all over the world will be invaluable in this pursuit. He’s also had experience making the transition from CFO to CEO and is looking to share his expertise in this area as well.
  5. Finally, drawing on his experience as a leadership coach, he wants to serve as a mentor to IMA’s senior leadership team, including CEO Mike DePrisco. “IMA is in a change management/transformation period, and I want to help support that.”

Of course, Sunil recognized there are challenges IMA must face. “COVID-19 certainly created an entirely new set of challenges, ones that organizations are continuing to contend with, but that also has created an opportunity for IMA. The profession is changing: The need for continuous skills development has never been greater,” he explained. Sunil also acknowledges the growing importance of priorities such as sustainability and how it will impact organizations. “This is a new area for accounting and finance professionals, related to their compliance role, and it presents an opportunity for new skill development.”

For IMA to remain relevant, it must recognize how technology is driving change within the profession. In fact, new tech-driven subjects have been added to the CMA exam, and IMA now is offering new learning products, including webinars and courses, on subjects such as data analytics, data visualization, and other technology-driven topics.

Despite these challenges, Sunil is optimistic about the future. “IMA is 104 years old—and there’s no reason why we can’t be around for another 100 years.” To do that, IMA must continue to be an agile organization that can quickly identify needs and respond to the market. He notes that the introduction of the FMAA certification represents a perfect example of this agility.

And the bottom line? Unsurprisingly, it’s something Sunil has been committed to throughout his own life: “Continuous skills development. We want business professionals around the world to know that IMA can help you develop your skills across every stage of your career.”

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