A Mature Market’s Evolution

Mandeep Chawla, VP of finance for electronics manufacturing services company Celestica, is spurring growth by protecting its base market while diversifying to five new ones

Celestica’s vice president of finance, Mandeep Chawla, has been around the problem-solving block in more ways than one. He was hired by General Electric straight out of university and hit the ground running as part of the company’s travel-based corporate audit staff. He then followed it with work at GE Plastics, Tyco, and MDF before the Celestica opportunity arose. With each stop on the ladder—especially MDS, a life-sciences company that was broken into individual components less than a year after his arrival—Chawla gained essential insights and experiences.

“What I’ve found is that you can apply operational excellence to anything,” he says. “It’s about determining the end goal, driving the process to get you there, and building a fantastic team to get it done.”

Joining Celestica in 2010 was a win for both Chawla and for the $6 billion supply-chain-management-services company. In his role, such tasks as financial planning and analysis,  stewarding management systems, pricing organization, and sales operations falls under his responsibility. “But the primary intent is stewarding the financial business partnership function within the company—working with all the various business units and getting the corresponding partners in each group to support the profitable growth of our company,” Chawla says. “That’s our overarching mandate.”

And where is profitable growth found in an industry as long-standing as electronics? Diversified markets, or what Chawla calls “five end markets”—space defense, semiconductor, energy, industrial, and health care. “Our customers face significant challenges with increased global competition and the need to improve profitability and reduce time to market,” he says. “Celestica works as a trusted partner to many leading OEMs that are considering consolidation or transformation of their supply chains. Our primary value proposition is to leverage our reputation, track record, and experience in high quality, high complexity, and high reliability to deliver unique and innovative global supply-chain solutions tailored to our customer’s specific requirements.”

LESSONS LEARNED

Chawla offers five key takeaways for growth

Master the fundamentals

Take on an operational finance assignment to get into the weeds and discover the details

Find good mentors

Gravitate towards messy assignments—that’s where
you’ll learn the most

Don’t shy away from actively participating in the strategic direction of the company

One example comes in Celestica’s recent agreement with Honeywell Aerospace to subcontract certain operations in Honeywell’s Mississauga, Ontario, facility. The agreement brought more than 300 full-time employees to Celestica. Another example involved the government-sponsored FIT program, which subsidized solar panels—manufactured by Celestica—as part of an export program. “Although the program has ended, we have extended the capabilities towards agreements with strategic partners,” Chawla says.

But nearly three quarters of Celestica’s business is of the nondiversified variety in communication and enterprise. So defending its base in those markets is critical as well. “One way of doing that,” Chawla says, “is working with our customers as they go through this transformation in order to support them.” Ultimately, Celestica is either working on new products its customers look to develop, or it is developing noncompeting products of its own—like storage units and server products—and taking them to market. “Being involved from the outset with these products allows Celestica to provide more value in a space that is having a lot of margin pressure.”

Additionally, investing in developing business partners is an important area of focus in finance. Currently, Chawla is working to steer nearly 40 individuals through a newly developed program that focuses on the fundamentals for a good partnership. Anchored by four modules—strategic decision-making, analytics, continuous improvement, and executive proposals, helping senior leaders to be comfortable in the field—the program will reinforce traits seen in successful business partners. “The people I’ve found to be the most successful business partners are the ones who can take information and translate it into solutions,” he says. “The ones who can find meaning and insight beyond the numbers.”

Still, tools and processes are a vital part of the Celestica investment in effective business partnerships as well.  As an example, Chawla lists the interactive dashboards that have been developed, which provide real-time drill-down capabilities and quicker access to information. It’s all part of the company’s results-oriented culture that he values so much. “The culture here is among the strongest that I have ever experienced,” he says. “There’s a tremendous amount of integrity, and I think that’s why people stay. We have very well-respected leaders who really do what they say.”