As an accounting and finance major at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, Yerramilli gave up a coveted new position in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ audit department in McLean, Va., to instead interview for a job in the firm’s forensic services practice. The risk paid off, and he got the job, jump-starting what has turned out to be a stellar career.
At PwC, Yerramilli moved up the ranks to senior associate in forensic services, working on fraud, risk management and anti-corruption matters, until an opportunity arose that he could not pass up: a chance to take on the role of forensic program manager at Google Inc., in Mountain View, Calif. He interviewed for over four long months, and was hired. At Google, now four years running, Yerramilli manages the corporation’s global forensics program and helps his company manage risk related to conducting business globally.
At the age of 30, Yerramilli recently studied for and passed the CGMA exam. That process and accomplishment helped him, he said, become a more strategic, big-picture thinker, which falls in synch with Google’s corporate culture.
Yerramilli talked recently about his career path, his responsibilities, his vision, and his passions for cooking and volunteering. Here’s our conversation:
What do you do at Google?
My role is to help manage Google’s risk. I manage my own portfolio of cases and look into concerns that are raised around employee misconduct. I also focus on regulatory risk and corruption risk. I manage our global forensics program, which is comprised of managing our global anti-corruption audit program. It entails me travelling to a different region each quarter to kick off the audit with the local compliance counsel in the region.
What do you like about being a forensic accountant at Google?
I like the analytical, read-between-the-lines aspect of it. I enjoy looking at data to try to uncover things and figure out where risks may exist or persist. At Google, we are essentially trying to ensure that the positive values in the company are sustained. In every organization you may have a few bad apples, but it is nice to be part of the team where one of the goals is to lessen the effect of bad apples on the broader organization, and give validity to the better apples that they are doing the right thing.
Given your success at such a young age, what motivated you to become a CGMA?
I have a CPA and a CFE, and both are very accounting-focused on more of a technical level. I wanted a certificate that was a little bigger picture and that focused on the business as a whole, and one that conveyed a strategic focus, and the CGMA does this well. It also tests your soft skills, rather than your technical accounting skills. It had been two years since I got my last certificate, so I was itching for something else to sink my teeth into.
What are your thoughts about the CGMA exam?
On the spectrum of exams, it was an interesting one to take. It wasn’t about the root mechanics aspect of business, but more about big picture. It made me think about different scenarios, what we do with our competitors, how we talk through this and how it impacts our stock prices. I liked the fact that the exam had open-ended questions, and that it was all about the same case study. I liked that it was cohesive. It gave me the chance to be creative in how I thought about things. You have to reign in your creativity to just the right level.
What do you determine as the ultimate value of the CGMA?
Accountants can be pigeon-holed quickly, and people will often stereotype. Having a CGMA designation, learning the concepts, breaks you out of the mold of how a traditional CPA thinks. It broadens your thought process to think more strategically. It gives you a balance. The technical skills will get you so far, but if you want to make an impact on the business, you need to improve your ability to think strategically and form different points of view. And the different-points-of-view aspect is where the CGMA shines—putting yourself in different shoes. How would shareholders react? How would the executive team, employees, stakeholders react?
What have you gained through the CGMA program?
I gained an appreciation and better understanding of the strategic elements of a business. Most of my career has been focused on building processes and looking at transactions at a granular level, and now I’m at a transition point, moving more into being a strategic source of expertise for my team. Obtaining the CGMA gave me fundamental concepts in thinking through strategy and through identification of stakeholders. I was able to translate what I learned from the CGMA process almost immediately. Shortly after my CGMA exam, I had been tasked with a project that involved helping our senior leadership perform a strategic analysis of certain aspects of our teams. So coming out of studying for the CGMA exam, I was in that head space of how do we think big picture and strategically, and what is valuable when you prioritize things from a strategic standpoint. I was able to knock that project out of the park, and it was very well received by our senior leadership.
How have you given back to the profession?
I have spoken at various conferences and do mentorship work through the Virginia Society of CPAs. In 2015 I was named one of the top five CPAs under 35 in Virginia. For several years, I also led the alumni-student mentorship program for QUEST, the honors program at the Smith School that seeks to combine business and technology students. I was so happy with my experience in the program that I wanted to give back. I now serve on the Steering Committee for their student publication.
Outside of work, what is your biggest passion?
I love cooking and eating. My wife and I are very big foodies, and we watch different cooking shows, trying to pick up new techniques. One of our weekly rituals is to visit the farmers’ market. We have many different cookbooks and we look through them for inspiration and get the ingredients and give it a whirl.
What are your favorite dishes?
My pork tonkatsu with Japanese curry is one of my favorites, and I love making different styles of fried chicken. We’ve taken classes to help our knife skills—tightening up how we chop, and learning how to julienne and ribbon cut. We also took a class on how to make churros and different kinds of donuts.
What have you learned from your time at Google?
Google’s corporate culture really hit me at a personal level. Google is a horizontal organization with regards to culture. If you have an idea, then run with it, and put something together, and then we’ll talk about it. It’s okay to make mistakes. It has enhanced my creativity. I can come up with new ideas on how to execute something or a new way to design a program, and here we have the freedom to think outside the box. This is a company that stands for strong and positive values of respect and equality and diversity. It is nice to be part of a team and a company that takes those kinds of values seriously.
What career advice would you give to young CPAs based on your experience?
I will give them the best piece of advice I got when I joined Google: Always be humble—and stay hungry. It’s easy to get caught up in things and have a few successes and let it get to your head. But at the end of the day, people that succeed are those who can be humble about their successes and stay hungry about wanting to achieve more and more.