NetApp’s Living Our Values (LOV) Awards, a peer-nominated and peer-judged recognition program, is the highest honor NetApp employees can receive. These semiannual awards recognize three winners and up to six honorable mentions worldwide who embody the company values. Ingrained into day-to-day work, NetApp’s seven values are: Leadership, Trust & Integrity, Simplicity, Adaptability, Teamwork & Synergy, Go Beyond and Get Things Done. Each winner is brought to Sunnyvale for a Company All Hands, where they are thanked by the CEO. NetApp also gives a gift of $5,000 in each winner’s name to the charity of their choice.
In December 2017, the U.S. passed the most sweeping changes to the country’s tax code in more than 30 years. With the end of the calendar year quickly closing in, that sent U.S companies scrambling to interpret those changes as the law went into effect.
NetApp was no exception. And according to Americas LOV Winner Arvind Venigalla, tax director, Planning and MA, that work continues.
“Everyday we are discovering new things that are affecting us, and everyday there is new interpretations or guidance from the government coming to us as a company,” he says.
Arvind’s colleagues in NetApp’s Tax Department credit him with not only setting an example of leadership, professionalism and dedication as the department navigates the minefield of tax law and accounting principles on a daily basis, but also with helping to provide significant savings for NetApp by thoroughly examining the company’s options under the new tax law by constantly asking if there was a better way to do things.
As one person who nominated Arvind for the LOV Award put it, “He asks simple questions in an effort to understand things beyond the surface. This shift in mindset has completely changed how my team works and resulted in great improvements in our work. Instead of following the same processes or doing what we were taught at big accounting firms, we stop and ask ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this? Is this the right thing for NetApp now? Is there a better way?’ In short, we have become humble enough to question the things we thought we once knew. This change has been an invaluable gift to our team as we will carry it throughout our careers and it will set us apart from other departments and our peers.”
Short tenure, significant impact
Arvind came to NetApp 15 months ago to work on what was originally a three-month project, but he was asked to stay when the project finished. With background as a public accountant, he has worked as both an independent tax consultant and in the tax practice for KPMG, one of the Big 4 accounting firms.
As is characteristic of many LOV winners, Arvind does not consider his approach to his work to be anything special. He says of his LOV win, “I was surprised, really surprised. I was doing what was needed to take care of things. But it’s definitely nice to be acknowledged by colleagues, and it’s nice to know they appreciate what I’m doing.”
However, Arvind’s approach to work—and to life—does, in fact, set him apart in a way that just so happens to align perfectly with NetApp’s core values of leadership, trust and integrity, simplicity, adaptability, teamwork and synergy, going beyond and getting things done.
Arvind says he approaches everything he does by following four simple principles. “When you do this, you will automatically check off all the values,” he says.
First, he says, always do what is good for NetApp. “In anything I say or do, I’m always guided by that one question,” he says. “’What is good for NetApp? How is it going to impact NetApp?’ That is number one.”
This principle is certainly obvious to Arvind’s teammates. Nominators note that his guidance encourages them to always do things the right way. “Arvind has influenced me and my team to constantly re-evaluate the difficult question of ‘Is this really the best we can do?’” one nominator said.
Arvind’s second principle is to put others first. “If I’m working with somebody or just having a casual conversation with somebody, the importance has to be on that person. You have to do what is right for that person, not necessarily for me,” he says. Or, as his nominators put it, “I never thought one person’s humility could have such a profound effect on the team.” Nominators note that Arvind not only “truly cares” for those around him, but that he’s always willing to go out of his way to help others.
“When we ask him for help, he doesn’t give us one-off answers. Arvind will take the time to show us how to find the answer for ourselves. He will explain to us his thinking processes, his approach, show us where he found the answers and what other things he considered in answering us. He even goes so far as explaining to us what factors could change the answer so that we are prepared if we run into a similar issue that might have slightly different facts. Then he challenges us not to take his word for it, but to get to these answers on our own and to consider bigger ramifications. This is how he helps us every time we ask for help, not just once in a while,” one nomination said.
Another nominator said, “I consider myself lucky to have the opportunity to work with someone who is willing to invest so much time in my learning. He changes the way we all think, he challenges us to think bigger picture.”
Taking the bigger picture into account relates directly to Arvind’s third principle—which is to always think about the long-term consequences of actions. “Either in my personal actions or instructions to other people in what I’m asking them to do—think of the long-term consequences, not just today or tomorrow,” Arvind says.
Arvind’s ability to look ahead is also duly noted by his team. “He connects numerous, complicated dots. He thinks 20 steps ahead and 20 steps to the side, and he can go from details to big picture,” said one nominator.
“He goes the extra mile to make sure that transactions are set up and done correctly, ensuring that what we do now, won’t cause a lot of problems down the road,” said another nominator.
Finally, Arvind says he strives not to take anything personally. “I don’t consider how something affects me personally. I don’t take into account a personal outcome. So, when you do these four things, I realized that what I do everyday translates into the NetApp values.”
Creating an environment where questions can occur
Arvind’s approach of constantly questioning whether something is the right course for NetApp sets a high standard for the team to strive for in their work say his colleagues. Arvind says his approach to his work is just to not assume he knows everything, despite his years of experience as a tax professional. Even if he’s done something before, there might be a way that it could be done better and more efficiently the next time.
“I try to make that really clear to people. I don’t assume I know. More often than not, if you approach a problem from a sense of knowing, you don’t allow yourself to be taught by the situation because you’re not open to the possibilities. You might miss out on an opportunity or you might actually not see mistakes that you made before,” he says.
“He always checks and double checks what he thinks,” said one nomination. “He holds his own work and actions to a very high standard and by setting an example, he has given the rest of the tax team a high standard to strive for in our work. For example, after doing a reasonable amount of research and even consulting with a reputable accounting firm, we came up with a tax project plan. Arvind took the time to think through each step, check and double check the laws.”
Arvind says that for people to feel comfortable questioning how things are done and to put the company’s interests ahead of their own, what they ultimately need is to have a sense of psychological security in the workplace, their team and in what they’re doing. Arvind says that’s something he always tries to emphasize when working with others. He tells his teams to focus on what’s good for NetApp and not worry about other things.
“You shouldn’t have to worry about protecting yourself when you’re working with us. If you help them feel it’s a psychologically secure environment, they are more able to do what is good for NetApp.”
“The best feedback I could get”
Arvind says being nominated by his peers for the LOV Award is “the best feedback I could get” from his colleagues. Knowing that they appreciate his approach to doing things and that how he works with them is resonating is a great acknowledgement. Receiving the award at the All Hands meeting in the presence of these colleagues was a highlight of winning the award for Arvind.
“I’ve never sat in the front row. You can really get into it and feel people’s energy. It was great,” he said.
As part of his LOV Award, Arvind will have the chance to donate $5,000 from NetApp to the charity of his choice. Arvind plans to give his donation to the Caring Hands Foundation, a local charity that he’s sat on the board of and been affiliated with for a number of years. According to Arvind, the charity identifies projects worthy of support in developing countries and ensures that all the money raised by the charity goes directly to benefit the projects and none of it is used to pay for the administration of the charity. Locally in the US, he says, the organization also provides lunch sacks to homeless shelters in the Bay Area.
Ultimately, being appreciated by his peers is what means the most to Arvind. “Everybody likes to know what they are doing is relevant and really important for the organization they are associated with — the same with me. But obviously the team doing it in this way is extra special,” he says.