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Secrets behind Mozilla’s finance transformation

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Xenia Tovchykh, the head of global accounting operations at Mozilla, talks to AccountingWEB about finance transformation, artificial intelligence and working in a growing international organisation.

1st Nov 2023
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 The fact the name Mozilla was originally a portmanteau of “Mosaic killer” says a lot about the buccaneering culture behind the makers of Firefox. 

Xenia Tovchykh

“Mozilla is a place where you can try and try again, probably make a mistake, and then try again some more to actually succeed,” explained Xenia Tovchykh, (left) the head of global accounting operations at Mozilla.  

Speaking to AccountingWEB at last month’s SuiteWorld 2023 event in Las Vegas, Tovchykh explained how this “try until you succeed” is not only crucial to the organisation’s success but also apparent in the way the finance department operates. 

It was this ethos that first attracted Tovchykh to Mozilla. She joined the company three years ago, after previously working for Berlin-based online travel platform GetYourGuide. But when the pandemic hit, with the travel industry taking the brunt of the fallout, Tovchykh explored her options and she found that she really aligned with Mozilla’s values. 

Cross-international communication

Based in Tenerife, Tovchykh oversees a department spread across three continents. The finance department migrated to Germany in 2020 from the United States after the organisation decided that in order to grow and increase its global presence, it couldn’t be so North America-focused. 

This obviously comes with time challenges. When a team clocks off on one side of the Atlantic, another team starts. But Tovchykh sees this more as an opportunity, with the time zone differences enabling a work flow starting with the business process outsourcing (BPO) in India, then to Germany, before finishing up in the organisation’s San Francisco headquarters.    

She said that challenges arise when you need a timely response and that can lead to some late nights. But with a highly international team, she has developed a deeper understanding of cross-communication. “When we first moved to the BPO model, there were a lot of communication challenges but through communication training, we overcame them.”

She credits Erin Meyer’s book The Culture Map as being key in connecting the different cultures and meeting together – it’s even become required reading for any newcomer joining Mozilla. 

Finance transformation

Mozilla’s global growth also added pressure to the company’s finance systems. Tovchykh explained that Mozilla had used its previous software for 12 years but “a lot can happen in 12 years” and it was time for a change. 

She said for many years Mozilla had Firefox browser as its primary product, but it’s since created new products and acquired companies, which are being built into the brand. 

The changes across the organisation meant the finance department was restricted in reporting on revenue per product, with expenses needing to be allocated to different cost centres, and they couldn’t slice and dice the information. Driven by the need for “more transparency, data analysis and internal controls”, Mozilla switched to NetSuite 10 months ago, but the decision had been several years in the making. 

When Tovchykh joined Mozilla, conversations about switching to a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system had stalled because the finance department wasn’t ready. She said the finance department needed to have the right processes and people in place to go forward with a complex implementation. 

“It’s really important to have everybody on board if you want to have this important change,” said Tovchykh. “People need to be believing in what you believe and walking the same road with you.”

To get the team on board with the implementation, Tovchykh infused the finance department with the “try until you succeed” ethos and helped them realise that they can do things better even if there is a rough patch.

The accounting department was quick on board because they had experienced first hand how their manual processes were creaking. Once they got approval, the team set themselves a five-month window to implement the software. 

People are at the heart of any transformation project. She recalled advice from a manager based in Germany who recommended having a little bit of “speck” in the team. “He said to have a little bit of extra resources because you don’t really know how things will go – big projects are always unpredictable,” she said. 

Automation potential

Looking ahead, Tovchykh sees artificial intelligence (AI) as the next big technological opportunity for the accounting department, especially around the potential in AP automation. “This is where the system could learn how to process data intelligently because if you’re doing the optical character recognition for accounts payable, so basically reading text from the PDF, then AI could help us code these things intelligently,” she explained.  

She continued that AI could remember how to code invoices based on their historical data, and she also sees the potential in using AI in accounts payable or accounts receivable in communication with customers. 

“There’s a lot of communication going on around ‘when it’s paid, when it’s not paid, when would we pay it’ or so on and so forth. And that takes a lot of human capacity to draft those responses. So I could potentially replace this from a customer-service-orientated role.”

The other area she sees potential in for the use of automation in her department is data analysis. Showcasing the “try and try again” ethos, she admitted she doesn’t know what the future holds for AI and data but is “looking forward to seeing something robust that is fully baked to try it myself”. 

Feeling empowered

It takes bold leadership to deal with big projects like these. Tovchykh credits the company’s culture in giving its people permission to make mistakes and to make changes. 

A former CFO was one person she looked at as her “North Star” when it comes to transformation. “She looked at the company and said, ‘Okay, what is working, what is not working and how can we make things more efficient?’” said Tovchykh.   

“She really empowered me to go and do things,” she said. Linking it back to the “try and try again” culture which allows you to make mistakes, she concluded: “A company culture of this kind is really crucial to success.”

Replies (1)

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By Silver Birch Accts
02nd Nov 2023 19:43

Based in Tenerife, lovely jubbly.

Thanks (1)