Views from the Home Office: A conversation with Milli Arakawa, CFO
By: Lisa Youngentob on May 26th, 2020
When Milli Arawaka was promoted to EYA CFO a year ago, no one expected that in a year, she would need to transition her team to work 100 percent remotely in response to a global pandemic. Not only would the transition require efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of her team, but as EYA joined together to create a COVID-19 Response Team, Milli was quick to participate.
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When asked about working remotely, Milli said, “I miss the human connection with everyone. The culture of EYA is a fun community, but a lot of the fun is non-planned hallway fun.” Not only has she seen EYA become more intentional with fun through virtual happy hours and a virtual open mic night, but she also said that meetings have become a lot more intentional too.
“We are actually meeting more. We meet twice, sometimes three times a week. You have to be intentional about it, for example this is what I need to accomplish with you, this is how we need to accomplish it and these are the people that are going to help you accomplish it. Everyone needs to be on the same page, otherwise, it’s going to lead to inefficiencies. You are more intentional about communication because you don’t have the luxury of informal communication anymore.”
In addition to adapting how EYA communicates, she believes that a lot of the processes that have been adopted now will make EYA more efficient once people are allowed to return to the office. She said, “people are being very forward-thinking about how we want to change the process, and I need to make sure that as we are changing processes, we are still controlling the risk and mitigating the risks of the processes that are in place while we are in the office.”
Because accounting is mostly done on paper, she added: “we’ve had to move printers to people’s houses.”
When EYA returns to the office, whenever that may be, there are a few things that she would like to see continue, especially the use of new technologies and virtual meetings. She said, “There has always been this thing at EYA where you communicate very well, but we also have to communicate to the Field Offices. I like that we are doing more things together and communicating company wide much more.” She added that she also believes that everyone at EYA has been supporting each other more, too.
For Milli, another rewarding part of the past month has been her role on EYA’s COVID-19 Operations Response Team with McLean Quinn, Frank Connors, Bob Youngentob and Lisa Montenegro. The response team is representative of all of the stakeholders that EYA reports to. She said, “I think to be a part of the management team, seeing the integrity of the management, and being a part of the larger EYA mission with them, all while watching our team shepherd this process has been an amazing experience.”
Milli had some advice for emerging leaders in business. She said, “The advice I would give is to find a mentor or confidant that is more experienced than you. Frank Connors is one of my many mentors. He’s a confidant of mine, and I’m always bouncing stuff off of him and it feels so good. He has so much more experience than me and he just knows how to look at things in a big picture way. When I’m stressed, he’s the one telling me to go spend time with my family. Bob is really great at that too. When you think that the world is on your shoulders, they are first to tell you that it’s not worth it. Bob will say, 'your health and personal well-being is way more important than anything else.’"
To relieve stress during this time, Milli is doing the same things that she has done throughout her career, which include knowing that this isn’t about her, it’s about the bigger picture of life and to her, “that is making a difference."
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While playing with her kids in the Metro parking lot, Milli thanked a front line worker on the way to her job by Metro, which caused her daughter to ask some questions. Milli said, “I explained to her that there are front line people out there that still have to go to work and that’s their day today. She really absorbed that and wanted to do her part to help during this pandemic.”
Milli’s oldest daughter, Cassie (age 10); is making masks for friends and family. She’s selling them and plans on donating the proceeds. Her other daughter, Emmy (age 7), is going to making hand sanitizer for people through a recipe that she found on the internet. "Just hearing that and seeing that they are trying to make a difference, especially when it is hard to right now when we can’t go out, it’s a simple way to remind ourselves that there is a bigger world out there and that it’s not about you. And that there are always ways to help the cause.”