If she ever gets down in the dumps about her personal life or career, Anshu N. Tiku gives herself an attitude adjustment.
“We all have our moments when we can’t get out of our own way,” says the associate director, tax and international operations, comptroller’s office, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “I probably have more of those than I would like to admit, but I’ve learned how to give myself an attitude adjustment by saying, ‘All right. What can I contribute positively here? How can I grow, develop, and help the people around me?’ ”
In her 13 years in higher education, Tiku has also worked in the finance offices—with a specialty in taxation—at Stanford University, Calif; and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge. “I’ve been privileged to work at three amazing institutions with amazing bosses,” she says.
How do the cultures compare at MIT, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania?
They range widely on the scale of decentralization and entrepreneurial spirit. They are all unique in what makes them fabulous institutions and how they approach the world’s problems.
How did you end up at University of Pennsylvania?
My family is now located in Philadelphia. My sister, who has three kids, is on the faculty here at Penn. My parents have also relocated, so this move was the opportunity to be near my family. My decision was part professional, part personal.
In terms of your job, what are some of the operating and compliance risks that higher education institutions need to watch out for in foreign countries?
When operating outside of the United States, we sometimes operate as if we are still a U.S. tax–exempt organization; however, many foreign governments and countries do not recognize our tax–exempt status. We have to know how to support our faculty and staff, and avoid additional administrative burdens and compliance costs.
For example, in certain countries, faculty salaries can become taxable after 60 days. If faculty members get stuck at a border and you have not prepared them for a potential tax bill, you could have a problem.
You’ve worked on a number of global projects? Can you isolate one that you particularly enjoyed?
While I was at Stanford, I had the privilege of supporting SEED—the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies—which is working to end the cycle of global poverty. I remotely helped set up operations on the ground in Ghana, as well as supported the decision process on the appropriate legal structure and how to process the necessary applications and documents. I found that rewarding.
What is your dream job?
I don’t know. I ask myself that pretty much every day. I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up. Sometimes I think I want to scrap higher education and open my own yoga studio.
I would like to feel like I’m giving back to the community. In the grand scheme of things, I want to be somebody who contributes to the universe and the world, whether that is through good energy, a positive outlook, or simply being authentic.
What according to you has been your biggest success?
I’ve never really considered myself particularly successful. That’s not to say I haven’t been fortunate and done well in my career—I have and I attribute that to a lot of hard work.
For me, success is more about supporting the people around me, whether it’s through a successful tax filing for the university or filing the applications and financial statements for a new program. It’s the little things.
What’s the most important professional lesson that you have learned?
You’re going to be wrong and you’re going to make mistakes. Acknowledge your mistakes, learn from them, and don’t beat yourself up. I think we sometimes forget that we are human. You have to tell yourself, “I messed up and I own this,” but then let it go and move on.
What challenges have you faced in the past? Tell us how you handled them.
I’ve had a few. However, from a professional aspect, some of my career moves have been challenging and it left me wondering whether I made the right decision. Initially, I’d feel like I had given up something really great for something questionable. In those instances, I gave myself an attitude adjustment, because I believe in making the best of where you find yourself.
Care to share your steps for making an attitude adjustment? Someone reading this might need them.
Sometimes it involves wallowing in your self-pity for a couple of nights and having a good cry and then saying, “Enough. What are the things within my control? How can I make this bad decision good? How can I grow? Do I need a new hobby? Do I need a different focus or approach?”
One of my former bosses used to ask me, “What can you learn from this? How can you make this positive?” That really stuck with me.
What kind of boss do you prefer?
I like managers who don’t micromanage. I know what I need to do—just let me do it. If I’m not moving fast enough on a project or if I need to reprioritize my assignments just tell me. But I really want the opportunity to own my job and my responsibilities. Basically, I like to get things done, to solve problems. If there is a fire, I want to put it out.
I realize managing is one of the hardest jobs ever. I didn’t realize how difficult or challenging it was until I was a manager. Although I’m not managing any staff in my current positon, I used to be a manager earlier in my career.
What is the best business advice that you have ever received?
Look at the big picture. I struggle with looking at situations too narrowly. I need to step back and ask, “What is the real nature of the work? What’s the entire picture?” It’s easy to get tunnel vision.
Let’s turn the tables: Do you have any advice for business officers?
The CBO is focused on the big picture, and the tax area is one little piece of the picture. I would suggest that when they are strategy planning and considering how to go forward, it might be helpful to the institutions to include some of us who do the background work. We won’t necessarily influence the strategy, but seeing the big picture will help us in planning and leading when their strategy needs to be executed.
What part does social media play in your life and career?
It doesn’t. Everybody teases me because I am not on social media. LinkedIn is about as far as I go, and I’m not particularly active on there either. It’s a running joke among my friends. No Facebook. No Instagram.
Social media can be a great way to connect, but I’ve never been bitten by the social media bug.
You have an interesting name, please explain what it means.
It’s Sanskrit. Indian. It means a little bundle of energy. I have never really figured out whether I grew into my name or if my parents just knew my personality at birth. I am not shy, but I don’t like to talk about myself. You can ask me about anything else on the planet.
How do you unwind from the pressures of the job?
I feel like a high schooler saying this, but I love to spend time with my amazing friends. Being single, you end up creating family in different ways.
I’m a yoga and Pilates junkie. I’m hoping to go on a yoga retreat—maybe in Iceland or Thailand. I’m also a Yankees fan, who lived in Boston for a while, which was interesting. Thankfully, I lived to tell the tale. There was a time when I lived about three blocks from Fenway Park.
[I’m still] a Yankees fan, and I became a fan because of an old boyfriend. That’s the one thing I kept from the relationship. Go figure.
MARGO VANOVER PORTER, Locust Grove, Va., covers higher education business issues for Business Officer.