MGAC Impacts: Yusuf Newland on Navigating New Cultures, Avoiding Assumptions, and Finding Creative Solutions
The Impact Blog is a spotlight series that highlights and celebrates the diverse employees that make MGAC tick. Beyond their day-to-day schedules, we want to know how they have a greater impact on their colleagues, their company, and the communities in which they live and work. We want to know what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what led them to their current role, and what they hope their lasting impact will be.
Today, we get to know Yusuf Newland, Manager, Accounting and Financial Systems at MGAC.
MGAC: Hi, Yusuf! Welcome to the Impact Blog. Can you tell us what you do at MGAC?
Yusuf Newland (YN): Absolutely. My title is Manager of Accounting and Financial Systems. Essentially, I help manage the accounting system and the accounting team, and coordinate work processes to achieve our team’s goals
MGAC: And how long have you been with MGAC?
YN: I’ve been with the company, in our DC office, a little over four years now.
MGAC: What led you to this company and role? What were you doing before you came here?
YN: I moved to the U.S. in 2016. I’m from West Africa—I was born in Sierra Leone, and then moved to Gambia. Before MGAC, I was working for SOS Children’s Villages International as the financial advisor for the West African region. It helps provide care and resources for orphaned and abandoned children.
MGAC: Wow, that sounds like incredible work.
YN: It was. I was mainly working with a virtual team that’s spread across diverse locations. I traveled quite a bit, mostly around West Africa, and occasionally to the east or south. A couple of times, I went to Europe because our head office is located in Austria.
MGAC: So, what brought you to the United States?
YN: I moved to the U.S. for family reasons. I took a couple of months looking for work to come into the labor market. Ultimately, I learned about a temp opening at MGAC. The company had recently changed its accounting system to the one I’d used at my previous job in Africa. They were looking for someone who had good knowledge of accounting and that specific system to help them through the transition phase.
MGAC: What a timely opening! Was finance always your passion, or did you have other career ambitions when you were younger?
YN: Actually, when I was younger, I was fascinated with how things move—how planes fly, how cars move. I was interested in physics and engineering. But, I grew up in a poor family, and you need many sponsorships to continue your education and ultimately do that kind of work. One day in high school, my older brother sat me down and suggested I make a switch to business studies instead—because I would be able to finish my education and get a good job. So that’s what I did.
MGAC: So, unfortunately, you weren’t able to follow the path you were hoping to in your adolescence. But, it still seems you’ve been able to have a very rewarding career in spite of that?
YN: I absolutely have. And when you think about it, it’s still all about numbers, but instead of physics, in this case, it’s about business, how the numbers help make better business decisions!
MGAC: Very true! What else would your kid-self think about your current job today?
YN: It’s incredible to think how far I’ve come. Especially the journey of gaining knowledge and growing through the process. In my prior role, I started as a staff accountant and rose to the rank of regional financial advisor/controller. During that time, I learned everything I know about accounting, management, finance,people and systems. All of that helped me establish myself and go straight to work when I came to the United States.
MGAC: What a journey! Speaking of, did you ever imagine in your younger years that you would one day move to the United States?
YN: Not in my wildest dreams! It was a big move, especially at my age, and a total transition of everything: lifestyle, culture. It’s easier to move when you are younger because you adapt quickly. When you’re older, you have ideas in your head already.
MGAC: So true. It’s an understatement to say you’ve had to overcome challenges in your move to the U.S. and onboarding with MGAC. What have been some of the most significant?
YN: First of all, there was the work itself. When I first joined MGAC, I knew I needed to make an impact right away, even while I was still adapting to such a new environment. I came to provide a service to add value—otherwise, I wasn’t needed! To do that, I studied the goals of the department. I knew I had to understand where they were in order to properly understand where they wanted to go—and most importantly, how I could help them get there. Today, I find myself taking on challenges in order to grow in my role. I’m always seeking to better understand the industry MGAC is in, to have that context. For example, during the pandemic, I learned about processes in construction management. Because I see myself as a service to the other departments, and that means I need to understand them properly in order to give them the best information I can. It’s like they are my clients within MGAC.
MGAC: What a thoughtful way to view your role. It’s impressive that your desire to understand the industry and your co-workers has inspired you to seek out ongoing learning opportunities.
YN: I’ve even studied some psychology to understand how to better deal with people and, ultimately, improve my interpersonal relationships. When I came here, not only were the people new to me; the culture was new to me. It wouldn’t have been the same challenge as if I were from the United States.
MGAC: That’s so true. Can you elaborate on the cultural differences you encountered?
YN: Of course, all organizations are different in terms of culture. But, when you go to a completely new geographical place and then enter a new organization, everything feels different. The way people interact, how they come in the morning and say “hi” to one another, how they socialize, how they ask questions. It’s often about language choices. I realized I would use words that people aren’t used to here—that our jargon is different. As I mentioned earlier, I grew up in Sierra Leone, and later moved to Gambia, where I spent most of my adult life. Both countries were colonized by the British, so English was our official language, but I was used to British-English phrases. So, I studied the American-English jargon that people use here. Needless to say, communication styles and expectations were a big cultural challenge for me!
MGAC: Even though that has been a lot to navigate, your diverse experience is also a huge asset to MGAC. What unique perspectives do you feel you brought to your team?
YN: In some ways, my previous experience working for SOS Children’s Villages International is nothing like MGAC, because MGAC is in the private sector. So, like I mentioned, I’ve been learning about the construction industry and business world. In that regard, it has been a completely different experience for me—like going back to school. But at the same time, the strong experience I had with the financial system and its processes meant I could make an impact at MGAC right away. I felt comfortable asking questions and had immediate ideas about improving the processes, developing the team, and training the team.
MGAC: It sounds like you were truly able to hit the ground running from day one! Flash forward a few years, what keeps you busy these days?
YN: My role at MGAC has evolved over the years. I started here as a temp, helping with that transition to the new system. Then I came on full-time as a senior financial analyst. More recently, our team has grown as new people have joined. I’ve been adapting my work style to continue to work well with new colleagues. I’m helping to build new processes, to improve the accounting department, and to support the continued direction of the company overall.
MGAC: You also are leaving a great impact through your involvement with the company’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts.
YN: That’s true. I help organize and drive a session of the DEI Lunch & Learn every month. It’s a role I’m really enjoying. I think it’s fitting for me to help the organization support ways for its employees to empathize with one another. It’s good to judge people based on their own journey, and I’m someone who comes to work having made a significant journey to be here. That’s the starting point for our work on the committee.
MGAC: Absolutely! Can you tell us more about it?
YN: Its overall aim is to help us understand each other more and be more inclusive. We’ll look at topics, videos, and other materials that help us collect our thoughts and share our ideas. The goal is to help us understand each other, to step into each other’s shoes, and to hear each other’s inner voices. Because while we’re all at MGAC now, we each traveled to come here. Everybody has a different route. And we don’t always know the route another person took. It’s important we don’t judge people who arrived late, or who are not in the right mood. When you understand the journey, when you understand what a person is struggling with, you can put yourself in a position to respond to them empathetically.
MGAC: What impact do you hope to have here at MGAC?
YN: When I think about my work with MGAC, I think of myself as someone who offers support to others. I am mostly working with colleagues internally, on the project management side. I’m a backstage worker. I’m here to support MGAC’s goals, and so my own goal is how to get others the information they need and make their work easier.
MGAC: What at MGAC has made an impact on you?
YN: MGAC has absolutely shaped me. This was my first working experience in the U.S., so I see this world how MGAC sees it. MGAC has shaped my worldview, my business view, my American view. Most importantly, MGAC has supported me as I adapted to life here and tried to settle my feet on the ground. I have felt like I’m in a family. I’ve gone through difficult moments in my transition, both personally and professionally, and MGAC has been always there to support me. I know they will always have my back. That moral support has been a strong foundation for me to do my best work.
MGAC: What have you found most rewarding about your job?
YN: I think the most important part of my job is the fact that I’ve learned a lot and have built confidence in myself through that process. MGAC has inspired me to do more. They’ve given me a new vision of where I want to take myself in the next few years. What I can do more of. I think the most rewarding thing for me is the backbone of support they’ve given me to create a vision of myself.
MGAC: That’s great to hear. Beyond that support system, what gives you energy each day?
YN: What makes me get out of bed and pick up my backpack to go to work is the fact that I have something on my desk to attend to that someone else is counting on. I know I’m making an impact, and I’m appreciated for what I’m doing. Because my work is ultimately about supporting others, I like seeing the ways I make someone else’s jobs easier, how their work and goals are improved through my background support.
MGAC: What is your secret to winding down at the end of a long day?
YN: After work, my brain can be so active. I’ll often go home and take a jog to relax. But I can also be comfortable watching Netflix or the news on the couch.
MGAC: What about your secret to starting the morning off on the right foot?
YN: I’m an early riser—I can get up as early as 4:00AM. I always try to keep my brain very stimulated. My work can be creative: I have to find solutions, improve processes and make work easier for others. I always get up in the morning and do a quick, intensive workout to get my blood flowing and infuse fresh oxygen into my body.
MGAC: Interesting! Many people wouldn’t think of accounting and financial work as creative, but you do. Can you tell us more about your perspective there?
YN: I think that’s what has kept me engaged in my work. I ask myself, “How can we do this better?” This industry is one of constant change that requires new solutions. MGAC has grown by more than 50 percent in the time I’ve been here. The firm has expanded its market, including into the private sector, a lot during that time. With this expansion comes an opportunity to build systems and improve processes to support the way we’re evolving.
MGAC: As we’ve discussed, you’re no stranger to lifelong learning. What’s a book that has made a significant impact on your life?
YN: I listen to a lot of books. One that has made a lot of impact on me is The Four Agreements. It talks about four agreements, or four ways to look at yourself and approach life. I try to always keep them in mind and even have them on the wall in my office so that I will remember them throughout the day.
- Be impeccable with your words. Speak nice. Your words should motivate others.
- Don’t take anything personally, even if someone is rude to you. What people say or do is not about you; it’s about them.
- Never make assumptions. Confirm everything.
- Always do your best, no matter what. Even if your best is not enough and it doesn’t work out, you will know you did your best.
MGAC: Those are great! They are simple, but powerful reminders. Along those lines, how about a favorite quote that inspires you?
YN: Because I work with accounting systems and numbers, I’ll say to my team, “Garbage in, garbage out.” It’s what you put in that you get out. With systems now, there are a lot of fields. Those allow you to break down information into many different variables. But people will still want to take shortcuts and put scant information in. I’ll remind them that systems depend on input—“garbage in, garbage out.”
MGAC: What do you want your lasting impact to be?
YN: I’m very passionate about helping people. Supporting them, giving advice. I took a Myers-Briggs test, and I am INFJ: the Advocate. So, for me, I find greater good in helping others. Helping them figure out a problem. Brainstorm. Dissect and analyze. Look at something from a different angle to ensure a better outcome. I hope to measure my impact by how much I have supported MGAC from where they were when I joined them and the role I played along the journey to where they want to go. The systems and processes I’ve helped put in place. The people I’ve helped as they try to do their work and contribute to the MGAC goals.
MGAC: Well put. And now we’ve approached the final phase of our conversation: Our rapid-fire questions. Are you ready?
YN: I am!
MGAC: Describe your job in 5 words or less
YN: People, processes, systems, and information.
MGAC: What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
YN: I look at my calendar and see what is ahead for the day.
MGAC: What’s the last thing?
YN: I always ask myself, “What have I done for the day?” Sometimes there are things I have not completed, but I like to give myself a tap on the back and say, “I’ve gone much of the way, and I’m almost there.”
MGAC: A little positive reflection!
YN: Yes! I actually have templates that give me percentages of where I am with my goals.
MGAC: Of course you do! What’s the weirdest thing we might find in your desk or work bag?
YN: In my pack, I would say my first-aid kit. I have it so I can help people, if needed.
MGAC: What’s your go-to weekday lunch?
YN: It’s crazy because I am not a fan of lunch, so most of the time I have snacks like nuts throughout the day. I try to eat as healthy as possible.
MGAC: What’s the most used app on your phone?
YN: I would say it’s WhatsApp. I have most of my family back home on it, and I use that to communicate with them.
MGAC: What is your biggest work goal underway for 2021?
YN: My team has been growing a lot—we have a new CFO who’s been here about one year now, a new controller, and a lot of new other people. My goal is to support the team during this time. Helping my new colleagues integrate within our company culture and feel comfortable shaping and contributing to that culture by sharing my own experience and knowledge.
MGAC: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
YN: As I said earlier, MGAC has helped me to create a new vision of myself. I think in the next five years, I want to get my MBA and put myself in a more strategic position at MGAC; so I can play a more influential role and help the company achieve its goals.
MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?
YN: I’m an introvert, and I’m always serious at work. But I have another side: I can be very social, and switch from a serious person to the life of the party. People are surprised and ask, “Is that Yusuf?” Once, MGAC had a team in a soccer tournament. I was very active in helping organize the team and playing, scoring goals. Everybody was surprised!