Mind crunching with 6 top-notch CFOs to unravel their successes

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By Vishnu Makhijani

New Delhi– A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) has traditionally been seen as a serious, introverted bean counter but a new book reveals the unconventional ways in which six of these top notchers have shaped their careers and the role they played in the 100x growth of their organisations.

“In behavioural patterns, it was surprising how different the CFOs were in some areas, such as different factors that motivated individual CFOs, and yet, how similar they were in some other areas, primarily on the ‘human’ side,” Pramod Bagri, the co-author with Sandeep Kumar of “CFO NITI – Candid Conversations With India’s Finest Finance Leaders, Get Inspired,” (Konark), told IANS in an interview.

“All these CFOs demand the highest level of quality and professionalism in their staff and colleagues. But they also spend significant effort understanding and working with their employees and ensuring their success. Personal level connects, a desire to coach and teach, and compassion in all their actions is a hallmark of these leaders,” Bagri added.

A CFO, he said, “has transformed from being a bean counter to a strategic partner to business and essential to success. The aim of this book is to find the secret sauce that goes into the making of a successful CFO and understand what key elements a young professional should inculcate in their careers to have a more fulfilling, successful career.

“Sandeep and I hope to contribute to the larger finance community and act as a bridge from the untapped sea of knowledge from our CFOs to students, finance professionals and business executives,” Bagri elaborated.

This has been accomplished through mind crunching the CFOs of Maruti Suzuki, Tata Steel, Amazon India, L&T, Hindustan Unilever, and Aditya Birla Group, breaking in the process a lot of stereotypes associated with finance leaders.

What then are the takeaways from the book?

* All the CFOs have an aura of positivity and they have wished away the option of negativity from their lives

* They have a deep paradigm of commitment in all their actions�personal or professional — and do not like to give any excuses

* They all have a deeply ingrained motive of being human. The respect that they show to their subordinates in all these conversations, the art of delegation with power, the human aspect of any decision that is taken into consideration was very visible.

* They all had a deeply ingrained motive of being human. The respect that they showed to their subordinates in all these conversations, the art of delegation with power, the human aspect of any decision that was taken into consideration was very visible.

* They all believe deeply in action. They do not indulge in overthinking and always take the plunge if it aligns with their objectives

* All CFOs have a regimented morning routine. They face each day head-on to make it count.

* Some of them were introverts and others were extroverts in their personal space. However, all of them have led large teams with ease and adapted to the societal requirements of the role.

* All CFOs have different ways of acquiring knowledge. Their patterns of reading and absorbing knowledge are very different. Yet one common thing is being prolific learners for life.

* They all had qualifications that set their early romance with numbers. Without exception, all of them have a high numerical and attention to detail.

What is the knowledge these CFOs have to offer?

Ajay Seth (Maruti Suzuki India Limited): Actively look for challenging situations rather than sitting in your comfort zone, and go from being a finance person to being a strategic advisor to the CEO by taking a bigger picture strategic approach to problems than just delivering numbers.

Koushik Chatterjee (Tata Steel): Beyond the knowledge that one acquires with a degree, your career needs to be seen as a lifelong journey of learning, finding the opportunities to apply the learnings with allowances for failing sometimes, the ability to pick oneself up from failures quickly, stand back and reassess the situation, and be calm and sporting even when you are judged unfairly.

Raghava Rao (Amazon India): Get Big, Get Fit, and Get Close. Get Big means to work on inputs and grow in scale. Get Fit implies improvement in unit economics and path to profits. Get Close means to drive customer loyalty and drive engagement.

R. Shankar Raman (L&T): Be over-prepared. When you go out to hunt a deer, prepare as though you are going for a tiger hunt. If you bend your back, results do come. Examine your actions. Are you over-preparing to perform on your key result areas? Do you see a case to invest more time in over-preparation and will it help you get to the next orbit in your field? Does this thought get you excited to jump in right now and start the process?

Srinivas Phatak (Hindustan Unilever): Never waste a crisis. For instance, when the GST council revised rates at a very short notice, HUL had very little time to re-price and reorganize almost 50 per cent of its portfolio. Working with multiple stakeholders, HUL was able to present and execute a proposal within 15 days corresponding to its core values and in adherence to government directives. Take such situations head-on and reshape your life.

Sushil Agarwal (Aditya Birla Group): One should be confident of one’s actions and ensure it passes the ‘Headline Test’. When you have the courage to stand up before a crowd and take ownership of things done, that’s when you truly become a leader.

Pramod Bagri is a Chartered Accountant and Data Analytics professional with nearly two decades of experience in working with some of the world’s most renowned organisations across different facets of finance.

Sandeep Kumar is the Founder and CEO of Singapore based Fintech startup Torre Capital. He earlier spent over a dozen years in Strategy and Digital Consulting with McKinsey & Co and Accenture Consulting.(IANS)


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