Abhishek Sharma CXO Series

In Conversation With Abhishek Sharma, CFO, T24 On the Evolving Role of CFOs

With the merging of world markets and the globalisation of economy over the last couple of decades, a spark in the transformation of corporate finance leadership has been seen. Today, CFOs need to come up with growth strategies and ideas to revolutionise their businesses. One such person who has stirred up the business world with his path-breaking, calculated strategies is Abhishek Sharma, CFO of T24 Future Groups.

A seasoned CFO with solid experience of over two decades, Mr Sharma has worked across geographies, driven business growth, and churned out desirable outcomes. He has an in-depth knowledge in corporate/business planning, business strategy formulation/execution, strategic alliance management, managing investor relations, funding, and revenue across a wide array of domains.

A finance enthusiast, Mr. Sharma has been a part of several corporate giants, and his perseverance, people influencing skills, absolute financial sense, and an eye for detailed business planning is what sets this visionary apart. He is currently spearheading T24 to success, India’s only Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) that runs on Tata Docomo network. The unique pre-paid mobile service allows customers to avail both telecom and shopping benefits whenever they ‘talk’ using their T24 number or whenever they ‘shop’ at any Future Group outlets.

His strengths lie in quickly understanding functional issues and key drivers of business performance and P&L, making him outstanding in his job. We had had the pleasure of interviewing Abhishek Sharma, CFO, T24 Group. Apart from getting to know about his journey reaching the C-Suite level, we also wanted to know the little things that he likes and mattered in his life. Here’s a glimpse of his story and tips to make strategic financial decisions, driving business growth and more.

In conversation with Abhishek Sharma: CFO T24 Future Group

Interviewer: Akanksha Nagariya

KredX: How do you define your journey as a professional?

Mr Sharma: My journey as a professional has taught me various things. The most important lesson that I go forward with is learning. It is an essential step for anyone. For me to execute anything, it is imperative to learn and understand that thing first as it helps to increase the scale and reach, ultimately aiding in strategy formation. Having worked in multiple sectors like manufacturing, automobile, communication etc. has given me experience in various stages of that industry. From the time when prepaid telecommunication was a far-fetched reality to today’s high-speed 4G internet, caller tunes, special benefits among others – my learning graph has been exponential, and that is what my journey as a professional has been.

KredX: How would you describe your typical day?

Mr Sharma: To make my day productive, I follow a particular routine. I start my day by reading reports and checking emails. However, in case I have an early morning meeting, I try finishing it immediately after the meeting. For me, reports provide insightful details and aid in following the key indicators and business parameters, ultimately driving growth. Fundamentally, it all boils down to the performance and revenue of the business. Following this, I analyse and identify the shortfalls of the business process to provide a comprehensive business plan.

At T24, my responsibilities include ensuring a constant flow of working capital, cash production, and timely clearance of payments daily. After that, as a business partner to the CEO and the custodian of maintaining the integrity of the business at a 360-degree level, a review is usually scheduled with different departments and stakeholders among others.

KredX: With this much work, it is obvious for a CFO to have a lot of interaction on daily basis with all the other teams of the company. As such there must be a lot of challenges that you, as a CFO has to face. So, what according to you are some challenges that a CFO has to face in the daily business which might otherwise come in the way of running a business smoothly?

Mr Sharma: If a business is not running smoothly, no CFO will be happy. However, if a company is performing well, it is essential for a CFO to guarantee that the business is earning revenue and providing the right capital efficiencies. Without profit, after a point, the growth of any business slows down; but, it shouldn’t compromise with the levers of control.

Essentially, the growth of a business should be in accordance with the various compliance parameters like legal and HR, or any other security matter in that sense. However, as companies grow, challenges related to compliance also increases. Hence, it is vital to approach business from a 360-degree viewpoint, accounting everything that is happening inside the business ecosystem. This, for me, is the most challenging part of a CFO’s role.

KredX: Everybody does something or the other on a personal level to increase their productivity. What is that something when it comes to you? What do you do to increase your productivity? What is that thing that motivates you?

Mr Sharma: In today’s world, it is imperative to stay fit and be in shape to keep an optimum level of productivity. To maintain my productivity level, I like to engage in self-improvement/relaxing activities like meditation and mindfulness to help achieve a well-balanced mind. Most importantly, I believe that it’s essential to enjoy whatever you are doing, be it physical activities, meditation or any other form of exercise.

I keep myself motivated by aligning myself with the business objectives and interest of the stakeholders. Business force is what drives me to indulge with others and to ease out tasks for others.

KredX: With the changing time, there has been a shift in the trends and responsibilities of a CFO. Being in this industry for so long, I am sure you might have also noticed some shifts. What are your views on that?

Mr Sharma: With the ever-changing trends, the roles and responsibilities of a CFOs have evolved. Today’s CFOs are expected to articulate. With digitisation going on full swing, a CFO in the current scenario is expected to be digitally savvy and technologically sound. He or she must have a thorough knowledge of all the aspects of business, and not just accounting, bookkeeping, or tax planning. Essentially, the role of a CFO has reached a much higher level today. Now, CFOs are considered as the co-pilots to the CEOs, devising and implementing new strategies to drive the business forward. Apart from this, they are expected to nurture the business, mitigate risk, and be on top of the market.

Factors like the increasing need to shorten product life cycle and go-to-market time are keeping CFOs under enormous pressure, as they are expected to retrieve the right type of data available to put all this to work. At times, one may not have the complete data to it. During such situation the CFO is expected to step in and sort things out, explain to others what is needed to be done or why certain things are happening.

Today, the role and responsibility of a CFO is not just limited to managing wealth, but also involves influencing and aligning people with the knowledge they have of the subject and educating them about the risks and challenges that may lie ahead in the future. Not only does our role involve showing them what might go wrong but also showing them the right way, all the while ensuring that the objectives are met.

KredX: Since your role is very diversified and involves interaction with almost every team. Which particular skill do you think has helped you the most apart from influencing? Also, if you can give an example from your life where this particular skill has helped you out.

Mr Sharma: I think apart from influencing, the skill that has really helped me out over the years is articulating situations in a manner that the other person can understand. It is important to talk to people and make them understand in a manner that they can easily decipher. As a CFO, it becomes essential to explain things in their language. For instance, a salesperson will best understand the situation when explained according to his field. Same goes for someone working in marketing, finance or technology.  

Once when we were in Bihar and Jharkhand,  there was a hyper-competition in the market as Vodafone and Idea were entering the market as the 11th or 12th operator. We took up a project where we decided to have a brief turn around time for the distributor claims management. This basically meant that distributors who were selling prepaid cards in the market will be able to settle claims within 30 days of filing. This effort showcased our support to the people in sales and keeping them happy, and this could only be done if the distributor was happy. If the distributor is happy, he or she will further go and engage with a customer, increasing sales.

Today something like that may sound mediocre but was actually a huge challenge in a state like Bihar in 2008. We had distributors who were kilometres away and covered by e-transactions through which they could transit money so that we could send them e-recharges immediately. By doing this, we were able to clear their two to three days of working capital lockup. For example, when a distributor is selling Rs 100 worth of recharges; Rs 20 is his proportion for the paper. The billing for this is done within the first 15 days so that all the markets have sufficient stock in a particular time. By shifting to e-recharge, we were able to cut down a lot of logistics cost and increased their rotation of money. This provided the salespeople with the comfort and courage to go in the field and compete against everyone else despite the changing trends.

Aligning the goals and helping the team to achieve it is the main agenda here. It is all about being able to maintain the margin despite the aggressive competition in the present market.

KredX: Who is that one person whom you look up to and is your motivator or guide?

Mr Sharma: There is a long list of such people. Life is a beautiful journey, and you keep meeting people who inspire you some way or the other. I think this process is never-ending. We learn so many things from different people in different places with different cultures. In life, everybody teaches you something or the other, and I try to take in all this learning from everybody I meet. Right from my first boss, to all the people who have mentored me or taught me something in my personal or professional life, I look up to everybody.

I remember one of the product discussions long back when I was a trainee in TVS Suzuki. We used to interact with Japanese total quality control while doing our product development discussion, and it was supposed to be a very well-organised activity at our company. One of our products was specifically designed for ladies – Scooties had just come, and at that time it became a runaway hit with the ladies. A professor had come from Japan, and we were discussing house of quality, and he was probing deep and telling how we should get into knowing our customer’s requirement while mapping the product attributes and what kind of things there should be.

While discussing, he suddenly asked us a question that ‘Since you are designing a product for females, how many female engineers are there in your R&D team?’ And everybody was quiet because this was the late 90s and not many women worked in the R&D team. There was pin-drop silence in the room. He then went on to say that you are designing a product for the ladies, how will you figure out the kind of tension that is supposed to be given on the clutch wire. Usually when we apply the clutch that is done by the left hand. If a male engineer uses his feel of tension in a product which is designed for female, the results may vary. So, this kind of thinking that involves an understanding of the customers to design the best product is something that inspired me a lot. I saw the success of Scooties, and I still see it.

This is one teaching that will stay with me for my entire life because this kind of thinking and approach are required in the walk of your life. It fixes a lot of problems in the business and saves a lot of effort in making people successful in their business. His remark left a deep impression on me. I learnt that it was essential to step into the customer’s shoe and understand their problems and requirements.

KredX: What is your food preference?

Mr Sharma: I like eating simple home cooked food. I love the taste of hot freshly cooked chapatis. I love eating dal and rice. I find South Indian food like rasam rice, curd rice etc. very convenient and friendly to my taste.

KredX: Which is your favourite movie genre?

Mr Sharma: I don’t have any specific genre in movies. I can watch a movie of any genre although I hardly have the time to watch movies these days. But to pick one specific genre, I would like to go with comedy or thriller. The most recent movie that I enjoyed watched was Gone With The Wind.

KredX: What is your favourite genre in the novels?

Mr Sharma: I enjoy reading fiction novels. Earlier I used to be a voracious reader. Although these days the number has gone down, I still try to read 2 to 3 books in a month.

Some of the books I like are

  • Ascent of Money
  • The Civilization and
  • Books by Jeffrey Archer.

 

KredX: You prefer reading the hard copies of the newspaper or reading the news online?

Mr Sharma: I mostly read news online. Everything is getting digitised including this.

KredX: Are you a coffee person or a tea person?

Mr Sharma: Tea.

KredX: What is your favourite sport?

Mr Sharma: I like watching all kinds of sports. But, if I have to pick one, it will be football.

KredX: Which sport would you pick for your team outing?

Mr Sharma:

For my team outing, I would pick volleyball, swimming, or table tennis as these activities are different from usual.

KredX: How do you like to keep yourself fit?

Mr Sharma: I am not a gym person. I believe in maintaining a healthy diet. However, that doesn’t mean one shouldn’t enjoy food, but the amount of food intake should be controlled. Apart from that, some kind of physical activities is also important.

KredX: What is your definition of success?

Mr Sharma: The definition of success is different for different people. For me, it is sleeping peacefully at night and enjoying your work. Keeping in mind that there is only one version of the truth. So, I think that is my definition of success where you don’t have to reconcile too many things in your mind. “Keeping things simple, less complicated, and compliant is the secret to my success.”

KredX: Any advice you would like to give the future CFOs?

Mr Sharma: I wish them all the best and advice them to be updated with the current world. I would suggest them to keep their eyes and ears open and try to break down the problems at the simplest level rather than making it complicated and losing sight of the problem. I want them to believe in the fact that everything can be simplified.

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