In Conversation with Sheshadri Savalgi

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I recently had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Sheshadri Savalgi on the CashFlo Unscripted Podcast. 

Sheshadri Savalgi is a finance leader (CA, CMA, CGMA) with 16+ yrs experience in Fortune 100 MNC’s, in FMCG and Beauty industry. Sheshadri has rich experience in complex and diverse roles in Supply Chain Finance, FP&A, Commercial Finance, Business Strategy, Change Management, M&A, and Growth Strategy. He is currently Finance Director at General Mills. In the past, he has held finance leadership positions with major MNCs such as Johnson & Johnson and COTY. 

Mr. Sheshadri Savalgi brings a unique cross-sector perspective on the role of the CFO in 2020. Prior to recent technological advances and their adoption by enterprises – from automation to AI to even blockchain, a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) was akin to the navigator of an organization’s ship, charting a company’s finance journey. In this traditional role, CFOs had a clear mandate – to help steer the company away from risks and unstable financial positions, leveraging honed skills in financial planning and analysis. 

The role of the CFO is rapidly changing. Automation has simplified, if not outright eliminated many operational tasks that were overseen by the CFO. The next generation CFO has moved from accounting for company results to a bold, strategic leader defining the company’s future while continuing to maximize shareholder value. As a futurist and leader in a digital age, CFOs are now leading the automation and digitization charge, helping guide the organization to effectively leverage emerging technologies and maximizing RoI.

It is against this backdrop that I sat down to discuss the future of the CFO’s role with Sheshadri. 

Sheshadri spoke about the evolution of the role of the CFO, and how in this fast-changing business landscape, CFOs need to make informed strategic decisions that deliver business outcomes. This requires their functional strategies to be aligned with the overall enterprise objectives. In order to keep up with the pace, they need to embrace this shift and evolve alongside technology. Enterprises need to optimize their delivery model to enable CFOs to focus on complex, judgment intensive and value-adding activities.

“A finance leader with strong business understanding to a business leader with finance expertise”

Modern CFOs have oceans of data at their fingertips and need to embrace cognitive capabilities to mine meaningful insights to support business decisions. Along with this data explosion comes the responsibility to secure it. This forces CFOs to act as not only champions of their data, but also as compliance and control security owners to ensure information is protected from hacking, phishing, and other external breaches.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, good finance leaders have become increasingly important to organizations. So, Mr. Sheshadri shares an advice for the finance leaders:

“Finance is I think one of the only functions which have the visibility, capability, and potential to completely zoom in, to the minute test of the retails in the business, and completely zoom out and have the big picture and influence the strategy of the business, so over the years, the boundaries of CFO’s has completely gone away.”

This was a fantastic insight, about the shift of a CFO’s role in an organization.

Sheshadri goes on to expand on the specific valuable role that CFOs can play in a crisis. COVID essentially stress-tested organizations, and all their operations, without exception, across the country. As new innovations and even new business models are created by the pandemic, it often comes down to the finance leadership to define what’s possible, what can and should be done, and especially be a calming influence on the company. 

Sheshadri also spoke about the active role that companies need to play to develop and groom CFOs. It is quite common for companies to develop and groom future CEOs, but somehow we don’t see that same active investment in their finance leaders. Organizations need to create a steep learning curve, with deep exposure to the business. Finance is the only function with visibility of the business end to end, and organizations need to trust them with more hands-on experience, for Sheshadri believes they will pass through these challenges with flying colors. 

Mr. Sheshadri shared his own experience when he was working the night shift in the P&G Company, he revealed: 

“There were 700 employees with only I as a senior leader, where I learned a lot about managing a team completely with a positive attitude and taking care of each and every activity during the night time”.

It’s a testament to how much the CFO’s role has changed, where getting absolutely hands-on even on factory shift can now be not only relevant but even perhaps necessary, to acquire the deep understanding of the business to become a successful CFO in the future. 

Do consider listening to the discussion in its entirety on the CashFlo Unscripted Podcast. If you have any feedback, do write to me at ankur@cashflo.io.

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