“We all had to learn to be more nimble and adaptable” – A wide-ranging conversation with Vidhya Srinivasan


CashFlo Unscripted is a Indian business podcast where we speak to various businesses and finance leaders across the country, on topics relevant to the day.

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My latest guest on the CashFlo Unscripted Podcast is Ms. Vidhya Srinivasan, CFO at Puma India. 

Vidhya Srinivasan is currently Executive Director & CFO – Puma, with over 17 years of post-qualification experience in Strategy, Business Planning, Commercial, Finance & Accounting Management. As a member of the leadership team in PUMA, she helps understand the business environment, develop a clear business strategy and execution plans, and a comprehensive business plan. She is also subsequently working with the management plan to achieve the desired outcomes.

Talking to such a knowledgeable personality was a truly unique experience. We spoke on numerous subjects, ranging from the precise impact of the COVID-19 lockdown approach to financial problems, the future of the workplace, communicating finance KPIs to the larger org., the role of women in the workplace, and much more. This was really one of the most wide-ranging and interesting episodes of the CashFlo Unscripted.

In March 2020, much of the world went into lockdown, forcing many businesses to temporarily shut down. As of this writing, cities are gradually relaxing restrictions, but the future is still uncertain. Even businesses that are reopening have restrictions enforcing social distancing, the wearing of masks, and limits on how many customers can enter a space at one time.

We started our discussion on the eCommerce space, and how it is re-shaping the business post-Covid-19.Puma sales were affected in Asia Pacific, but less so in the US, Europe, Middle East and Africa, due to a later start to lockdowns. Business is recovering in Asia, especially India, she said, and some stores are opening again in Europe, but distribution is still almost fully shut in the Americas.

Even post lockdown, with social distancing norms in place, and a residual anxiety around shopping in person, especially for non-essential goods, online shopping has seen increasing adoption. Puma opened its own e-commerce portal just 3 years ago, and is seeing increasing ecommerce adoption across all categories and ecommerce channels. 

Factors that Will Continue to Drive Ecommerce Growth

  • Due to quarantine, people’s way of buying items has changed. The situation has persisted long enough for these patterns to become ingrained. Certainly, when stores open, customers will venture out more, but we don’t see e-commerce usage dropping to pre-lockdown levels. Some degree of stickiness will remain. 
  • The rapid growth of mobile devices is making it easier than ever to browse and shop online. Customers can place orders one-handed from the device that is likely in their hand or pocket at all times.
  • Even as some items became scarce in physical stores, there were options for ordering online. 

Another positive note for Puma, other than the lift from eCommerce, has been the shift to purchasing more casual wear / athleisure as people are working from home. 

We switched gears here, to look inwards at Puma’s own specific methods of dealing with the lockdown. When I asked about the approach to financial planning through and post-Covid-19,  Mrs. Srinivasan shared that Puma has a robust budgeting and a 18-month future planning window for products and supply, which was thrown off quite a bit by the lockdown. Vidhya herself, and a number of other CFOs, had to learn to be nimble and more adaptable. When it comes to Supply Chain shift post-Covid-19, Srinivasan shared that many manufacturers working with Puma have a long-term association; and the vendor quality certification and empanelment process is quite rigorous. As a result, what didn’t change for Puma was the vendors itself, but the level of communication and coordination increased significantly.

“While our sales went down, they have already taken purchase calls; hence we need to have that dialog very clearly, and if we can’t pick up, they have already bought raw materials, invested in working capital, so we actually have to had that dialog call, that how we can support and what we can do.”

Ms. Srinivasan shared an insight on the role of Supply Chain Finance during the lockdown – SCF typically ‘kicks in’ when goods reach the warehouse. However with the lockdown, goods were not even reaching the warehouse, so Puma’s supply chain had to go above and beyond to support suppliers, even providing advances in some cases. 

Ms. Srinivasan throws some light on the forecasting and planning that went into Puma’s supply chain management, where she says that Demand forecasting forms an essential component of the supply chain process. It’s the driver for almost all supply chain-related decisions.At the same time, it is also one of the more difficult aspects of Supply Chain Management. 

Good demand forecasting helps in multiple ways -it improves supplier relations and facilitates better long-term purchasing terms; ensures better capacity utilization and resource allocation; improved downstream distribution and logistics; and lastly – helps setting clear KPIs and targets across the organization.  :

On the topic of KPIs, a major shift triggered from COVID was the attitude towards cash. Ms. Srinivasan expands on how this has changed not only at Puma but across a number of organizations – where earlier cash management was the exclusive purview of the finance function, but now is much more of a shared KPI across the entire organization. Employees are not only aware of the company’s cash situation, but can also contribute to it. This was a big cultural shift, and led by the finance function. 

In the case of Puma, the financial picture was not just communicated pretty much continuously, but also across all echelons of the company. Puma, Vidhya feels, has made a shift in its DNA as a result. 

Branching off on the note of cultural shifts, Ms. Srinivasan sees a dramatic shift happening in the culture and attitude towards remote work. Even audits are now being carried out remotely. This is going to dramatically change the nature of commercial real-estate. 

The future of the workplace – The consulting world’s favoured mode of “hot-desking” is going to become a lot more prevalent. Companies in expensive cities like Mumbai, are going to really ask the question to themselves – “do we really really need to have everybody in office all the time?” The flexibility to work remotely is here to stay, and HR practices will need to evolve to handle new methods of trust and wellness to stay in step. 

Mrs. Srinivasan goes on to expand about the role of women across the workspace and how COVID-19 has given remote working a new wave to women. There is a major burden on women right now – with having to manage remote work, the entire household operations and childcare without help, and kids at home as well. According to her, there are three aspects of the changing dynamic in Vidhya’s view: :

The first one is for the women who require some rest; for instance, if women just come from paternity leave in March, then due to lockdown, she was able to take care of her child and  work simultaneously. This new norm is an opportunity for women to ease back into the workplace faster and easier than the everyday-office paradigm. 

A negative that worries Vidhya, is for the younger women’s age group; due to lockdown when they went home, they were forced to get married under pressure.

The third one is mental balance; due to work from home, most of the women are now able to give quality time to their families and simultaneously to work as well.

Srinivasan also spoke that due to work from home, the office timing has blurred, as people are nowadays thinking that as we are doing work from home, we are available throughout the day and having a call at any given point of time.

People need to structurally block out time for their personal lives as well. Why should we only schedule work calls? There needs to be clear “work day” with start and end times, and leaders need to be aware that people have lives beyond work, and respect the work day.

This was a supremely insightful and thoughtful experience for myself, and I have come out better informed and more understanding on a number of topics. . 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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