This CFO & COO Explains Which Skills Helped Him Become A Top Executive in Today's Evolving World

  • Hi! I am Santosh Marathe, an MBA in Finance and Masters Commerce from India.
  • From starting my career in the FMCG sector to now a seasoned finance professional in the Healthcare industry (more than two decades), I have come a long way.
  • I have been a CFO all along until the last decade wherein I realized that I have a flair for Healthcare operations as well and moved to an extended role in Operations as COO.
  • Here are some learnings from my journey so far of How I was able to grow in my career and hold coveted posts like that of a CFO & COO & Unit Head?

How I Gravitated Towards A Career In Finance

During my schooling and college days, I took a liking to read on topics relating to management & industry practices (as a kid I have been an avid reader). This introduced me to the world of finance, management and business, and since there has been no turning back!

Early on I started co-relating the knowledge I gathered from books to real-life examples and followed the lives of successful leaders & business tycoons.

I was amused by the fact that any transaction in the organization has a ‘financial implication’!

I realised that there is Finance or Math in almost everything – If you want to acquire or sell, grow or de-grow, hire or fire, invest or divest, plan or execute or to just stay put, there is finance!

All of this got me so excited and therein started my career in Finance!

Since I knew early on I wanted to do something in the field of Finance and Management I took up the Commerce stream...and after graduating in Commerce, I decided to go the MBA route!

Having a multi-faceted industry exposure

As an MBA Finance fresher, I started my career in the FMCG industry and over the years I worked in various industries and profiles.

I went from a Finance Analyst, Finance Manager, Head of finance and operations in the manufacturing industry before moving to the healthcare sector in 2002! 

There was an opening available for a CFO role at Apollo Hospitals Pune (India), which aroused my interest.

During the course of my interview with the Senior leadership of Apollo Hospitals, I was provided a lot of insights about healthcare. This was a Eureka moment for me, having always seen limited aspects of healthcare & that too as a patient.

Apart from the exciting work opportunity, I was also humbled down by the sheer fact that I could contribute to someone’s healing journey despite not being a clinician.

My earlier manufacturing & FMCG exposure helped me build my skills in product costing & ABC costing methodologies which are so very vital now in the service industry. Thus having multi-faceted industry exposure has been very advantageous to me.

Also Read

This Chartered Accountant Reveals How He Went From a Trainee to CFO to CEO of Listed Companies

Skills (not degrees alone) Helped me Become a 'C-Suite Executive'

Educational degrees or work experiences are all fine but what matters most is 'How effectively you transform your knowledge and practices into Actions'.

In fact, the ability of having to 'walk the talk' is a critical barometer for you to become successful in any Organization.

It may be helpful to have a CA or CPA...however, the core competencies for the CFO role have evolved so much over a period of time, understanding these nuances at work is more vital than degrees or bookish knowledge!

If I have to list the qualities that helped me grow in my career it would be the following:

1. Interpersonal Skills

  • The more I progressed in my career path, the more I gathered that in any career, human relationship management is the core to success.
  • Having good interpersonal skills is key. I have seen a few people having their career journeys halted or derailed just because they did not have interpersonal skills.
  • Herein empathy & humility are two traits that I would advocate for everyone to practice not only at the start of the career but also at the higher level of one’s career path.
  • A person may be knowledgeable or highly literate on a subject, but if he/she cannot execute the ideas to bring about the success or growth of the Organization, then the knowledge is futile.
  • I follow the “KISS” principle at work - Keep It Simple & Straight! It’s all about removing difficulty levels – whether while evolving plans or in execution.

2. Self-Introspection

  • I do a lot of introspection periodically both in my personal & professional life. I have been a very obedient student all along.
  • Over the years I have learnt that 'Asking the right questions is the key to get the right answers'. Working with multi-disciplinary teams gives you a 360-degree overview of any subject.
  • I am a firm believer of the participative work style. However, since I hold a leadership role that carries a lot of responsibilities, I make my own decisions after consulting subject matter experts thus I make informed decisions.

3. Having fun at work

  • While I am a taskmaster at work, I do not lose any opportunity to have fun at work. The level of laughter within the Organization depicts the level of team bondage & informality in work ethics.
  • It is also very important to keep one’s sense of humor intact at work. This creates informality which is critical to teamwork activities.

4. Dealing with Challenges

  • Challenges are common in any organization when you deal with multiple sets of processes, different people, ever-evolving statutory & competitive compliance pressures & customer demands.
  • The trick is to use any challenge as an opportunity or take a short pause to reengineer the process or look at competency gaps.
  • One of the lessons that I have learnt when faced with challenges is this - When you are in a hole, stop digging! Maintaining poise & being calm when faced with challenges is a sign of a true leader.

5. Being a good Team Manager

  • Setting the 'right expectations with your team' is also a key to avoid any surprises or challenges.
  • I have seen junior staff bloom like flowers the moment you give them the purpose of work and full empowerment - this is very critical in healthcare.

6. Recruiting people smarter than me

  • Recruiting people who are smarter than you, sets the goal very high. This is what sets the knowledge ball rolling while creating a healthy work environment with smart discussions within the team.
  • I have been always a progressive thinker and gained immensely by having a very mature outlook both in my personal as well as professional life.

Questions I get asked most often….

“How important is technology in the field of Finance? How should I equip myself?” 

Finance professionals have a bright future, no doubt.

It is important to have a skill set based on financial, analytical, governance & risk mitigation skills...however, it is equally important for the finance professional to use technology smartly!

The Finance role has undergone a paradigm shift from accounting to governance, tacit functions like forensic, taxation, costing, actuary, etc.

IT-enabled data sets are critical to have real-time reporting on meaningful indicators. Managers and seniors require “insights” & not just “information”.

Data, if managed well, has the potency to have a significant impact on the business decisions that one has to take. Technology also adds to efficiency while ensuring that the data is consistent and credible.

Also Read

How Early Adoption of Technology Helped this CA Firm with 100 Employees Thrive

“How important is making Data-Driven Decisions?”

I have had a flair for IT since my early career days and have always fascinated by IT-enabled solutions.

Data knowledge is the new IPR and Data reviews are very essential to business. If presented and analyzed properly most of the data sets have an ability to talk and communicate.

My experience has been “what gets reviewed, tends to improve”. There is an overload of data nowadays. A significant amount of data collected through customer interfacing solutions is still unstructured.

Extra Tip: For managers who are always pressed for time, the focus should be to create “exception” reporting systems. The manager’s job is to focus on exceptions and not the routine!

"Tips on making better data-driven decisions."

While reviewing data, 'the data trending review' is critically important. Only then you know if things are progressing or regressing.

The second step to this is to understand the levers that have influenced the trends to behave in a particular manner. This will only help to scale the things that have influenced positively and scaled-down things that have adversely affected!

Obviously there are times wherein you are compelled to undertake business decisions though the data does not substantiate the same or either there would be holding onto the trends for a long while to understand the sustainable impact.

We can present the one data set in Healthcare in different ways – payer-group-wise, region-wise, specialty-wise, diagnosis-wise, new & repeat, age-wise, gender-wise etc. Getting the right levers for growth is very important.

Each business stream should be considered as an SBU with a separate P&L orientation. This way, we can track each segment of business based on the individual cost of acquisition, direct costs, etc., thereby we can know our case-mix and margins for each segment. Thus, a strong decision support system helps managers take more educated and predictive decisions for patients and the business.

In short, I have a huge appetite for data management and we are always discussing expanding and evolving new strategies, long term planning and improved client experience journeys.

“How Is The CFO Role evolving nowadays?”

In whatever industry you work, it is important 'to understand the service or product that you are dealing with thoroughly'.

There is a tremendous expectation from CFOs nowadays 'to be accommodative of business needs and be more proactive in participating and influencing growth'.

CFOs need to be involved in more timely escalations of deviations and corporate governance & risk mitigation strategies in a very effective manner.

A CFO needs to understand business and technology. He/she has to manage multidisciplinary teams apart from the routine fiscal and governance functions.

CFOs should break the stiff barriers among their workforce and handhold colleagues to enhance the financial & regulatory literacy within the organization. They need to understand the pulse of the operations of the organization and aid as advisor and leader to the CEO & the Board in business decisions.

Given the expectations and fast-evolving roles, CFOs need to be thorough in their planning and should have faster reflexes in decision making. While doing so, they need to maintain professional & personal work-life balance to avoid burnout.

They also need to adapt to new technological and new regulatory & environmental changes relevant to their industry. Lastly, they should never stop learning and executing what they have learnt.

Another important role of a CFO / the finance team is to enhance the financial literacy within the Organization as well. They should decode the financial jargon and help team members understand the financials of the areas they deal with. I firmly believe that finance & marketing of any organization is everyone’s job!

Once when you have the opportunity to get elevated into a higher management role (CEO/COO), it is very critical to have the finance hat underplayed at times!

It is very imperative to have a broader vision while getting into a larger role, wherein understanding finance is important but it also needs to be balanced with other functions of the business.

You also need to 'think from the business perspective as well as from the financial'.

Santosh Marathe is a Master of Business Administration and Master of Commerce with almost two decades of leadership experience and successes in the healthcare industry, combined with 8 years in manufacturing, distribution and engineering industries.

Passionate about varied topics like Big Data, Finance, Supply chain, Patient Centricity, Quality etc, he speaks at various international events.

Now It's Your Turn...

Comment below and let us know your thoughts!

(Article edited by CA Uma Krishna and image by Ankit Lodhi)

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