Meet the former CFO of Burger King India & now Spencer Retail & Nature’s Basket who shares his Digital Transformation journey with us

The Finance Story

  • Meet Tanmay Kumar, a Chartered Accountant and the CFO of Spencer’s Retail & Natures Basket, who has over 21 years of experience and has worked in consumer industries like FMCG, and Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) before working in Retail.
  • From working with BI Tools to setting up ERP solutions, Tanmay has been an early adopter of technology. It is not surprising that he believes that an evolved CFO’s role is to ensure a holistic 360-degree approach!
  • To understand how he has adapted to the digital scenario over the years, we spoke to Tanmay to learn about his journey towards becoming a Digital CFO as part of our Digital Transformation series powered by Dell Technologies.

Tell us about yourself

I qualified as a Chartered Accountant in the year 2000 and started my career at PepsiCo Food in their planning function. I worked on a project to set up a Greenfield food factory as the Commercial Head of that factory and ran dispatch, transport, store procurements, IT, Finance for the factory. Later on, I worked in the Sales Finance function. It was a great experience. 

After almost 8 years at PepsiCo, in late 2008, I started working for Yum! Brands – they own KFC and Pizza Hut. I led their Controlling function, Planning Strategy, and also led Business Development. As its Business Development Director, I built 300 stores for Yum in the subcontinent.

In 2014, I joined Burger King and was a founding member when it was just launched in India. In the true startup fashion, I was employee no.14 to be precise!

In the 5.5 years that I was with them as a CFO, the company grew from one store to 200 plus outlets and to an INR 800 crore plus organisation. I was accountable for Finance, IT, Business strategy and Franchising, etc.

Post that in 2019, I joined Spencer’s Retail & Nature’s Basket (a multi-format retailer which deals with hypermarkets, supermarkets, and daily stores) as a CFO.

In my current role as a CFO, I am responsible for Finance, IR, Treasury, Legal & Taxation, Secretarial, Audit & Commercial, and Licenses & Compliance. 

What is Digital Transformation for you?

Businesses have to reimagine themselves in today’s digital age to meet the changing market and business requirements. They, therefore, have to adopt all these newer digital technologies to transform themselves to drastically enhance their processes and customer experiences.

So, digital transformation is all about 'how' you work and 'what' you do to create value for your business in the current digital era. It’s not only about adopting technology but how you continuously adapt to the technological changes to stay in the game.

 

What is Digital Transformation for you?

When you became a CFO for the first time in 2014 what was your understanding of Technology, and how has it changed now? How have you evolved as a CFO? 

I became a first-time CFO in 2014. When I look at a CFOs role today and back then a lot has changed and with time I have evolved too!

In 2014, reporting and controlling was a given and even then a good CFO was supposed to drive the business.

From a technology perspective in 2014, I was focused on setting up a fantastic ERP solution, publishing KPI dashboards, and making sure that all the systems are integrated and have a holistic 360-degree data view. (I always used to enjoy being a part of technology from a very early age.) However, I wouldn’t have thought of bots in those years.

In 2018-2019, while a CFO at Burger King, I worked on a BI tool that could give a drag and drop facility, mobile app-based sales, and reporting and I considered it a cutting edge.

But today, the expectation from a CFO is a lot more as you have to be far more business-centric and be a copilot to the CEO and other CXOs to drive business strategies.

On the technology front as a CFO, you are expected to drive the Digital Transformation of the company - if you can’t leverage Cloud, or you can’t automate using AI, you’re not cutting edge. Automated processes and repetitive manual tasks through technological solutions and RPAs is something most CFOs of large companies do today.

Therefore, agility and quick decision-making has become a part of day-to-day work. The time to analyze and report their findings have now been cut short. At CFO’s level, all the deeper and larger decisions require analysis and deep-diving.

 

How have you evolved as a CFO & what you do to update yourself?

Does your IT team report to you? If yes, considering that you are essentially a finance person, is it challenging to understand the terminologies and something that has to be implemented?

The IT team has reported to me in my previous roles and in my current role also, I work very closely with the IT team.

For me, it is all about learning how to use the tools according to the business needs and CFOs have an advantage since we understand how the business works. 

So, all we need is to know what the technology stands for, how it is used and a little bit of perseverance to sit through the discussions when experts share all the pros and cons! 

When we talk of understanding these technical words and digitization opportunities, we mistake it by confusing the tools that are available and the available terms. 

Fortunately, there are enough people available who can translate that jargon to us in business language. 

At the heart of it, a CFO only requires to discern what is good for them and what is not; the technical jargon doesn’t matter. As we go along a project, we learn the jargon.

Everyone is talking about Cloud Support: what does cloud mean to your organization and your finance team? Is it good to have a cloud or use one's own IT hardware? Have you experienced issues?

Cloud allows all demand availability of storage and computing power and therefore it’s easier to scale up as per requirements.

So, from an organization’s option perspective, Cloud is not a zero or one game, because most of the large companies have historically invested in their own servers and systems. But then other companies have this whole philosophy of CAPEX versus OPEX drives.

Also, some organizations have billions of rupees of turnovers and for them building a massive in-house infrastructure is sometimes cheaper. So, these are some reasons why some organizations may not be quick to move to the cloud.

For me, I am very clear about the scope and advantage of Cloud in the longer run. It has the architecture which can adopt new technologies and there are so many providers who have their in-built technologies. 

From a costing perspective, we can see that Cloud is becoming cheaper. So, it’s very lucrative now. The kind of investments that’s people need for security today, including data security and cybersecurity; with the cloud, one can get everything in one place.

In our organization, we were debating about eCommerce and then decided to upgrade the Backend capability to Cloud and we certainly know that it comes with free advanced security features. Therefore, to me, if someone wants to go for complete digital transformation in the long term, then Cloud is the answer.

 

Cybercrime is a major issue of late. Have you experienced any major hacking episodes and/or cybercrime incidences?

As a CFO, how do you look at the ROI before considering any Digital Transformation investment? Also as a CFO how do you decide what technology to invest in?

There are many times when people have a particular technology or tool in their mind versus what they are actually trying to do with it. 

Many would just go with the trend and try to apply machine learning or AI without knowing whether they actually need it. So, that is an extremely wrong approach.

Any digital effort has to be guided by what one is trying to achieve and the product strategy. Therefore, one needs to ask questions like whether the technology is giving them efficiency, better control, or a faster speed to market. Sometimes it’s mathematically difficult to decipher the ROIs but the benefits can clearly be understood. 

No one technology can deliver speed or agility, or control. So, it’s always better to have a combination of tools that we deploy. 

When it comes to choosing between technology - my IT head and I choose based on our common sense. We try to understand the function area that we are trying to solve by talking to my team, industry peers, vendors, auditors, and then we form a preliminary view. 

Post that, we use consultants to pinpoint the options (but sometimes consultants tend to apply the “one size fits all” kind of an approach). In simple words, technological decisions made must be driven by people who have internal knowledge of the process rather than going with the “one size fits all” approach.

 

How do you measure the returns on investments?

Without a doubt saving money through technology are massive all across helping people become more efficient. 

These are all direct savings and when it comes to indirect savings, one bot not only saves you headcount in repetitive transactions but they can also typically perform 5 times more volume later without investments of a single rupee.

 

What is the impact of technology on your ROI and how do you measure?

Are there any expectations from you to continuously drive digital transformation for the company?

While there is no such expectation from a CFO to continuously come up with new things all the time, but there is an expectation from us whenever there’s something to do with Backing. 

So for instance, as a CFO I wouldn’t be looking after the supply chain but if there is a project concerning the supply chain I would be expected to be a part of it. 

Similarly, a CFO is not necessarily a part of Human Resources but if there’re changes around software systems they use, I would be expected to be a part of it. 

 

CFOs drive Digital technology transformation?

What does AI and Big Data mean to you as a CFO?

Your two cents to the finance community especially young to be CFOs?

Lastly, have you ever faced the pressure of being a Digital CFO?

Today 'speed' has become manifold

Starting from vendors to auditors, everyone is engaging digitally. In fact, everything gets measured through technology too.

Earlier the biggest automation used to be a data warehouse which used to provide automated reports, but now people have apps and they can scroll and see what’s happening. On a compliance-based, even Government taxation has also become digitized!

So, in today’s day and age, Finance can't function without technology. The pressure has become integral too. So, we have to adapt to the change. 

CFOs don’t necessarily have to use technology themselves but they need to understand it and know how to leverage it for the sake of their organization.

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