Ramamoorthy of Tesco reminisces how he built his career to be a strategic finance leader and why digital finance is an enabler
A good CFO is the one who balances between risk and growth, according to Ramamoorthy Rajagopal of Tesco. CFOs can stitch the different parts of the organisation to drive digital transformation.
- Ramamoorthy Rajagopal is the Director of Finance at Tesco Bengaluru and Tesco Business Services.
- In the past, he has served in GE, Reliance, Vodafone, and Axiata.
- As a Chartered Accountant and an MBA, he carries a strategic understanding of both business and technology.
- He spoke to The Finance Story about what makes him stay relevant and he reminisces on how he built his career to be a strategic finance leader.
Can you give us a little background on how you started your professional journey and eventually built your career as a CFO?
It’s an ambition for every finance professional to reach the helm of the finance function, and it was no different for me.
But my biggest motivation was always to play a larger role in the success of the organisation I work for and to build something that outlasts my tenure.
I have always looked at taking up diverse challenges across different regions and industries throughout my career. If you look closely at my career progression, I have started my career in manufacturing, then moved on to services, and then to IT in three different cities.
After gaining some experience across these diverse industries, I joined Vodafone in Mumbai, in one of their most complex functions, before gaining more commercial experience in Qatar with Vodafone.
Having gained extensive operational experience, I wanted to understand how to manage a portfolio of assets.
So, I moved to Axiata in Malaysia; my first experience working in Southeast Asia, before eventually joining Tesco, the UK’s leading food retailer, with a completely different set of responsibilities of leading a large team in a GBS environment.
All of these diverse experiences and my curiosity to be more and do more, led me to the CFO pathway.
You took up the CFO role at Tesco amidst the pandemic. Was there some nervousness about taking up an opportunity like this during times when there is a drastic transformation in the way we work?
To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive.
You are always on tenterhooks, joining a new organisation and a new function, especially during these challenging times.
I had to overcompensate for not being able to interact with my peers & my team physically and acclimatise with the company culture. My Line Manager, Sumit Mitra (CEO of Tesco Bengaluru and Tesco Business Services), helped me with the latter through regular sessions.
On the former, I had 3 or 4 hourly sessions with my Leadership team & their extended teams each week. Over 3 months, had met 40+ team members over virtual coffee. By the end of that period, I had met & interacted with most of my team members.
This gave me a unique perspective of the organisation, its people, my peers, and the leadership team.
Being remote in many ways forced me to take the time to know the company and its culture, more so than under normal circumstances.
It has been a wonderful experience, to say the least.
You have extensive experience in Digital Finance Transformation. What, according to you, is Digital Finance? How did you go from being a traditional CFO to a tech-evolved CFO?
I don’t think I have ever been a traditional CFO, because I learned to code very early in my life. I had realised the power of going digital.
I feel that digital finance is a significant enabler.
Finance as a function, for ages, has been restricted only by accounting activities, holding on to its traditional position of being a functional watchdog.
Digital Finance enables us to focus on the aspects that make a difference to the core business. I have always had a natural passion and affinity for digital finance.
I have engaged and aligned extensively with my technology teams, in every organisation across locations where I have worked.
I always felt that the most critical aspect for a CFO is to find ways and means by which they can work and contribute to the core business.
They need to strike the right balance between risk and growth opportunity and going digital gives them the bandwidth to do that within an ever-complex business environment.
CFOs need to embrace digital in every little thing they do actively. Digitisation doesn’t mean stopping at getting a big-bang ERP, rather that’s the beginning of the journey.
It’s about looking at specific elements and processes and realising ways to automate or digitise them, giving more bandwidth to the team to do something better and to evolve continuously.
It is also about re-imagining how we would achieve the end state, with the current state of technology.
Do you believe CFOs can drive digital transformation across the organisation and not just limit it to the finance function?
Absolutely, since CFOs are an ally to the CXOs in driving business and strategic decisions.
At a leadership level, they are the ones who have the most visibility of the entire length and breadth of the organisation after the CEO.
They are the custodians of investment resources and can stitch the different parts of the organisation to drive digital transformation.
But to effectively drive this, CFOs need to get rid of the traditional hat and look at their function through the business lens.
They need to embrace some risks and acknowledge that sometimes digital initiatives fail while keeping their vision on the end state impact on the organisation through Digital Transformation.
Industry experts say that this is the best time to become a CFO, but from what we see, it is also a complex time. What are your thoughts on this?
We are slowly but steadily reaching a world where technology is not just an add-on; it is becoming the core essence of how we work across every single function.
The role of a CFO has also evolved with time, growing exponentially over the last few years. Looking from a business lens, as the flow of information has increased, so must the approach, which makes being a CFO difficult.
The rich swath of solutions available to CFOs makes understanding, interpreting, and taking actions easier than ever before, so today’s CFOs have it easier than in the past.
But on balance, I would say it is harder to be a CFO now, given the growing complexity and need for a CFO to be a co-pilot to the CEO in driving the business.
What is your view on Blockchain? How do you believe this will impact the role of CFOs?
Blockchain as a technology is extremely alluring in terms of what it offers. But the biggest question that we need to answer is what's the business problem it is solving.
Adopting blockchain for the sake of adoption is absolutely futile.
For instance, we can use a blockchain to pay suppliers, but if there are easier & well-established means of doing it better, we don't need to have a private blockchain.
But to ensure the authenticity of the product from the source to my customer, blockchain is an invaluable asset to deliver the promise to the customers.
In a nutshell, while blockchain is a promising solution, I would still wait and watch to evaluate the evolving use cases.
Lastly, how do you keep yourself updated with the latest knowledge about technological advancements?
I think one needs to keep their eyes and ears open to not fall behind.
We need to look at our younger generation and how they have adapted to the ever-changing digital environment and the new technologies.
I interact a lot with my peers in the industry, talk to my friends in the tech world, and generally read up to keep myself updated with the newer developments.
There is no magic mantra; it's just about learning from diverse experiences and building capabilities that are relevant to you and the industry you are in.
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