PEOPLE

BECOMING A STRATEGIC BUSINESS PARTNER

Sumendra Jain, CFO (India & Asia Pacific), SMS India, shares his professional journey and inspirations

Manas Datta Sumendra Jain, CFO
(India & Asia Pacific),
SMS India

For the CFO, the significance of day-to-day ‘Finance’ work is diminishing relative to new demands around business leadership. Apart from a basic technical/accounting background, the key skills and competencies today’s CFO must possess rest on four fundamental pillars: leadership, operations, controls and strategy. Sumendra Jain, CFO (India & Asia Pacific) at SMS India, believes that for Finance leaders to be effective business partners, they must have the necessary leadership and communication skills. Additionally, to be able to offer an independent perspective, they must possess a strong understanding of the company's business model and industry. CFOs should also be able to identify opportunities for top-line growth, manage downside risks and drive profit improvement, not just through the traditional methods of cost-control, but using new methods like product line/regional profitability analysis and benchmarking against industry players. Sumendra’s 25-year-long career offers insightful lessons and learning for executives in general and CFOs in specific.

Learning from past experiences

A quarter-century ago, Sumendra started out as an Assistant Manager in Finance at Reliance Petroleum’s Jamnagar plant, handling accounts, budgeting and MIS. He was selected as the knowledge engineer by the Core Committee, headed by Mr Ambani, for the development of SOPs in collaboration with PwC. His fascination with working in the corporate office drove him to take up his next role, as Finance Controller at Dodsal Limited (a Dubai-based EPC company) in 2001. There, Sumendra was responsible for financial reporting, controls, funds management, cost management, contract execution and revenue realisation. Over the next two years, his role evolved, requiring his full-time presence in Dubai. However, he was not keen to relocate and ended up bagging the Finance Head role at Bhansali Engineering Polymers in 2003. Sumendra’s contributions at Bhansali were broad-based, but his entrepreneurial spirit pushed him to take on an even bigger role as the Head of Finance at the global consumer durables major, LG Electronics, in 2004.

In the next 6 years at LG, Sumendra played a strategic role focusing on new investment decisions, cash-flow optimisation, transfer pricing, working capital and FX management, and streamlining supply chains. Under his watch, the company’s India unit turned cash positive. However, the growth prospects at LG were somewhat limited and in 2010, he shifted to Essar Power, taking on the role of GM Finance at its corporate head office. Running up against a very different corporate culture, Sumendra moved to Schneider Electric India a year later as its Director of Finance. At the time, Schneider was focused on inorganic growth through a debt-driven acquisition strategy. This eventually led to a mountain of excess debt. In 2017, he was appointed CFO and took drastic measures to contain cost leaks, increase margins and cash flows, reduce debt, and implement automation and a strong governance framework. By 2019, the company became cash positive. Sumendra’s next assignment would have involved relocating abroad, but he was not keen on that and decided instead to shift to SMS India, a global player in plant construction and engineering, where he was appointed CFO. At SMS, his India-focussed role has evolved into a regional one with responsibilities for driving profitable growth, productivity and margin improvements, and setting up a strong control framework for the business across the region.

For Sumendra, each role, every organisation and every day at work offers an opportunity to learn something new. Over the course of his career, he has learnt many things, but most importantly:

  • Have trust in your team: Sumendra believes in giving people space and time to achieve results. Leaders must have faith in their subordinates and ensure they are aligned with the organisational vision. They must also demonstrate empathy towards their people and continuously motivate them.
  • Don’t be afraid of implementing new ideas:Do not hesitate to learn something new, keep experimenting with new tools,’ he says.
  • Collaborate with peers: CFOs must necessarily be good Co-Pilots. For that, however, they must demonstrate patience and be good listeners.
  • Implement a strong governance framework: The governance model should define how the Board will oversee risks across regions and businesses. The organisational design and reporting structure should be made clear to employees and stakeholders.

On the Personal Front

Toughest decision

According to Sumendra, some of the toughest decisions involve letting people go. ‘Despite all your efforts to improve the performance of people, you are left with no choice but to make that call which is not easy,’ he says.

Proudest moment

Turning around Schneider Electric’s India operations has been one of the most memorable periods in Sumendra’s career. He takes pride in the fact that today, the India operations are among the most profitable in the entire group.

A CFO to look up to

Sumendra looks up to Sugata Sircar, the erstwhile Group CFO of Schneider Electric, for his calm and collected personality, the ability to focus on the bigger picture, and his self-control in difficult situations. ‘I have learnt a lot from Sugata Sircar. His attitude, personality, orientation and management of people have helped me become a well-rounded professional,’ he says.

Destress mantra

For Sumendra, sports and music are great stress-busters. He regularly plays tennis and cricket to stay fit and energised.

Getting inspired

Sumendra’s favourite movies include ‘Sholay’ and ‘3 Idiots’ while his favourite book is ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

Career highlights

Sumendra Jain has 25 years of diverse Financial management experience, including in acquisitions, transformation, accounting, planning & analytics, business & project controlling, fund raising, supply chain and compliance. Currently, he is the CFO, India & Asia-Pacific, at SMS India. He has previously, worked with a number of MNC and Indian companies, including Reliance, LG, Schneider, Dodsal and Bhansali Engineering Polymers, and brings expertise spanning strategic initiatives and driving profitable growth.

Sumendra is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.

PEOPLE

BECOMING A STRATEGIC BUSINESS PARTNER

For the CFO, the significance of day-to-day ‘Finance’ work is diminishing relative to new demands around business leadership. Apart from a basic technical/accounting background, the key skills and competencies today’s CFO must possess rest on four fundamental pillars: leadership, operations, controls and strategy. Sumendra Jain, CFO (India & Asia Pacific) at SMS India, believes that for Finance leaders to be effective business partners, they must have the necessary leadership and communication skills. Additionally, to be able to offer an independent perspective, they must possess a strong understanding of the company's business model and industry. CFOs should also be able to identify opportunities for top-line growth, manage downside risks and drive profit improvement, not just through the traditional methods of cost-control, but using new methods like product line/regional profitability analysis and benchmarking against industry players. Sumendra’s 25-year-long career offers insightful lessons and learning for executives in general and CFOs in specific.



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