Growing up with modest means in a fast-paced city like Mumbai in India, it feels like a long journey to becoming the CFO of RingCentral, one of the fastest growing software companies. This journey has been with several stops—personally and professionally—along the way. Now, living in Silicon Valley and going through life at a breakneck speed, it’s not often that I have taken a moment to reflect on the journey to where I am today.
As an aspiring student in India, I dreamed of one day being part of a great company and leaving my mark. I dove into every material at my disposal in order to be as equipped and informed. One particular publication immensely helpful in my education was Institutional Investor. Last week, I was honored and excited to be recognized in this very publication as Best Software CFO in the 2020 survey of Software Executives. This award followed a survey covering over a thousand companies by 1600 portfolio managers as well as buy and sell side analysts. And for me, the recognition has forced a moment of reflection and insight.
I wrote these reflections down with the intention of sharing them only with my family and a few close friends. It was not long before these people and my twelve-year-old daughter encouraged me to do something unusual and share the lessons more broadly. The following lessons are what I wish I had known earlier on. They are what I hope an aspiring student in Mumbai, as I was, or Nairobi, or even an upcoming Silicon Valley executive might read and find a kernel of value that will help them save a few cycles and realize their dreams even faster.
1. Be multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional
My story: I’ve taken an eclectic and scenic route both in education and profession. In education, I’ve taken classes and have earned multiple degrees in law, accounting and finance. Professionally, I’ve worked in accounting, Wall Street and, finally, the software industry. I’ve even wandered into fashion design… believe it or not. My career there never took off.
My learning: Being exposed to different disciplines that appear seemingly unrelated on the surface makes me better at analyzing problems from various dimensions. Having a wide range of life experiences has made me a stronger, more confident and more competent problem solver.
2. Focus on the rocks, let the sand go
My story: In my role as a CFO, I’m constantly in the process of figuring out when to say yes and how to say no. Be it approving budget requests, negotiating terms for a deal, or pushing hard on deadlines, these situations can get tricky and testy. Finding the right balance is key to influencing people while controlling what matters.
My learning: Consider and accommodate most requests (the sand) that have an effect of making progress while meeting the objectives of the other party. But, for key items and core beliefs (the rocks), hold firm. Be prepared to go against the grain and always be ready to walk away.
3. It never is a scarcity issue, it’s a matter of creating capacity
My story: Growing up and studying in Mumbai, it was certainly intense. But I found time and created capacity for things that I was passionate about. My typical day started at 5 a.m. at law school, followed by accounting internship during the day, then off to Chartered Accountancy classes in the evening, then late night studying. By 22, I had an undergraduate degree in finance, a postgraduate degree as a Chartered Accountant, and I was well on my way through law school. It was exhausting, but I pushed myself and found a way to make the time.
My learning: When blazing your trail, you will encounter many obstacles. Focus on the opportunity and not on the obstacles. Compete with yourself and just get going.
4. Be vulnerable, trust and be trusted
My story: I’ve always had a tendency to get out of my comfort zone and do the job I’ve never done—be it transitioning from accounting to a Wall-Street software analyst or from being a Wall Street analyst to various jobs in the software industry before becoming a software company CFO… did I mention that I also wanted to be a fashion designer? When you’re wired like that and constantly trying to touch the forbidden fruit, being comfortable with your weaknesses and knowing what you don’t know becomes key.
My learning: The ability to forge strong relationships and grow comfortable exposing your vulnerabilities, be it to your team, your colleagues, or people you work for, is a “feature not a bug.” Another key ingredient: trust. Find the people you trust to guide you.
5. Embrace paradoxes: finding peace among pace and balancing humility with hubris
My story: Finding peace among pace. Being in a high-pressure job constantly dealing with deadlines. New projects, new initiatives, tracking metrics and being constantly “on,” I’ve often have to remind myself of the purpose of work and life. What’s the end goal? What am I fighting for?
Balancing humility with hubris. Success breeds hubris (a lot of the time), which often leads to isolation, lack of patience and arrogance.
My learning: Keeping it all in harmony with human connections is key: laughing with friends, playing silly board games with my kids, doing something special with my wife and taking some time to seek inner peace keeps it fun and energetic for me. Being part of the crowd is a lot more fun than sitting in the ivory tower. Taking a moment in the morning and pausing to express gratitude toward everything that has been accomplished to date by being part of a great team has helped me a lot. The Best Software CFO recognition is reflection of the strength, support and dedication of the team.