Interview: Srinivasan Venkita Padmanabhan

Srinivasan Venkita Padmanabhan

President and Global Head of Corporate
Finance, Olam International, Singapore

Career path

Mr. Srinivasan Venkita Padmanabhan’s Venkat’s (known as Venkat) first job was as a finance manager at a small company in India. It was there that he started learning on-the-ground skills, eventually working his way up the company ladder. In 1994, he joined Olam Group and has been with the organisation ever since. After becoming the Director and Finance Controller for Olam Group’s India operations, he moved to Jakarta, Indonesia as the Regional Finance Controller for the Southeast Asian region. From then on, he went through a succession of promotions, moving from Regional Finance Controller to Global Head of Corporate Finance. In 2014, Venkat was made President and Global Head of Corporate Finance for the company. With over 24 years of continuous service for Olam Group, Venkat has also been able to branch out and expand his involvement in other roles and contribute to society. He serves as the Vice Chairman of the Meyer Neighbourhood committee (a grass roots organisation), the Chairman of Strategy and Investment Subcommittee of the Governing Council at the Management Development Institute of Singapore, and was the Director of the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore which he served with distinction from April 2014 to April 2018. He is also the past chairman of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, Singapore Chapter and Immediate past chairman of Meyer Neighbourhood committee, Mountbatten grass roots organisation.


Never stop learning

Venkat has several professional certifications. He is a Fellow member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, Associate member of the Institute of Cost & Works Accountants of India (ICWAI), and Master of Commerce. He is a certified NLP Coach and a Competent Toast Master and continues to learn from all areas of his life. The best piece of advice that Venkat ever got was to not be afraid to make mistakes. “Mistakes are like stepping stones to success,” he said. “Do not be afraid to speak up or worry that you might say something silly, that’s when you learn and move ahead.” To take his own advice and to continually self-improve, Venkat takes all feedback he receives seriously and discerns areas of improvement. “I am constantly learning from everyone, be it from my business partner or the tea lady at work. There’s always something to learn.”


Building a personal set of values - the 6 I's

Becoming a successful CFO requires persistence, hard work, technical skills, and people and management skills. Beyond this, Venkat believes that CFOs need an ideology that require them to look at their overall contribution to the company and the formulation and execution of the long-term vision. For him, this ideology comes in the form of what he calls his “6 I’s principle”, which outline the steps proactive individuals can take to make a difference in their organisations/personal life: The first I is “insight”. In order to challenge and change the status quo, aspiring business leaders have to have insights and knowledge that they can share. There is plenty of information but what is missing is “Insight”. “We are unable to challenge and question the status quo if we do not have this.” Therefore, successful CFOs must first learn and understand the company, its value drivers, strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities available to become better. The second I is “influence”, by which Venkat means the ability to have persuasion over the main stakeholders holding the keys to change. This might be through proposing a new organisational structure or putting forward a new method to streamline key business processes.

The third I is “impact”. “Through influencing, ultimately, we hope to make an impact on the organisation and people.” Once you get the go-ahead, you need evidence to show that your ideas are working. Perhaps, the company is saving time or energy, or perhaps the team members are happier and see efficiency in their work. The fourth and fifth I’s are inspire and involve. “Making an impact is not enough – I always believe that we should inspire someone to take action and therefore involve them further in their participation.” Often at times, many people are happy to stop and pat themselves on the back for making an impact. But just one person’s insights is not enough to make a long-term change.

Other people have to see the value of your ideas, feel energetic about being a part of it, and thus involve themselves. The final I is institutionalise. “It’s all about institutionalising changes.” This can come in various ways, but it’s important to find a way to make the changes an integral part of the organisation. In this way, it does not fade and the momentum is not lost.


More than just finance

Venkat feels strongly that the CFO position is more than just about finance. He agrees that technical skills are important and necessary for the job, and they form the foundation of any CFO. However, without solid interpersonal, leadership, business understanding and organisation skills, aspiring CFOs will be limited in the quantum of impact they make in the organisation.

He also sees other challenges that CFOs will likely face on the horizon. One obstacle is the continuous advancement of technology. “It could be completely different five years down the road, and this is hard to predict. As such, it is important to keep abreast of trends and proactively adapt to changes.

And it is not only finance and industry trends. “While no one can be an expert in everything, all CFOs and aspiring business leaders have to keep their pulse on a number of different issues. I keep myself updated on digital work, governance, other industry trends and so on.”


Work-life balance

Given the amount of responsibilities that Venkat undertakes, managing work-life balance can be a challenge in and of itself. “It actually used to be a big problem,” he admits. However, he has learned to segregate his tasks and commit to focusing his attention on only a few things at a time. “If I am with my family, then I try to be present 100%. It’s a learning journey in itself and am still at it. If I am at work, then I am fully at work.” To decompress from his work and refresh his mind, Venkat spends time doing yoga, meditation, and loves walking at the beach with his wife. He also enjoys reflecting while he is at the beach.