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A CA, CPA and MBA - Mr. Sandeep Taneja is currently working as the Finance Director of Gates, India. He holds over 22 years of experience in working in South Asia and North America including companies like Whirlpool, E&Y, Corning, Ingersoll Rand and Gates across different streams of Finance.

In an exclusive conversation with our Editor, Mr. Sandeep Taneja talks about the roles and responsibilities of a leader, hiring the right people, focusing on inclusivity whether it is gender inclusivity or religious inclusivity, stakeholder management and the importance of CSR. Moreover, he also talks about his life’s mantra and how one's life is their biggest learning.

Here is the detailed interview of Mr. Taneja with CAclubIndia!

Just to start, can you please tell us in brief about your educational and professional background?

I've done my bachelors and masters in commerce from India and then masters in business administration from the US. I'm a licensed CA in India and CPA in the US. I started my career in India after I completed my chartered accountancy. I worked for Whirlpool, then moved to the US to do my MBA. Worked there for EY, Corning and then came back to India and I've been working with Ingersoll Rand and Gates lately. So that's been my journey of about 22 years or so.


Sir, I'm sure as a leader, you have various roles and responsibilities. Can you walk us through some of them?

Yeah, so I think as a leader, there are two aspects that I see. One is to lead the business and also to lead the people. So leading the business to me involves satisfying your customer and investor needs. On the other hand, leading the people involves hiring the right people, putting them in the right roles, giving them opportunities to grow within the company and promote the country, or they should go for higher roles. So I think the role of a leader involves managing the stakeholders and satisfying their needs.

Sir, you talked about hiring the right people, so I'm sure there is a need to create a professional environment when your employees are satisfied in their part of the organization. How do you create that?

So, in order to hire the right talent, I think you have to identify the right job scope and then map it to the right talent. A lot of times when people hire they're not even sure about what role they are going to, you know, assign to this person or it's not very clear. Also, it involves a lot of patience, a lot of time to get the right talent.

 

I usually don't make compromises on hiring the talent, if it takes time, let it be. So after I hire the right talent, the idea is that they should be employable for the current opportunity and should be, you know, ready in some time for future opportunities, which means they should be mobile, they should be ambitious, I don't want talent to get stuck with me at any point of time. So if I'm going to provide training to them, through external means or entirely through rotation, they should be ready with that.

Also, I think, having continuous one on ones apart from the regular work, which means, you know, scheduling regular meetings, taking them out for lunch or dinner helps them; helps us too, you know, gauge their professional and personal needs in a much more efficient way because a lot of times people don't open up in regular office work.

So, if you meet them outside work or at dinner, then you get to understand their personal needs also, which is equally important to grow their professional careers.

While hiring or after hiring, how do you create a diverse team and focus more on inclusivity, especially on gender inclusivity?

I think this is a good topic and sort of a change that the Indian corporate environment needs, especially in the field of finance, especially in the manufacturing industries, where it is male-dominated, and we don't have as many female service sectors.

So, I think the first thing is to break the barriers and have an open mindset that you know, everybody can contribute, whether it comes from you know, religious diversity, gender diversity or whatever the case may be.

Then, you start looking for the right people and giving them the right opportunity and giving them the right environment also, especially, you know, in Indian environments even if people are ready to take females, the office environment is not that ready.

So I think, apart from your mindset and the facilities around you, you have to get other people also ready. So that the talent that is coming with diversity can survive in that environment and can grow in that environment.

So yeah, like in Gates when I joined we didn't have any female colleagues. Right now in my team, we have 20% females so we are building that slowly.

As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to shift to a work from home environment, which was fairly new in India. Do you think work from home is the future of corporates in India?

I really don't think it's going to be 100%. I think humans need human interactions. There are certain functions like operations, sales, who have to be present in the office. So I would say maybe 10% for them to work from home, IT function can be like 80% work from home, and the rest of the function like human resource, finance, you know, other support functions can be maybe like 40-50%. So in manufacturing, I would say maybe 30-40% work from home. And maybe in the service sector, it can go up to 60% to 70%. But I personally don't think 100% is going to be possible because we are humans, we are not robots.

Right. So like you earlier mentioned that there are various stakeholders in a company that you have to satisfy. How do you achieve that?

I think it's very difficult to satisfy all stakeholders at any single point in time. So you need to prioritize, you know, the stakeholders that you are trying to satisfy at a given point in time.

Like, for example, if it is a startup, obviously, you are trying to satisfy your customers, you're trying to build your customer so customer comes first. And usually, our company's customers come first. And then there are times when you know you have higher attrition, so you want to keep your employees engaged and employees satisfied.

So I would say the customer is a priority, followed by employees and vendors. And I think if these three parties are satisfied, then investors will automatically reap their return on investment.

 

So yeah, I think the priorities should be clear and people usually get into, you know, one lane and then start switching onto other lanes. So that usually creates a problem. So keep your customer satisfied, employees happy, and your investors will get returns.

Sir the role of CSR in India is growing a lot. What do you think is the importance of CSR in uplifting the underprivileged?

I think it's definitely important because you know, in countries like India, where there is too much of a gap between the rich and the poor, and people who are educated and who are not so educated.

We have to reduce the gap because unless a country grows together, it's not getting built for the long term. It may show growing signs in the short term but it will certainly collapse after some time. So, I think this is a good initiative that the government has put in on CSR spend, which should have been there before also, and companies abroad actually do that without this risk, you know, this legal binding of spending the money on CSR.

So we at Gates have started. We invest in industrial training for people from ITI backgrounds and stuff, so that they can become ready for the future jobs. Some of them are obviously absorbed in the company and then others are able to find the right sort of jobs they want.

We also focus on sustainability efforts, like the environment and planting trees etc. So I see a lot of companies depending on their potential, spending good money on education, environment, and other activities, which I think is good for the country and for the world.

Right, sir. Also, how important do you think it is to maintain a work-life balance?

It is important. But, you know, it just depends on what you want to achieve first. So I don't think you can have a 100% work-life balance, you need to prioritize at some point of time early in your career.

I think my focus was more on work and less on life early on. Now it's a little bit more on life and less on work. So, of course, you have to balance it, but I don't think it can be 100%. And in your mind, you should be clear that what is my priority, is work my priority or is home life my priority?

Then accordingly, you pick your assignments, you pick your location, and your money part also because if you focus on work, your money will grow. If you don't focus on work, it won't grow. But then you'll have peace of mind. So I think you have to prioritize what you need.

Is there a mantra that you followed early on in your career that has helped you reach where you are today?

I think what has worked for me is that I have always focused on getting different job assignments early on in my career, rather than focusing on money and the title. A lot of youngsters, even when I started my career, and now also, even the senior leaders sometimes focus a lot on 'What is my title in this company?' 'What is the salary in the company?'.

I think early on if you get more experience in different industries or different geographies, different kinds of experiences, I think that will make your skillset better. Once you have the skill set, people will be ready to throw money and you know, get you what you need.

So people should have a broader mindset in the initial part of the career rather than getting so restricted about salary and titles.

As an ending note, if you have some tips or some book recommendations for our viewers on how to be a good leader and a good CFO

There are plenty of books in the market. I personally like 'Good to Great,' 'Built To Last,' and '7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, but I think the best book is your own life. You move along, take the learnings, each decision, each engagement will teach you something. People don't go back and study their life. If they study it then they would know what has worked, what has not worked and I think that's the best experience you can get. But yeah, there are management books like the ones I talked about and those could be helpful.

That brings us to the end of our conversation. Thank you so much for the talk today. I'm sure our viewers have a better idea of what it takes to be a CFO in India. So once again, thank you.

This interview was taken by Aishna Kukreja, Editor - CAclubindia

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