Women Who Make A Difference

Edition Two: Rupa Vora, Former Group Director & CFO, IDFC Alternatives Limited.

By Shristi Banka.

Rupa Vora is a name to be reckoned with in the finance industry. In 2012, she was named as one of India’s most influential women in finance alongside the likes of Renu Karnad, Vishakha Muley and Vibha Padalkar, to name a few.

Rupa Vora, Former Group Director & CFO, IDFC Alternatives Limited.

Rupa has enjoyed an illustrious career in finance and presently sits on the board of several leading companies as an independent director including JM Financial Asset Reconstruction Company, Volkswagen Finance, InCred Finance, and Cravatex Brands. She is also a member of the Governing Council of Nalanda Dance Research Centre which is the only dance institution to be recognised as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India. Rupa is also a member of the Maharashtra Apex Body of The Art of Living.

Below are excerpts from my interaction with her on several topics.

What does it take to land a large-company CFO position, and how can female finance executives position themselves for the top spot?

“Requisite educational qualifications, a sense of stewardship, and an innovative bend of mind which involves constantly looking for better ways of doing things.”

“Additionally, a sense of purpose and passion for the industry which you operate in, good leadership, and communication skills go a long way. If you put your best and work with purity in heart, clarity in mind, and sincerity in action, you can achieve anything.”

She adds, “Whenever you have a suggestion, speak up. Don’t be scared! Believe in yourself. You have to be the go-to person in your work place, who people can trust. You have to become a solution provider, who can simplify complex issues that others find difficult.” 

She further jokes, “Its also important to have a smile on your face and be approachable. If you have a big ego and don’t smile at all, no one will come to you for help even if they need it.”

Primary skills a CFO should possess:

“Continued professional education is very crucial. In this world of artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, a leader should be aware of the risk of disruption. Constant SWOT analysis is required. If you are complacent, you can be caught unaware and that is the last thing any CFO wants”.

She adds, “CFOs have to be great team builders and need to have the right mix of talent. CFOs should be like conscience keepers of their organisation embedding values of  integrity, responsibility, and stewardship. A CFO needs to be an excellent communicator, motivator, and innovator – constantly looking for better ways of doing things along with being a good listener.”

What are some of challenges that you faced early on in your career and how did you overcome them?

Post qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, Rupa started her independent practice as a Chartered Accountant serving clients in diverse segments. While there were many challenges in those times in pursuing an independent practice, a major challenge for Rupa was dealing with the corruption prevalent amongst the Government officials as well as convincing clients to opt for the difficult and right choice instead of the easy way out.

After practicing for nearly a decade, on the basis of her husband’s advice who is also a Chartered Accountant, Rupa decided to move into the banking industry so that she could have an institution backing her, instead of bearing the brunt of an independent set up.

“Initially, making my voice heard at the table and establishing a foothold in the banking industry was a big challenge, but with persistence I could overcome these obstacles.” 

Rupa adds that a good support system at home really helped her in concentrating on her career.

Best professional decisions in your career thus far:

“Having an independent practice gave me the flexibility of time and I could pace my work when required. The decision to take up an opportunity in the BFSI sector helped me in gaining an in-depth understanding of the financial world. I also joined the sector just after the securities scam in 1992 giving me a great opportunity to fight an appeal against a huge tax demand wherein we got a favourable order and in fact a refund!”

She adds, “Moving to private equity that focussed on nation building by investing in the infrastructure sector was another turning point in my life. Opportunity strikes but once, we have to make the most of the opportunity when it strikes!”

Rupa as a panelist at an event conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India.

“Today, many people are shying away from the role of an independent director, but as chartered accountants, it’s our duty to step forward and take up the role.”

She recruited the best talent in her team and her focus was always on working smart rather than working hard. She says, “Work was fun because we were passionate about it.”

“My team should always be better than me!”, she smiles and says.

“Try to get your team up the learning curve. You need to identify talent and groom them to take on leadership positions. I am happy that most of my team members are now well-placed as CFOs themselves. Give your team the right kind of feedback and direction. Wherever there are people, there will be politics, it’s important to be aware of it and steer clear of this politics.”

She adds, “It’s important to promote a culture of meritocracy. An organisation that promotes office politics and a yes-man attitude is not a great place to work.”

What can be done to improve the percentage of women in top executive or leadership roles?

“The tone at the top with a focus on diversity is crucial. Diversity should be made a Key Result Area for the top management. Including the male colleagues in diversity initiatives to avoid making it an all-women’s club with no listeners.”

“Changing mindsets by encouraging men to take some of the responsibilities at home will allow women to ‘lean in’ in Sheryl Sandberg’s words.”

“We also need to build a robust pipeline of women executives so that women can take on leadership positions. Today, there is decent gender diversity at the executive level but as you go up the corporate ladder, the pipeline dwindles. Also, more women need to take up mentorship roles.”

What is the one mistake that any company’s CFO should be wary of?

“Complacency and selecting the easy way instead of the right way.”

How can a working woman strike a balance between professional and personal lives?

“Balancing professional and personal lives is a dilemma for both men and women and everyone needs to learn to balance the two. Make work fun so that you enjoy it and that it doesn’t become a burden. Give quality time at home and balance household chores or get a support system in place.”

“As a professional, you always need to make certain choices and sacrifices, but don’t let the guilt in doing so set in! This is easy to say but most of us carry the guilt of not being available enough for our family.”

Rupa recalls an incident when her daughter had participated in a beauty contest and won it but, she couldn’t be there to witness her daughter’s success as she had to be present at work that day. This incident still lingers on in her memory somewhere.

“One should concentrate on work and remember that the fruit is not in your hands. If you give your 100% and don’t succeed in spite of that, don’t feel bad rather take it as a learning. At the same time, be sure not to repeat the same mistake!”

Women Who Make A Difference
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