The following is from an interview with Naresh Bansal. Naresh became CFO of Actiance in May 2016. Previously, Naresh served as Vice President, Finance of ZScaler, as announced in CFO Moves. This interview was edited for clarity.
Samuel: What attracted you to Actiance?
Naresh: For the last 4 – 5 years, I was at a company called Zscaler that has done extremely well. I helped the company grow from a company of less than 200 people to a company of well over 800 people. But what really piqued my interest was there is such phenomenal opportunity for similar growth at Actiance. And after talking to the executive team and board members, and realizing how committed they were. It really helped solidify my interest in the company, and I decided that I do want to be part of this success story. The product which they had developed is so completely ahead of the technology curve, in the potential that it offers. It has a great executive team as well as great backers.
Samuel: Each career move that you’ve made has been good for you. What does this opportunity have for you, in your ability to deliver and accomplish, that some of the other maybe didn’t?
Naresh: I feel that the opportunity at Actiance is unique. When I look at the market opportunity, they have the top ten of the ten top banks as their customers. And it’s the ability of the company to monetize those customers. That was a very compelling reason.
For me, having been the head of finance for my last company, this was a phenomenal opportunity to step into the more official CFO role of the company and help them grown substantially, to drive the strategy, drive the approach.
This company is at the intersection of big data, social media and compliance. And all of these three markets are all growing at a phenomenal pace. This is reacting to great opportunities, in a much more regulated environment.
Samuel: What are some of the new challenges that face you in this new adventure at Actiance?
Naresh: There are 2 kinds of software companies. There are companies that have been born in the cloud. There are some companies that have been around for a while and are transitioning to the cloud. Actiance has both of those aspects. Actiance has been in a transition where they have been moving from a perpetual software licensing model to a cloud model. And this is really what I brought to the table – that past experience of having been in those fast growing SaaS companies. Bringing that mindset in terms of how you look at metrics, which metrics to look at, how operationally should we be looking at, whether we should be looking at the pricing strategy, looking at the compensation strategy for the sales teams, looking at it across the board, looking at how the planning needs to be done, etc. In SaaS companies, it’s a very different approach to all of these things.
The second aspect is the rapid-growth the company was experiencing. How do you make sure there are defined processes around that growth? Especially when you’re growing at such a fast pace – it becomes even more important that we have all the right processes in place. And if we don’t have all those processes in place, then we’re putting them in place. We’re putting all the systems, the controls, the whole environment. When you’re a small company, you do what you do. But as you’re growing, you have to make sure that you’re thinking ahead of the curve, and that you have all of the right systems, the right processes. And looking at where the team has the experience and the tools to help build us to the next level.
Samuel: Do you feel have enough of the right team members necessary to accomplish what you need?
Naresh: It’s like anything else – as the company grows, there are different talents of people that we need to look at. As of today, when I entered the organization, there is the absolutely the right amount of people that we need. The people here are phenomenally dedicated. We do have the right team. But as the company grows, we need to make sure we have the correct leaders in all the areas.
Samuel: What are some of the top CFO challenges that face growth companies – like yours – today?
Naresh: Every company is different. Every industry is different. And every stage of growth is different. If you’re dealing with a very fast rate – how do you balance all of the requirements and all of the resources? Finance is one of the areas that you should be able to help with that. But what other things can you look at? How can I help the sales team deliver their growth objectives? How can I make sure as the CFO, I’m the enabler of that growth and not the impediment? It needs to be a good balance where you are growing at a very good rate, but at the same time making sure you keep your burn to a minimum. And where you are adding value to your investment along the way. To me, that’s the main challenge – how do you grow at a fast rate? And making sure that you’re very disciplined about your capital allocation.
Samuel: As a leader. How do you develop other leaders?
Naresh: There is the hiring of people who are very smart – even if they haven’t done everything, but that they smart and have a lot of potential. The other aspect to being a leader is to give your team a lot of guidance and mentoring and tutoring along the way, to be in a position that you’re able to guide other people, and to groom these folks to become the future leaders.
And the third element is giving them more responsibility. People want to be challenged. If you have the right people who are hungry to get more, they won’t be satisfied unless they are constantly being challenged. To me, if people are given additional responsibility and accountability, people will grow. The problem then is – how can I grow? If I have a strong team, that going to help me grow? Will it help my role, help me to do more things, help me to partner with other parts of the business in a more effective manner. To me it’s all about hiring the right people. Helping and grooming them by providing them coaching, and by giving them more responsibility along the way.
Samuel: Other than the CEO, who do you feel is the most important business partner for the head of finance in any organization?
Naresh: Well, the CEO is the most important. But when I look across the table, everyone who is on the executive team is a critical component of that. Also marketing and sales are among the most important people. If you’re looking only at the numbers, everything smells great, everything looks great. So you need to ask yourself – how can I partner with the sales team to make them into a high performance organization, making sure they have the right quotas, making sure they have the right compensation structures in place. On the flip side, it’s sort of making sure we’re setting the targets in the right way. And by providing the correct incentives for the marketing leadership so they can effectively deliver. Supporting these guys with a large enough budget allocation so they can have the right tools in order to deliver these numbers. So it’s a very important partnership with sales and marketing.
Similarly, for cloud operations and engineering, it’s about making sure we’re growing in all the appropriate areas – that we have enough engineering talent, that we’re bringing in more and more, and that we’re doing it cost effectively. Whether it’s putting all the data centers we have in different parts of the world, making sure we have the right contacts in place, so we can help the company scale as we grow. And since we are growing, we need to be looking at expanding in different geographies, and building multiple data centers.
Samuel: What’s your style to get the other senior-level executives to work together with you?
Naresh: We are very fortunate in that it is very collaborative – we all feel and believe we are going in the same direction. How do we make this company a big success? Everyone is looking for the ideas. And similarly, I’m very open to ideas – if my counterpart has a better idea, I’m very open to adopting their idea. Or if I have an idea, they are very open to adopting my ideas. It’s very collaborative. It’s not about people imposing their will on the next. Because, in the end of the day, it’s about how to create value for everybody.
Samuel: What advice would you give to finance professionals who want to grow into the CFO chair?
Naresh: The role of the CFO has evolved so much, we cannot do just finance; we have to make sure that we understand and are partnering with all the other parts of the organization – like marketing, sales, engineering, to pretty much every part of the organization. You need to be able to understand that they are part of the business, and to be a partner with the rest of the executive team. And not even just the executive team – but all the different parts of the organization, to understand their needs and their requirements. How to work with them in a better way, to collaborate and help grow the company. That’s one aspect.
The external factor is networking. Networking is key. If you know your friends are the board members or the people that you work with, it’s not like you meet them once and they’re going to call you the next day for an opening. Because you only want them to call you when they have an awesome opportunity. Not just any opportunity that they have available. You have to be constantly staying in touch with your network, whether it’s the board member that you’ve worked with in the past, or some of the executives that admire your work and that you played a role in their success. It could be anyone. It could be the auditor that you work with, your external vendor that you work with. Everybody will want to work with somebody that has good success. And can bring success to your organization.
Samuel: You’re preaching to the converted. All finance professionals will agree with that in principal, but they’ll always say – I’m too busy. How is someone like yourself able to give attention to that while being very busy?
Naresh: This is one of those things where I wish I could do a lot more. It’s true, the job that you have at hand is far more important. But at the same time, networking is great. Some of the things that I have done personally is that I’m part of the local CFO group here which is call FEI, and they have the monthly dinner. And I at least try to go, if not every month then at least every other month. It’s a great avenue where they bring in a great speaker and have a dinner meeting, so at least you’re not taking anything away from your day. And then you have the fabulous chance to meet the rest of the leaders of the CFOs, share your ideas, and just be able to network. And even in my day to day job, things come up where I might have some questions, but at least I know I have a network of people who I can call and ask for guidance, and ask – have you ever had the same challenge? And how have you dealt with that challenge of such a scenario. Without sharing anything confidential. People generally want to help each other out. I’ve had people call me, asking for advice, and I actually feel like I’m privileged enough to be able to help out somebody.
Samuel: Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Naresh: I think we all need to make a very conscience effort to network – this has to become second nature. Especially as a CFO. Because, especially in my world, you’re not just managing your company, but your also constantly hiring as well. Networking is the key. And to try to learn and absorb. Every year – what have I added on to my skill sets. What more have I learned? And not just be content and think I’m the one who knows everything.
A CFO Success Story is a feature of Samuel’s CFO Blog, where Samuel Dergel follows up on his book, Guide to CFO Success, speaking with CFOs featured in CFO Moves and CFO Moves Canada, Samuel’s popular and comprehensive weekly report on CFO Movement across the USA and Canada.