The following is a summary of our interview with Sajid Malhotra, who was appointed CFO of Limelight Networks in April 2016, as announced in CFO Moves. Prior to being appointed CFO, Sajid was Chief Strategy Officer at Limelight Networks, and worked in strategy roles at Convergys, NCR Corporation and AT&T.
Samuel Dergel: Please tell us about what motivated you to become CFO
Sajid Malhotra: Professionally I recognized the higher responsibility and opportunity to assist in turning around the business. In my previous role as head of strategy, I could influence but this was clearly a lot more. The personal motivation was that I have a desire to assist other company Boards and being at a C-Level position would facilitate that goal.
SD: What challenges did you face becoming CFO when you were not classically trained for the role?
SM: I was at the right place at the right time. There was an abrupt departure of the CFO and I expressed interest to be the next CFO. I knew that the role would be a challenge but I felt, based on the underlying support team, there was low probability of failure and a very high probability of success. I felt I possessed the right skill set to turnaround the business for all stakeholders and wanted to take on the challenge of being a key member to turn a broken business into a successful one. Despite the position being outside of my comfort zone, I recognized, it was an opportunity I should not pass up.
SD: Did you find it challenging to move into the CFO role, acquire a new team and get the results that you need (or able to get them to perform)?
SM: I am a firm believer of not reducing workforces and in giving the incumbents the first chance. I believe keeping and motivating my team is the first order of business. My job is to make the team and the environment I inherit better. Over the course of my 30-year career, I have let the same principle guide me, regardless of the company, the industry or size.
SD: What do you feel are the key qualities for successful leadership?
SM: Leading by example, honesty and transparency, is a requirement. Leading by example and letting my team see how I interact with all around me, my sense of commitment and responsibility helps modify team behavior accordingly. People self-learn and perform.
SD: How important is it to have your people believe in you?
SM: Extremely important. I cannot do this alone. With my team, I can. My resume, experience and capabilities are important elements to getting a job but to be successful, it is all about the team working together towards a common goal and with a clear and unified purpose.
SD: How do you deal with change?
SM: I don’t think people handle change well in general. I have found that when you get the first series of changes and are successful, momentum picks up, employees attitudes change, and the trend becomes your friend.
SD: How are relationships important to you?
SM: Strategy and M&A are transactional roles. The CFO position requires higher engagement and entanglement, not just with the employees, but with vendors, customers, shareholders, community and competitors. I may have underestimated the amount of time investment required to be good at all this. It is a requirement for success.
SD: In your experience, what has been the difference between giving advice vs. taking advice?
SM: I always found it easy to give advice to CEOs, CFOs and boards but taking advice is 180 degrees different. Much, much easier to give and I have higher respect for those who constantly receive.
SD: How important is time management to a CFO?
SM: The CFO position requires a lot of time to do the job well and everyone is asking for your time. It is very easy to get buried in work if one does not manage time well and so, it is crucial to manage it well. We only have 24 hours in a day and time is an equalizer. Do a few things and do them well. Delegate the balance to trusted team members. Opportunities will only return what you invest in them.
SD: What advice do you have for contemporaries considering taking on the CFO role?
SM: Self-awareness as well as conviction are key. The CFO is the gatekeeper to the value vault. Do it well and you create value, do it poorly and you destroy value. Setting expectations and priorities before accepting the role rather than figuring them out after you have accepted the position is important. Ask for help. Take help. Leave personal biases at the door.
SD: Now that you’ve been CFO for over a year, what is your impression about the Office of the CFO?
SM: The CFO is most often the second most important role at any company, and for good reason. I find it an honor to be a CFO. I am temporarily occupying a position and an office. I need to make sure I don’t dilute the role for those who will follow me.
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.