CFO of the Week: Nishant Saxena (Cipla Medpro): Finance as business partner and in-house venture capitalist

Last year Nishant Saxena traded his job as CFO of pharmaceutical company Cipla India for a move to Cape Town, where he is now the Chief Financial & Administrative Officer of Cipla Medpro. During the CFO event at the Cape Town Club on 19 February, Nishant will be the key note speaker. He will share some of his experiences in South Africa so far and he will talk about the transition of finance from a bookkeeping role to a true business partner.

CFO.co.za spoke to Nishant to get to know him better.

Who is Nishant Saxena?
"I am Executive Director, Member of the Board and CFAO at Cipla Medpro. Business Finance, Accounting, Tax, Shared Service Centre (Orders, receivables, Payables), IT, Procurement, Legal, M&A and India supply chain report in to me. Until May 2014 I was CFO of Cipla in India. I started my career at Procter & Gamble and worked for them in Japan, Philippines, Singapore and India. Now I am enjoying working and living in Cape Town."

What is Cipla Medpro's footprint?
"Cipla Medpro is the third largest pharmaceutical company in South Africa. It is now 100 percent owned by Cipla India after the recent US$500 million acquisition and delisting from the JSE. We produce a very broad spectrum of pharmaceutical products. We have R3bn of revenues, 900 employees, 5 offices and a manufacturing location in Durban."

How does South Africa compare to India?
"I have lived and worked in half a dozen countries and many things are the same: finance is finance is finance.

"SA has much better data availability, so a lot of analytics can be done. The tax regime is also largely straight forward. It is wonderful to see CAs and the finance profession generally very well regarded and contributing a lot of board members."

"On the other hand, we still need to spend a lot of time on moving away from number crunching and moving towards business partnering. Many companies are doing a good job in reporting the results, but one of my big responsibilities within Cipla Medpro is to make sure the department delivers more value, like helping the sales department deliver better results through the use of analytics. Finance - with its objectivity and analytics - has to play a much more proactive role in delivering the business instead of just accounting for it. It has to be the in-house venture capitalist, identifying the right opportunities and improving returns to shareholders."

Can you mention something where South Africa is doing better?
"Use of data is very good here in South Africa. Because of the vast size of India it can be hard to keep track of what is going on, and because of lack of organized retail, data capture is difficult. The ability to know what is happening across the business is much better in South Africa. Government as a client is by and large reliable and relatively clean, that is also a plus for South Africa. Government procures 30 percent of our sales, so for us that is important."

What will you be talking about during your key note in Cape Town?
"I want to talk about Finance transformation - where the function moves beyond its traditional accounting and stewardship responsibility, to a true business partner, owning topline and bottom-line. Most CFOs understand it, but second level still needs help to make the jump. A business partner has commercial and business insights, which he or she uses to improve decision making. The key is: how can finance add value beyond numbers."

What is your take on CFO events?
"They're great and a lot of common learning comes out of CFO events like the one on 19 February. In India we have similar events on a regional level, because that country is very big. It is great to chat to peers about best practices, how we can use tax benefits and where to find talent. From a career perspective it can also be useful. For me personally, it would be great to share notes with CFOs from other consumer and pharma goods companies."

What should ambitious CAs do to become CFOs one day?
"One of the things I have noticed is that CAs are strong accountants, and very hard working but often weaker on soft skills and business orientation. Those things you learn much more when you do a business course, for example, or with experience on the business side."