Always In The Fast Lane
Attention to the minutest details has made market leader Maruti Suzuki India one of the most successful auto firms financially
It is not easy to be at the top of your game continuously for 14 years. But it’s not so for 58-year-old Ajay Seth, Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of India’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki, who has been adjudged the Overall Champion in this year’s BW | Businessworld-YES BANK CFO Awards.
Under Seth’s stewardship, the automaker has seen its turnover grow from Rs 12,000 crore to Rs 75,000 crore at present and become one of the most profitable Indian companies and one that has created enormous wealth for its shareholders — the past decade has seen Maruti’s market cap jump from $5 billion to $31 billion.
A trained chartered accountant and in this business for over 34-years now, Seth credits his company’s profitable growth as well as his own success to a 360-degree focus on the business surroundings, an eye for detail when dealing with concern areas, and an inclusive approach through a mix of technology. He says each day brings with it own set of challenges as well as learnings and a CFO must be ever watchful.
According to Seth, for any company to grow profitably, it is important for all the stakeholders and business partners to grow.
Seth has been actively involved with the Maruti Suzuki management in helping the auto giant reduce costs and increase profitability. He was directly involved is the backward integration through merger of Suzuki Powertrain India and Maruti Suzuki Automobile India with Maruti Suzuki, with the concomitant synergies resulting in cost reductions and increase in profitability.
What is the role of a CFO today? What are the areas in which a CFO should actively involve himself? Says Seth, “A CFO is not just a key managerial person but he is also supposed to look at the strategic bit of the business. He has to network with the management and most of the departments.”
According to Seth, a good CFO should be capable of giving not just the ‘good news’ to his board but also prepare the board for anything that may adversely impact the company. “He should be ready with the corrective actions or measures that will help mitigate that risk.”
What should the CFO of an automotive company do to be at the top of the game? “He or she should be well versed with production processes, for one. Then one should have a deep understanding of what the competition may be doing. And needless to say, the CFO should also be well-versed with all the latest developments in engineering and design in the automotive sector.”
Seth is a product of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). So what does he make of the quality of education imparted by the ICAI? “The technical skills provided by ICAI are excellent and on par with the global standards. But I wish more importance was given to develop softer skills so that even a CA can be groomed to take up the challenges of a General Manager and a future chief executive, if such an opportunity arises,” he says. Seth believes that any good CFO can also become an able CEO. We wish him all the luck.