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BW Businessworld

Best CFO Awards 2016-17 | On A Grand Ride

Asian Paints grew to Rs 14,179 crore in revenue with Jayesh Merchant at the helm

Photo Credit : Umesh Goswami

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When Jayesh Merchant took the reins of Asian Paints’ finance in 2002, the usual tasks were handling the finance and legal aspects. But over time, as the company expanded, both domestically and internationally, organically and inorganically, Merchant’s roster of challenges expanded to include mergers, strategy and planning for capital allocation and business growth.

Ask him how he does so much and pat comes the response, “I am enjoying it.” Merchant says the role of a CFO has undergone a sea change from the old days. “CFOs now, instead of being reactive, have to be proactive. We need to be prepared for anything. Looking at the present context, particularly the volatile foreign exchange, social and political environment globally; you also look at the China situation and what is happening in the US; you need to be on the ball, daily,” he says.

Ever since Merchant joined the blue-chip paints manufacturer, the firm has ballooned at a steady clip, clocking a consolidated turnover of Rs 15,850 crore, while its market valuations have soared to over Rs 1.09 lakh crore. Over the last 10 years, its market valuations have swelled at a phenomenal 30 per cent compounded per annum. Hence, it comes as no great surprise that Merchant has been named as BW Businessworld-Yes Bank’s Best CFO in the ‘Wealth Creation’ category.

He attributes the growth to prudent management and conservatism. “We take calculated risks. We have in place sturdy review mechanisms; we balance allocation of resources. But the most important thing we follow is that funds belong to the stakeholders; we are trustees.”

Over the years, Merchant has seen Asian Paints transform from a domestic company to an international one, with nearly 13 per cent revenue from international markets. Asian Paints recently acquired a company in Sri Lanka, and Merchant saw the acquisition went off smoothly.

He points out that Asian Paints has vastly expanded over the years. “We have gone into home improvement. Our joint ventures have become larger. Our capacities have risen, and the complexities of business have increased from what they were earlier.”

Merchant also looks after resources and treasury operations, managing nearly Rs 1,800 crore. He not only has to maximise the profitability of the holdings but also monitor the investment and funding activities, oversee financial derivatives and mitigate risk across the spectrum. “The whole canvas has expanded with so much happening across the world; commodity prices are moving sharply, and currency fluctuations are rapid. Hence, we have to plan for the next five years. It’s difficult to plan for longer because everything is so dynamic.”

Merchant’s role expanded vastly when he was elevated to the level of a president within Asian Paints and brought into the executive council (one level below the board), consisting of the managing director and four presidents of various verticals.

Given all these roles, one wonders where he finds time to maintain a work-life balance. “I do have time. Often, I rise early in the morning to read. I wake up early and sleep early. I speak to both my children every day.”

Ask him how he manages to find time to do so many things, and he quickly attributes it to his people: “I have an excellent team, providing immense support.”