CXO Series: In Conversation with Raghupati Mishra, CFO, Essar Group

CXO Series: In Conversation with Raghupati Mishra, CFO, Essar Group

CFOs play an important role in any company and its success. Today, their role goes beyond the conventional role of a CFO. The majority see their financial department as “a strategic business partner” within the corporation. Raghupati Mishra is one such person who has achieved wonders in all Chief Financial Officer functions including fundraising, debt restructuring, handling CIRP and NCLT matters, managing relationship with banks and financial institutions, treasury operations, formulation and execution of business strategies, accounting in SAP Environment, statutory compliances, corporate governance, identification and mitigation of risks etc. He has been instrumental in putting in place revenue assurance, fr systems/team at rapidly growing business of airtel bihar.  

We wanted to know the thinking and lifestyle of C-Suites to understand them better and to understand how C-Suite go about in their day to day lives. Apart from getting to know about the journey of these people of reaching to the C-Suite level, we also wanted to know the little things that they like and mattered in their lives

Here, we are in conversation with Raghupati Mishra, the CFO of Essar Groups, an Indian conglomerate group with core presence in Energy, Metals & Mining, Infrastructure (comprising ports and EPC businesses) and Services (primarily comprising shipping and BPO businesses). Raghupati is a seasoned senior management professional with over two decades of experience and exposure to various aspects of a business.

In Conversation with Raghupati Mishra, CEO of Essar Groups

Interviewer: Madhusmita

KredX: What are the most important experiences in your life that have bought you here today from a career perspective?

Mr Mishra: So, one experience would be of choosing BCom after my class 12. Right up till class 12, I have studied science and most people in my family are from the science background. There are doctors, engineers and people working in the administrative services. My father is a doctor. So, soon after my 12th, my family and I took to a decision where it was decided that, I will be pursuing Bcom to be a CA.

Then, another experience of mine that has brought me here today is my decision of choosing corporate over a government job. I got a job in power finance corporation but I decided not to go with it as I believed my scope there would be limited. As per me, the private sector gives us high possibilities and opportunities to pursue our goals.

KredX: What gets you out of your bed early in the morning?

Mr Mishra: There isn’t anything specific that gives me a push to get out of my bed in the morning. However, I can tell you what I do right after I am up. I wake up with a prayer every day, thanking God for a beautiful day and ask his help in doing everything right for the day.

KredX: What is your candid impression of young people today? What will be your advice to them?

Mr Mishra: My impression of the youth today is that they are so much more focused and smarter. They are technologically sound and understand the changing trends way better than how we understood.

My only advice to them will be to come out of the digital world and experience the real world as well. What I have noticed is that they are mostly in the digital world than the real world and it is important to strike a balance between the two.

KredX: How do you manage to cope up with rapidly evolving technology and regulations around you?

Mr Mishra: In today’s world with technology gaining a rapid pace in our everyday lives, it is essential to cope up with it. I remember when I was 8 or 9 years old, the roads back in our hometown didn’t have bridges, rather there were cement pipes. These cement pipes used to lie adjacent to the roads and as children, we stood on these pipes and tried to move them forward. This required maintaining balance by moving your feet constantly at the same speed with the pipes. Coping up with technology has been a similar experience. A lot of focus is needed for maintaining balance to go at the same speed with technology but it is fun and thrilling at the same time.

The industry that I have been in, be it IT or telecom, the technology changes after every couple of years. The old technology becomes redundant and there is a whole new technology to understand. We have to comprehend and learn where the technology is coming from and what needs to be done for people to adapt it. In the last two decades, the maximum contribution in terms of technology has been done by these two sectors, and they have had a solid impact on the society.

I will explain you with an incident that I had witnessed. Back in college, there were PCOs to talk to family and there was no privacy while talking. My friend had to talk to his girlfriend and to that he had to follow this lengthy process where he had to ensure that the call reaches the right person.  But then came apps like WhatsApp, and it gave us the liberty to send messages, make calls and video calls to the intended person. Not just communication but mobile and technology have changed a lot of other things for us like banking, shopping among others.

KredX: Coming to the company, what is it that makes you extremely proud?

Mr Mishra: A lot of things make me proud of this company. We currently are into engineering procuring and construction, and we have the second best prequalification in the country for any EPC contracts. Most of the ports in India have been built by us including the ports for the defence sector. We have built a majority of the oil refineries and steel plants and are the only company in the last three decades who have built a fertilizer plant in India. Apart from that, we are pioneers in hydrocarbon, water pipelines and gas pipelines. It is impossible not be proud of such a company who has achieved so much across multiple sectors.

Talking about the previous company, Bharti Airtel had become the number one in telecom industry at that time. I had the luxury to watch the company reach all those places where others were just thinking about.  They were one of the firsts to reach in the depths of Bihar, Jharkhand and other remote areas. These areas had no electricity and zero connectivity, and yet they had mobiles. They achieved this by installing charging facilities in the mobile towers so people could go and charge their mobiles. These towers were mostly run on batteries or diesel.

I have been extremely lucky to work for all such companies who have achieved success in various fields and me being a part of their journey has made it even more charming.

KredX: Was there a mentor, guide or somebody you looked up to or inspired you through the length of your journey, both professionally or personally?

Mr Mishra: I have had quite a few mentors and I have learned a lot from all of them. I have learned what kind of leaders to become, how to deal with situations, how to treat life, how to deal with adverse circumstances, how to inspire and how to deal with the corporate dynamics.

I remember one of my CEO’s teaching that leadership is about a lot of things. It is about the partnership, support and inspiration. Leadership doesn’t mean sitting in one place and giving order and expecting people to work accordingly, rather it is about considering everyone under you as your partner in your objective. Once you do this, they essentially become partners in what you want to achieve.

Extending your support also stands crucial in becoming a leader. It is important to understand that everybody is not born with the same kind of skill set and a true leader needs to support the skill set of every individual and then balance it with the others. He/She needs to figure out the plus and minus and by doing this, an individual can achieve maximum productivity in the skill set that they own.

KredX: Which is your all-time favourite quote?

Mr Mishra: “The buck stops here”

KredX: If there is one advice you could give your younger self, what would it be?

Mr Mishra: There is no such advice that I want to give my younger self except repeating all those mistakes that I have done in the past. All of my mistakes have turned out to be great for me, and I am fully in peace with whatever I have done in my life so far without any regrets.

KredX: What was the greatest challenge you’ve faced as a CFO, did you see it coming, or was it a total surprise, and how has it changed your management style?

Mr Mishra: Challenges have a way of coming towards you more when you are a CFO and you have to deal with them. Being in such a position, there isn’t just one single challenge that we have to deal with. In my current role, one day the RBI directed banks out of the blue to get certain companies to NCLT and our company was one such company. Nobody had envisaged that, but being at such a position our job involves overcoming the blue. Such challenges reinforce our belief that life is unpredictable, and as human beings we need to accept that only up to a certain limit things can be done and we should learn to live with it.

KredX: What approach do you take while handling interdepartmental conflicts or conflicts within the team or conflicts in general?

Mr Mishra: My way generally involves reminding people what is the objective of them being there. I try making the person understand their objective and then making them understand that the best way to achieve it is in a perfectly harmony which involves helping each other. We spend most of our lives in the office and as such, one shouldn’t make it depressing because of small issues. Rather, we should understand the other person as well and why a person is behaving in a certain manner. Minor hiccups are a part of life but at the end of the day, we have to be together. We need to support each other and be a team. Only by doing this can we reach from where we are to where we want to be.

KredX: What do you do when you are not at work?

Mr Mishra: When I am not working, I like to read, listen to music and spend time with my family. These three things are very important in my life.  I am an avid reader and enjoy reading almost anything. From reading railway timetables to all kind of newspapers and books, reading forms a core component of my life.

When it comes to music, I enjoy listening to ghazals and soothing songs and music.

KredX: Was being the CFO always your goal? How did you decide this was your calling?

Mr Mishra: I had no specific goal to be the CFO but I always had the goal to keep going forward. As of now, where I am, I love it and I have no regrets.

KredX: If you weren’t in the finance field today, what is the other career you would have opted for?

Mr Mishra: I would have been a writer which I aspire to do someday.

KredX: If given a chance, what would you write about?

Mr Mishra: Fiction. I have met incredible people in my life, and I am somebody who is generally very interested in interacting with people and knowing their lifestyle and what they do. When I was in Delhi, I met a lot of people. Delhi is like mini India due to which I met people from all parts of India who were residing there. I have friends from the North East, Jammu Kashmir, Punjab and South India. I know some people from Bihar who have seen the Bihar that we haven’t even heard of. They have all given me incredible things to write about and I have had the privilege of hearing the firsthand account from the people who have lived through it. All this has inspired me to be a writer.

KredX: Any advice on a difficult day for the readers?

Mr Mishra: My advice on a difficult day is that you cannot be just a CFO, CEO or any leader who is involved in the day to day transactions, rather you need to come up with strategies that reinforces your position.

When the company is not generating revenue and is in stress because of some issues that are finance related, as a CFO everything comes on you. To cope up with this, it is important to realise that your role is much larger than sitting on a chair. It involves analysing the situation and strategising according to the current need. You have to work on the future of the company and for that, you will have to deal with numerous problems. There will be times when you need to give time to strategize your business by getting along with various teams. You need to sit with teams and understand and identify the problems. Along with that, focusing on the current is also important.

You also need to be a mentor and resolve the issues of the people who come to you for help so they can get on to the next task. You need to get them out of their problem. I don’t sit in my chair for more than half an hour to one hour in the entire day. In fact, I roam around the office, go to various people’s desk for something or the other, or some meeting or solving issues and strategizing new things.