This episode of the CFO Playbook features an interview with Chitra Balasubramanian, CFO at CircleCI, a continuous integration and continuous delivery platform that can be used to implement DevOps practices in the cloud or on private infrastructures. With more than 20 years of experience accelerating business growth through data analysis, Chitra is best known for scaling technology startups. As the current CFO, and one of two C-suite females, at fast-growth unicorn CircleCI, she’s led the company through major wins to establish itself as a leader in its space.
In this episode of the CFO Playbook, Chitra talks about her interest in being involved in technology forward finance, which led her to the startup world. She speaks about using data to identify and model the impact of change to a business, how her company increased its global employee headcount amidst a pandemic, the importance of remaining agile as a CFO, and why you need to remain empathetic and ensure open communication with your company and investors.
Being a CFO requires agility. It is easy for companies to get caught up in hype cycles or be overly conservative in down cycles. You should always practice stability and consistency in your work to remain focused and avoid all the noise going on around you. But, it is important to remain open minded and aware of your surroundings so you can make adjustments when appropriate.
“The way I’ve sort of tackled agility is by really trying to take a long-term view and at the same time paying attention to the short term planning horizon. How can we think about what’s really best for the company over the long term, but also make sure to invest in a way where we can remain nimble over the course of the shorter term time horizon, where there’s a little bit more global uncertainty around us.”
Be transparent with investors. Present them with thoughtful and varied scenarios so they have options. Be prepared to have recommendations on those options so you can have a productive conversation.
“Everyone should be aligned in what the strategy and plan is. I think it’s all about providing the right amount of information. The reasons for that, and getting buy-in along the journey to remain agile and plan ahead, is so you can also make changes as necessary during tough markets.”
You need to always evolve and learn more as you move throughout your career. This will help you when trying to get others to buy-in to your goals. By helping them to understand your decisions you will be able to gain trust and credibility. Maintain open communication and understanding with your team. That will allow you to drive progress and build relationships.
“You have to lead with empathy because while your own team may not be directly affected, they may have family members, they may have friends, and others that are affected by tough situations. Maintaining empathy is really critical and something that I think about quite often.”
Have an open dialogue with your team and leadership about what is happening in the environment around you. Keep a conversation going on what’s occurring from a macro perspective so you can navigate through cycles, identify the company’s focus, be aware of landscape changes, and remain sensitive to how customers and clients are impacted. We’re all part of a larger ecosystem that is affected, so think very thoughtfully about what’s in and out of your control to help get through things.
“I think it’s important to be proactive. You should be a leader that educates your teams and provides guidance in an advisory role to the CEO. In this type of market for CFOs and other finance leaders, you don’t necessarily know what are the right questions to ask, how to make sense of what’s going on in the market, or how to navigate through these cycles. But, financial leaders are really in the best spot one because they have access to the information and that analytical horsepower. They’ve got a team with that economic mindset and can understand different business relationships.”
The tried and true way to strengthen a business in a downturn is through operational efficiency savings. Simplistically, some people may view these as just ‘cuts’. But ‘cuts’ don’t actually capture the nuances and skill involved in cost saving.