Going Above and Beyond

R Sampath shares some of the many lessons he has learned over the course of his career

R Sampath R Sampath

'Disciplined', 'value-driven', 'self-starter', and 'versatile leader' are some of the many qualities that characterise R Sampath, Group CFO of the Kals Group, which encompasses Kals Distilleries, Kals Breweries, Kals Beverages, Kals Carnataka, and several other family-run entities. Mr Sampath believes that good leadership is all about action, but also about treating everyone fairly and with care, concern, empathy, respect and trust. Leading Finance in a promoter-driven organisation is no mean feat, but he does it with passion, commitment and integrity. In addition to Finance, Mr Sampath handles the role of HR Head, and provides strong support to the operational teams. He is also one of the key drivers of the Group's strategy and new initiatives.

Of diverse experiences...

Mr Sampath began his career in 1987 as a Branch Accountant with Carrier Aircon. In a span of less than 10 years, having held several key positions, he was asked to head the entire Finance function. In 2000, Mr Sampath moved to Samcor Glass, a joint venture between Samtel Color and Corning. There, in addition to providing leadership on finance strategy, he was responsible for implementing and stabilising the ERP systems across the Group's five units. He also served as a Business Partner to the CEO. Later, at Moser Baer India, no one initially believed him when he said that he would close the books by April-end, instead of June. He left many surprised when he delivered on 'D-Day', April 29th. The early closing of books not only saved many man-hours, but also helped Moser Baer raise USD 150 million through FCCBs in record time. As Group CFO of Acme Telepower from 2010 onwards, he successfully reduced the company's fixed costs by 35 per cent, and worked with top management to implement a Voluntary Separation Scheme that employees greatly appreciated. He also implemented SBU-wise MIS reports, and structured the funding for Acme's Bangladesh expansion.

If life is the ultimate teacher, then it has taught him several valuable lessons. These include, primarily, accepting challenges with calm and equanimity; and maintaining focus on the work, always mindful that the results will prove fulfilling. At Acme, after just 5 months with the company, he agreed to head HR. He made the shift fully aware that if he failed, the job market would no longer accept him, either in Finance or in HR. Moreover, even as he remained HR Head, he was asked to find two people to take up two senior positions - those of CFO and HR Head. Ultimately, his stint in HR proved successful, and he managed to fill these positions. He returned to Finance as the Group CFO. 'People can be won over easily through care and concern, empathy, and trust,' he believes.

...and the current mandate

Since 2014, Mr Sampath has been with Kals Group, which has witnessed major transformation in terms of governance and compliance. He has played a critical role in this journey, helping to build up the Group's credibility in the eyes of lenders, associates, customers, vendors and employees. Under his watch, the credit ratings of Kals' two major entities have improved by a few notches, and the Group has achieved greater cost discipline - particularly in terms of funding costs. In mid-2017, he played a critical role in structuring an acquisition in a manner that allowed the promoters to pursue other investment avenues and grow the business, all while 'doing more with less'.

Learning from past successes

More than three decades of cross-sectoral experience have afforded Mr Sampath the privilege of multiple vantage points. He does not believe in staying confined to a particular role, and along the way, he has learned several valuable lessons.

Tolerate ambiguity

To be a successful leader, one must be willing to dive into the most challenging, and ambiguous, situations. As he says, 'Do not worry whether you know anything or not - you will learn on the job. If there is anything that comes your way, accept it and figure out how to do it to the best of your ability.'

Understand the big picture

In today's VUCA environment, it is important for CFOs to have a thorough understanding of the entire organisation, in addition to the landscape in which the business operates. Becoming a well-rounded business leader involves a willingness to learn and stretch in areas beyond one's functional knowledge. It also involves taking risks and delivering results in uncertain conditions.

Embrace Risk

A successful leader must go beyond the fear of failure. All throughout his career, Mr Sampath has ventured into unchartered territories, taking up complex tasks that came with huge expectations. He believes that having an 'achievement orientation' is crucial in motivating a person to perform even in the most adverse situations. He draws inspiration from the need to live with the right values, and to do one's duty responsibly and with passion, to one's family, organisation and society. This helps set one free from the daily hassles and expectations of the world.

Never compromise on values

Leadership is about performance, consistent behaviour and trustworthiness. Mr Sampath firmly believes that, irrespective of the situation, a leader should always do the right thing. This requires a zero-compromise attitude in terms of values. 'Follow the rules even when no one is watching,” he advises.

Enjoy leadership (and life) every moment

For leaders, the daily grind can feel like a barrage of responsibilities, commitments and things to do - which often gets in the way of enjoyment. Drawing a leaf from his own set of priorities, Mr Sampath believes that cultivating self-awareness is crucial to elevating one's performance levels. By achieving this, work no longer feels like a burden, but instead becomes an enjoyable duty.

Seeking inspiration...

Mr Sampath believes that striving from within, maintaining high levels of energy and a 'can-do' attitude, is an inspiration in itself. Moreover, competing with and improving the self each day is the best form of motivation. For him, any new challenge, and the support of his family -his wife, a son and two daughters - are sources of inspiration.

...and purpose

For Mr Sampath, 'unwinding' is not a separate need. To him, if the purpose of life is clearly understood - one based around being responsible, compassionate and useful - then every moment lends a chance to unwind. He does, however, like to spend time with family, and goes on short vacations every six months. Even on holidays and weekends, Mr Sampath is fully responsive to the demands of his organisation. One can and should, after all, enjoy work whether within or outside a daily routine.

Career highlights

R Sampath has over 30 years of professional experience, including 4 years at the Kals Group, where he serves as Group Chief Finance Officer. In 2012, he was recognised by CFO Institute as among India's top 100 CFOs in the category 'Raising Capital'. In 2004, he was shortlisted by IMA India as one of India's Most Influential CFOs. In 2018, he was nominated for IMA's 'The India CFO Awards' in three categories and made it to the list of finals for M&A.

Mr Sampath is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, and of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India.