Seeking Excellence

Ashutosh Prabhudesai talks about his unfinished journey towards personal and professional excellence

Francois de Thomasson
Ashutosh Prabhudesai,
Group CFO

The foundations of individual excellence rest on leadership values. CFOs have long been looked up to for managing the firm’s risks and protecting its assets and reputation. However, their remit today extends well beyond this narrow definition. For CEOs, the CFO is often the ‘second-in-command’ –the de-facto right-hand person, and an information magnet and repository. For the Board, he or she is seen as the firm’s ‘brand custodian’. Colleagues and peers look to the CFO as a mentor and coach, and together with the CEO and CHRO, one of a ‘golden triad’ that can drive the company towards excellence. To be able to do justice to their roles, CFOs must be well rounded, and able to respond to the varying expectations of multiple stakeholders. Ashutosh Prabhudesai, Finance Director of Fujitsu Consulting India, embodies just what this means.

Reflections and Reminiscences

Looking back at his journey thus far, Mr Prabhudesai marvels at how his own path has diverged so sharply from those of his college batch-mates. Academics were smooth-sailing for him, and he bagged the top three professional qualifications – CA, CWA and CS – that stem out of the commerce stream. His professional path, however, has been far less straight, one that has been marked by many twists and turns. He went through the typical grind that one expects from a mid-sized CA firm, but followed that up with an entirely different experience with an engineering company. Next up, Mr Prabhudesai spent years working with the ‘industry greats’, learning businesses ranging from poultry and agriculture to shares and securities. Today, he finds himself in the cutting-edge telecom and IT space. Throughout this journey across varying profiles and work environments, two things have remained constant: the value system ingrained in him by his upbringing and education, and his pursuit of excellence.

Substance over form

Mr Prabhudesai recalls that one of the key tenets instilled in every CA student is to prioritise substance over form. Indeed, he has seen this one principle in action throughout his career. In the context of his current job, each financial report prepared for top management goes through multiple checks, and great care is taken to ensure that the most relevant analytics are packed in the smallest possible space, thus saving on time. The relevance and accuracy of the content is far more important than the quality of the paper they are printed on, or the colours of the borders that contain the data. Form does matter, but never more than the substance, he says.

Know your business

A second key lesson Mr Prabhudesai learned early in his career came as advice from his COO at one of his previous organisations. Having only just joined the organisation, he lacked industry experience. To overcome this, the COO asked him to spend at least an hour each day on the shop floor understanding how manufacturing really happens. From that day on, he has always sought to understand the business he is in – whether portfolio management, telecom or IT – as well as its various dimensions. Not only has this helped make him a close friend to his business peers, it has also prepared him well for the senior roles he has subsequently taken up.

Split the ‘giant’ into manageable parts

A stint at a telecom firm brought him into contact with yet another ‘non-domain guru’ – his CIO. As novices, he and his young team were struggling with revenue accounting for prepaid cards and vouchers. The premise was that revenue is not earned at the time of sale of the card, but when the airtime is consumed. Myriad charges, including from the state (PSTN) and from other operators (roaming charges) further complicated the accounting process. Mr Prabhudesai vividly recalls the sight of his CIO drawing the control accounts for the Finance team, splitting the ‘giant’ into small manageable parts, each with a clean connection to the other. Suddenly, what had seemed like a huge problem became very small. Today, Mr Prabhudesai follows the principle that for every problem, the art is to split it into smaller chunks, each related to the other, and to then address them one at a time, linking them to solutions.

Embrace digital, but keep a sense of perspective

Digitalisation is sweeping across every aspect of life. Today, it can serve as a tool for the transformation of business models, organisational structures and processes. Businesses must therefore embrace digitalisation openly, but without getting enslaved by it. After all, technology is, at the end of the day, only a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

Take care of your talent

Nearly every organisation has a mission statement that talks about valuing its employees. In practice, this is hardly ever the case. Most firms continue to use traditional criteria to generate performance scores, and to make compensation decisions. Often, employees regard this process as unfair. This is a serious problem, because perceived fairness – or the lack thereof – is a key factor driving attrition. In his own case, Mr Prabhudesai recalls how valued he felt when he was promoted within a year of joining a company. The regular performance measures were set aside in favour of a more holistic evaluation of his contributions. Today, he continues to hold his ex-manager there in high regard. Of course, it is not always possible to have the luxury to translate appreciation into a better profile or higher pay, but it is crucial that team members feel that their managers are genuine and fair.

Broaden your horizons

If there is one lesson Mr Prabhudesai has learned from current organisation, it is to widen his horizons. Whether through work responsibilities, training modules, or challenging assignments, it is crucial, where opportunity permits, to go beyond one’s state, country or domain. ‘You should meet people from different cultures, see the world, understand how it works, how it behaves, how it changes. This will provide an experience compared to nothing else,’ he advises. At all times, however, one must also remain clear about the local imperatives: think global, but act local.

Plans for the Future

Looking ahead, Mr Prabhudesai intends to embrace digitalisation more fully. He also wants to get people to look beyond their ‘business-as-usual’ mindset. Personally, he wants to have more time for his team – and of course, to continue his pursuit of excellence.

Seeking inspiration…

The people Mr Prabhudesai admires most are those who bring a rational approach to the table, but at the same time, have the hunger to learn and the zeal to perform. They must also have strong value systems, and above everything else, they must be good human beings.


At the end of the day, Mr Prabhudesai unwinds from his frenetic work life by spending quality time with friends and family. He also enjoys listening to soothing music, finding the time to read the odd book now and then, and devoting time to spiritual activities.

Career highlights

Ashutosh Prabhudesai has close to 20 years of professional experience, including 11 years as Finance Director at Fujitsu Consulting India. Previously, he was Head of Finance at Rapidigm India, and Head of Accounts and Revenue Assurance at BPL Mobile.

Mr Prabhudesai is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, the Institute of Company Secretaries of India, and the Institute of Cost Accountants of India.