A Participative Leader

Manas Datta Anurag Bhagania, former CFO of SKF India

As companies transform for the digital age, Finance teams are under significant pressure to add value and take on more of a business partnering role. The demands put on CFOs are only expected to increase, requiring them to be deeply involved in stakeholder engagement, as well as to proactively identify and manage new commercial opportunities. To be successful in their roles, CFOs therefore need to be skilled in much more than just financial management, and demonstrate capabilities in communication, business acumen and in terms of leading a strategic vision.

Today, the CFO’s role encompasses not just the core technical facets but also the softer aspects of leadership, emotional competency and cultural fit. Highly interactive, balanced, ready for any challenge and fearless are some traits that characterise Anurag Bhagania, SKF’s former CFO. His rich, 25-year career offers insightful lessons and learning for executives in general and CFOs in specific.

Learning from past experiences

More than 25 years ago, Anurag started out as a management-audit trainee at the Aditya Birla Group. In his professional journey, he has mostly been associated with US-based conglomerates like Honeywell, GE, Ingersoll-Rand and Eaton. ‘What was valuable about working in these ‘great-places-to-work’ was the opportunity to work in multiple roles and being part of their transformation journey,’ he reminisces. Anurag believes that the one common denominator, across all his Finance leadership roles over the years, is functional excellence. He also feels fortunate to have been part of leadership teams responsible for driving both strategic direction and profitable growth.

At SKF, Anurag drove business transformation – part of the strategic agenda of growing the business 2x over the next five years. This required overseeing an expansive set of opportunities involving multiple strategic levers and segment strategies focused on product and market footprints, expanding the firm’s reach, enhancing its manufacturing capacity and capability, and building a future-ready workforce.

Under his watch, SKF established its first captive GCC (Global Competence Centre) in India for managing its global IT and Finance operations. These global hubs, meant to support SKF’s South Asia businesses, are being scaled up in both size and process maturity. During the early days of Covid, this evolution also served as an effective business continuity plan and helped sustain operations.

For Anurag, each role, every organisation and every day at work offers an opportunity to learn something new. Over the course of his career, he has learnt many things, but most importantly:

  • Make smart choices:Anurag believes that, to be an effective CFO during these challenging times, one has to continuously make smart choices. ‘Forecast over performance,’ ‘Cash over cost,’ ‘Digital over physical,’ and ‘Employees and customers over everything else.’ ‘What I believe we have been able to do is, stay committed to our strategic priorities to ensure a deepened trust with our customers. This provides tremendous value to our customers, which is why they keep coming back to us for more.’
  • Stay hungry for challenges: See every challenge as an opportunity, and failure as both a stepping-stone and an integral part of your career’s journey.
  • Sustain a ‘passion for people’: People are the organisation’s greatest strength. Leaders need to develop a vision that will excite and motivate people, influence outcomes and shape behaviours.
  • Lead with courage: ‘If you have a seat at the table, then add value and bring something relevant that matters,’ he suggests.
  • Focus on learning: Be a dynamic learner. ‘If you are not learning something new, you are not growing,’ he says.

On the Personal Front

Toughest decision

According to Anurag, the firm’s recent decisions around capital allocation and timing were the toughest to make. ‘With the pandemic disturbing the global economics, we did have an unnerving initial period where we questioned every investment and revalidated our assumptions. Sometimes, I had to make the unpopular choice of delaying certain investments against our own beliefs, simply due to volatility and uncertainties in the markets. I would say they were tough choices. But we were very clear that as a company we want to do the right thing for our customers, shareholders and employees,’ he says.

Destress mantra

Anurag has created a schedule that he strictly adheres to. He loves high-speed driving and active sports. He plays badminton for 60-90 minutes daily and looks forward to it every day, as it helps him stay fit, de-stress and rejuvenate.

A CFO to look up to

Anurag does not look up to just one, but many CFOs. He believes that there is much to learn from many different individuals. As part of a group of industry-oriented CFOs, he makes every opportunity to meet and learn from them.

Getting inspired

Anurag’s favourite book is Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why.’ The top three things on his bucket list include: learning to play the guitar; taking a long family vacation in the US; and watching Wimbledon in person.

Career highlights

Anurag Bhagania has 25 years of extensive Financial management experience, including in acquisitions, transformation, Finance operating-model deployment, and leadership capability development. Recently, he was Director of Finance and Chief Financial Officer at SKF India. Previously, Anurag has worked with a number of MNCs, including Honeywell, GE, Ingersoll Rand/Trane and Eaton, and brings expertise spanning strategic initiatives and driving profitable growth.

Anurag is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and holds an MBA.