Believe in Yourself

CM Gaonkar, CFO of D-Link India, talks about his journey (so far)

CM Gaonkar CM Gaonkar

In today’s disruptive environment, it is important for CFOs to have a thorough understanding of the entire organisation, in addition to the broader landscape in which the business operates

The CFO should be the ‘third eye’ of the CEO and senior management, supporting them in the endeavour to fuel growth

‘Dedicated’, ‘Dreamer’, ‘Determined’, and ‘Dependable’ are some of the many qualities that characterise CM Gaonkar, Chief Financial Officer of D-Link India. Mr Gaonkar believes that to be a successful leader, it is important to accept challenges in life, stay motivated, and overcome failures and setbacks. Leading the Finance function at one of the world’s top networking solutions company is no small task, but he does it with passion. In his role, Mr Gaonkar shoulders multiple responsibilities, including treasury management and investor relations, as well as the monthly reporting of financials to the parent company.

Mr Gaonkar spoke to us about how his role has evolved, from number crunching to co-driving the growth strategy, all while focusing on long-term growth. Today, he is deeply involved in key management decisions and works closely with both, the local management and D-Link’s parent business in Taiwan. During his career, he has worked through multiple disruptions, including technological change (e.g., the telecom sector moving from 3G to 4G), demonetisation and the GST. However, with his unshakeable commitment, he and his team ensured that his company made the necessary transitions smoothly and met the challenges of change effectively.

Reminiscing the Journey…

After completing a bachelor’s degree in science, Mr Gaonkar landed with a job offer from Tata Exports. He was passionate about photography but decided to become a Chartered Accountant instead. After completing his CA degree, he engaged in private practice for two years and worked in Dubai for another five years before joining D-Link in 1995 as an Accounts Manager. At the time, people knew very little about D-Link, which was an early entrant in the networking industry. Mr Gaonkar was based at the firm’s Head Office in Mumbai and supervised its manufacturing facility in Goa.

In 1999, D-Link International was formed as a 100% subsidiary of D-Link India. A second factory was set up, and new ‘passive’ products like structured cabling were brought in, spurring rapid growth. In the same year, Mr Gaonkar was appointed as the company’s CFO. In 2001, D-Link International was merged into D-Link India, and it launched its IPO in February 2001. It became the first networking company to list on the Indian stock exchanges, and had also by then set up an R&D facility in Bengaluru.

By 2007, the company had a turnover of Rs 323 crores, and at that point, the promoter decided to sell a 26% stake to D-Link Corporation of Taiwan. Finally, in May 2008, the company got demerged into two separate listed entities – D-Link India and Smartlink Networks. The ‘new’ D-Link commenced its journey in 2008 as a trading company with a turnover of Rs 128 crores. It soon introduced a whole new range of products, and underwent restructuring. Since then, there has been no looking back, with the turnover rising from Rs 129 crores in FY11 to Rs 659 crores in FY18.

…and the Lessons Learnt

Capturing new growth opportunities in today’s digital economy demands a constant review of business models and processes. In fact, this may well be a question of survival, given how new entrants are beating incumbents by creating new digital business models that are free of existing constraints. In such a disruptive environment, it is important for CFOs to have a thorough understanding of the entire organisation, in addition to the broader landscape in which the business operates. This means building a solid understanding of how other teams in the business operate on a day-to-day basis, and looking for opportunities to support and collaborate with other top executives internally. A knowledgeable and experienced CFO is also one who is more capable of helping the CEO in complex situations. Mr Gaonkar believes that the CFO should be the ‘third eye’ of the CEO and senior management, supporting them in the endeavour to fuel growth. Along the way, he has learnt several valuable lessons.

Taking calculated risks

To be a successful CFO, it is critical to take risks and be responsible for their consequences. The key is to never get demotivated by failures or setbacks. All through his career, Mr Gaonkar has ventured into uncharted territories, taking up complex tasks that have huge expectations attached to them. He may not have always succeeded in these experiments, but his conviction and courage have helped him gain the trust of the senior management. This has enabled him to handle diverse roles and responsibilities with ease.

Valuing your team

Mr Gaonkar attributes his success to his team members and believes that it is critical for leaders to trust their teams. His personal mantra is ‘Believe in yourself and your team and be loyal to yourself, your team and your organisation’. He and his team demonstrated their extraordinary capabilities by seamlessly achieving GST implementation across the Goa and Mumbai offices, with 100% accuracy in record time, all without engaging outside consultants.

Never compromise on performance

Another key learning is to never compromise on the timely execution of one’s duties. Ahead of the IPO, SEBI insisted that the 100% subsidiary be merged into the company. Mr Gaonkar oversaw the merger, which was achieved in record time without delaying the IPO.

Drawing inspiration from visionaries

During his career, Mr Gaonkar has interacted closely with and been inspired by many business leaders. His first corporate boss, KR Naik, Managing Director of D-Link India, had worked with IBM India and had fully imbibed its culture. From him, Mr Gaonkar learnt to be forthright and have the conviction to point out your boss’s mistakes if you know that he is wrong. He also draws inspiration from Rajaram Ajgaonkar, an Independent Director on the company’s Board. From Mr Ajgaonkar, he learnt a mix of professionalism, entrepreneurship and deep social commitment.

Personal Success Mantra

A simple person, Mr Gaonkar follows a strict personal routine, waking up at 6am and going to bed by 11pm every day. During weekends, he relaxes with his family, catching up on TV or going on an outing to a restaurant or a movie. His mantra for dealing with stress is to practice yoga for at least 45 minutes every day. His favourite movie is ‘Tare Zameen Par’, and his favourite book is ‘I do, what I do’ by Raghuram Rajan.

Career highlights

CM Gaonkar has close to 30 years of professional experience, including 23 years with D-Link India, where he serves as the Chief Finance Officer. In 2017, he won the ‘CFO Leadership’ award, and in 2015, he received CFO India’s ‘CFO100’ award under the Risk Management category. Mr Gaonkar is a Fellow Member of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Mumbai University.