PEOPLE

STAYING ADAPTABLE – AND WITH INTEGRITY

Madhavi Darbha, Group CFO of CARE Hospitals, traces the journey of her career and shares what makes it all so worthwhile

Pankaj Vasani Madhavi Darbha

Among the many values and competencies that a CFO must possess are leadership, a strategic mindset, results-orientation and strong decision-making skills. Yet the one key additional competency that defines Madhavi Darbha is ‘adaptability with integrity’. In a fast-paced environment, she not only understands how to navigate change and provide high-quality insights, but can also anticipate what may be coming at her next. Ms Darbha views change as an opportunity and quickly adapts to it, while always remaining the ‘truth-teller’ to the CEO, to the Board and to investors, combining ethical responsibility with the courage to stand for what is right.

My current mandate is to provide strategic leadership in achieving the firm’s ‘BIG’ (build, invest, grow) strategy on patient trust, the market base, people, processes and infrastructure.

Ms Darbha’s transition into the CFO’s role at CARE Hospitals came amidst difficult financial circumstances and severe external and internal pressures. One of her KRAs was to support the CEO in enabling a financial turnaround while achieving three key objectives: bridging the cash flow gaps; restoring financial discipline; and returning to growth. Crucially, this involved making the key members of management understand the root cause of the state of emergency, and the short and long-term initiatives that needed to be taken in a time-bound manner. Looking back, the collective efforts have paid off well, and the company has seen a successful turnaround in the short span of 12-15 months. In FY19, CARE Hospitals reported a 64% EBITDA growth.

Ms Darbha’s current mandate is to provide strategic leadership in achieving the firm’s ‘BIG’ (build, invest, grow) strategy on patient trust, the market base, people, processes and infrastructure. Over the next 3-4 years, this should bring a 2-3x growth in CARE’s operating margins.

THE MAKING OF A CFO

Ms Darbha completed her ICWA and CA at the age of 22. Her first job, in Delhi, was that of an Assistant Manager in the area of financial analytics. She then took up a faculty position at ICFAI Business School in Hyderabad, staying there until 2002. After a short break, she came back to the corporate world and joined TTK TPA in Bangalore in 2005. This was the actual start of her ‘career’, with most of her time going into traditional finance activities like budgeting, planning, analysis and accounting.

In 2006, the Swiss Re Group, one of the world’s leading providers of insurance and reinsurance, acquired a majority stake in TTK. This proved to be a blessing: Ms Darbha’s good work was noticed and she was asked to set up the Strategic Finance function at Swiss Re Healthcare Services. In 2009, she joined Nova as its Finance Controller. Her role there expanded into specialty Finance, and she grew as a leader while adding multiple skills to her portfolio. In 2012, Mr Darbha joined Medi Assist in a full-fledged CFO role, one that combined the ‘asks’ of both a traditional and a specialty Finance function. In 2016, she returned to Hyderabad after a gap of nearly 15 years, making a lateral move by joining CARE Hospitals as a Controller of the Group. This also allowed her to deep-dive into operations. Ms Darbha’s combination of Finance and operational skillsets made her an attractive candidate for the Group CFO role when the company was going through an adverse time. Looking back, she is proud of persevering and figuring out a career path with a variety of past experiences, albeit haphazard, which gave her the confidence to help her company and colleagues.

LESSONS LEARNT

Looking back at the career path that led her to the CFO’s, the one thing that set Ms Darbha up for success is her ability to stretch herself and be open to opportunities outside her comfort zone. She believes that anyone aspiring to the CFO’s position should pay heed to several key attributes:

Be transparent and accountable

No matter how much the CFO’s job changes, integrity always has been and will continue to be the foundation of success. CFOs are the truth-tellers to their organisation and CEO, and the Board, in particular, trusts them above to deliver an informed, frank, honest, and objective perspective. Doing that, in her opinion, requires gravitas, and the best approach is to be completely transparent. As Ms Darbha notes, ‘At CARE Hospitals, one of our core values is to do the right thing, and that is the guiding principle for me personally and professionally. It is why we openly share our numbers with our employees, both in good times and bad. I lead through transparency and honesty. It holds me accountable, as I am the one up in front of the entire team sharing the data, metrics, and trends analysis. Transparency that is coupled with education and context leads to informed decisions, which in turn fuel success.’

Be a business partner

For those aspiring to be a CFO, Ms Darbha recommends getting involved in as many cross-functional initiatives as possible. In addition to their Finance role, today’s CFOs are also effectively Chief Operating Officers. They are business partners to the CEO, and help guide and influence decision-making using the financial context as an integral driver of such choices. Ms Darbha has handled responsibilities outside the typical CFO role, which has helped her gain a better understanding of what is going on across the business, outside of Finance, and then using the numbers to tell that story.

Build a diverse team

A large part of Ms Darbha’s success was about the people on the team. ‘You need a great team with diversity’, she says. Crucially, the team should be free of ‘Yes’ men. This is one of the most important lessons she has learnt in her career. In her view, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a CFO is developing talent and seeing people grow and succeed in their careers.

Be the CEO’s confidante

The CEO’s chair can be lonely and isolating, and CEOs need someone in management with whom they can freely discuss and debate company issues. CFOs are uniquely qualified to serve as confidantes, because they are positioned to see both deeply into, and broadly across, the company. Therefore, it should be a priority for CFOs to develop a relationship with the CEO that is based on candour and trust.

PROUDEST CAREER MOMENT

In 2009, Nova went through a leadership crisis, with both the CEO and the CFO leaving in a short span. Having recently joined as the Finance Controller, Ms Darbha was asked to step up in her role .. This involved dealing with a larger team and helping to hold things together until a CFO was appointed. Ms Darbha believes that was the turning point of her career. Not only was this an invaluable learning experience but it also helped her build many skills, such as cash management, debt negotiation, contact analysis, dealing with litigation and coping with issues outside her normal sphere of work. In retrospect, the numerous experiences of dealing with constant management change in a conflicting environment have been instrumental in Ms Darbha’s personal growth and development, preparing her for her current role as CARE’s CFO.

Leadership is about decision-making, and Indian mythology offers many stories that can be applied to daily life.

SEEKING INSPIRATION…

Ms Darbha looks up to the mentors that have impacted her career over the last 15 years and she says motivating, inspiring people and displaying optimism in the face of challenges are valuable traits that she imbibed while working with the CEO at CARE. She is deeply drawn to Indian mythology and the scriptures for daily management lessons. Leadership is about decision-making, and Indian mythology offers many stories that can be applied to daily life. Over the last few years, mythological fiction has gained ground in India like no other genre – and Ms Darbha particularly enjoys the books of Devdutt Patnaik.

…AND RELAXATION

Family and yoga are Ms Darbha’s de-stress mantras. She is thankful to her husband and children for all the love and support that they extend every day, which allows her to operate at the optimum level. She believes that physical activity is the best way to reduce stress. Yoga keeps herself physically healthy, and allows her heart to open up and experience emotions without having to wear a mask.

Career highlights

Madhavi Darbha has close to two decades of experience, including three-and-a-half years at CARE Hospitals. Previously, she has worked with Medi Assit, Nova Medical Centre, Swiss Re Healthcare and TTK Healthcare. Ms Dharba is a Fellow Member of the Institute of Cost and Management Accountants of India, and of the Institute of Company Secretaries of India.



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