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Suloshini Krishna Singh | Chief Financial Officer (CFO) | Optimi Group

Dreaming Big, Taking Action and Embracing Imperfection: Suloshini Krishna Singh’s Guide to Success

Financial leadership remains a critical cornerstone for success across diverse sectors, including consulting, automotive, FMCG, advertising, and manufacturing. In the face of complex financial challenges, organizations need a leader who can navigate uncertainty, make informed decisions and lead towards stability and growth.

Suloshini Krishna Singh—a distinguished financial executive with 19 years of multifaceted industry experience and a proven track record—fits this role perfectly. With expertise spanning strategic financial management, operational optimization and human capital development, Suloshini stands out as a driving force behind organizational success. Her adeptness in financial statement preparation, budget management and forecasting, coupled with her keen eye for business process improvement, sets her apart in the competitive landscape.

Suloshini’s influence extends from traditional financial realms to influential communication, negotiation and team leadership, shaping a culture of excellence wherever she goes. With a keen eye for continuous improvement and a knack for navigating multinational environments, she is instrumental in driving innovation and growth.

As Optimi Group’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Suloshini leverages her extensive experience to guide the organization towards enhanced financial stability and strategic alignment further positioning it for success in a dynamic business environment.

Navigating Career Crossroads

At 16, Suloshini found herself at a crossroads and unsure of her career path in a time before Google and online guidance. “Back in the day, there was no Google search, there was no Internet, there was no ChatGPT,” she recalls with a laugh. Career choices were limited to traditional professions like teaching, law, or medicine, with information gleaned from word of mouth or physical encyclopedias.

Despite her love for Mathematics and Physical Science, Suloshini considered veterinary science before her sister’s friend, a newly minted CA(SA), introduced her to the world of accounting. “It seemed like something I would be keen on,” she remembers, intrigued by the possibilities. What sealed the deal? “His brand-new canary yellow BMW M3,” she confesses, her passion for automobiles adding an unexpected twist to her decision-making process.

While the M3 never materialized, Suloshini found solace in her Golf R, a worthy substitute for her dream car. Reflecting on her journey, she acknowledges the serendipitous blend of interest, opportunity and a touch of automotive allure that led her to pursue accounting. “It’s funny how life works out sometimes,” she muses, grateful for the unexpected turns that shaped her career path.

Fun in Finance

As a CFO, Suloshini emphasizes the importance of supporting the CEO and adding value to the business beyond financial statements. “It isn’t only turning out financial statements but helping business grow, flourish and get to the next level by introducing innovation and efficiency,” she notes, acknowledging the less glamorous aspects of the job.

As a CA(SA), technical proficiency is crucial, but Suloshini emphasizes the significance of soft skills in fostering a culture of efficiency and innovation. Soft skills are the ones that foster a culture of efficiency and innovation. These skills include influencing teams, understanding people and cultivating individual growth.

Introducing an element of fun to finance is another key aspect for Suloshini. “Yes, it is possible,” she states, highlighting the importance of creating an engaging work environment. By leveraging both technical expertise and soft skills, Suloshini believes CFOs can truly support the organization and help it reach its full potential.

Strategic Agility

Understanding business objectives is paramount for Suloshini when devising financial strategies. “One needs to first understand the business objectives, in the long and short term. Then only can the financial strategies be derived to support the goals. Strategies cannot be derived in a dark corner only by the bean counters of the organization.” she stresses. She emphasizes the need for inclusivity in strategy development, cautioning against confining decision-making to the finance department alone. Open communication channels with other teams are essential for identifying where support is needed and how the finance team can contribute effectively.

Communication emerges as a key theme for Suloshini, who believes that its importance cannot be overstated. “Communication may seem like a buzzword and an obvious one,” she acknowledges, “but so many people get it wrong because they just don’t communicate enough.” Maintaining open lines of communication enables agility and the ability to pivot when circumstances change, a crucial aspect of financial management in dynamic business environments.

Furthermore, Suloshini underscores the importance of versatility in finance. “Nothing remains stagnant in business,” she observes, emphasizing the need for finance to adapt and evolve alongside shifting requirements.

Insights through Empathy

Suloshini’s approach to broadening her understanding of various sectors involves a deliberate effort to listen. “I have purposefully tried my hand at different sectors to understand a wide range of businesses,” she explains. This process begins with attentive listening to the business itself, gaining insights into its successes, challenges and resilience strategies.

Moreover, Suloshini emphasizes the importance of listening to people and their experiences before initiating any changes. “You have to listen to people and their experiences, before attempting any change,” she asserts focusing on the value of empathy and comprehension in driving effective transformation.

Suloshini acknowledges that this listening and understanding phase can be time-consuming, often taking up to four months. However, she stresses the necessity of this process in gauging the organization’s readiness for improvement.

Finally, Suloshini advises a cautious approach to introducing changes particularly focusing on small, manageable steps to avoid overwhelming stakeholders. “Based on the organization’s appetite for improvement, one has to carefully introduce small areas to not overwhelm the greater audience,” she advises, highlighting the importance of strategic pacing in change management.

The Heart of Engagement

In her experience leading teams of varying sizes, Suloshini recognizes a common challenge—differing perceptions of accountability and transparency among team members. “People will always have preconceived notions of what accountability and transparency means,” she explains. To gauge the current state of alignment within her teams, Suloshini implements what she calls a ‘dipstick test.’ This assessment reveals varying levels of readiness for alignment, from those fully on board to those resistant or indifferent. Suloshini stresses the importance of inclusive opportunities for all team members to contribute to a shared vision.

Recognizing the significance of granular employee engagement, Suloshini emphasizes continuous interaction through informal meetings and check-ins. While team-building activities have their place, she cautions against relying solely on these events. “Team buildings can only re-iterate this and shouldn’t be the initial go-to. People can still feel disengaged despite the fancy team lunch at a pretentious restaurant.” she expresses.

Instead, Suloshini advocates for one-on-one interactions and genuine interest in individuals. “One-on-one coffee chats, discussions over a braai and genuine interest in people is actually what matters,” she affirms.

The Power of Collective Intelligence

Suloshini strongly believes in the adage, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” This philosophy guides her approach to staying relevant in an ever-evolving landscape. “My strongest weapon against obsolescence is surrounding myself with subject matter experts,” she asserts. In an age of constant change and overwhelming information, she acknowledges the impossibility of knowing everything about everything. She states, “Relying on the smart people around me keeps me on my toes and helps me make informed decisions.”

Suloshini draws parallels to renowned chef Gordon Ramsay, who enlists the help of others to create culinary masterpieces. “Even Gordon Ramsay has people help him to make the perfect dish; why shouldn’t the rest of us?” she points out, advocating for a similar approach in decision-making across various domains. By leveraging the knowledge and skills of those around her, Suloshini ensures that she remains adaptable and well-informed in her role.

Optimizing HR Practices

In my current role, I also head up the HR Team at Optimi,” Suloshini shares. Upon arrival, she adopted a listening and observational approach to understand the organization’s dynamics. “We then set out to determine what strategy we could implement in the short, medium and long term to drive employee engagement,” she explains.

Suloshini stresses that true engagement goes beyond fancy lunches—it involves understanding people and their needs. This understanding, she believes, is crucial for fostering a culture of excellence at all levels of the organization, both personally and professionally. Through strategic initiatives aimed at addressing employee needs and enhancing workplace culture, Suloshini aims to drive sustained engagement and success at Optimi Group.

Influencing Beyond the Balance Sheet

For me, it’s the base of my success,” Suloshini asserts, highlighting the critical role of influential communication and team leadership in her position as a CFO. While technical expertise in accounting standards and legal requirements is essential, she emphasizes the importance of instilling meaning in others to drive performance. “Every CFO understands accounting standards, every CFO understands the requirements of the Companies Act,” she acknowledges, “but unless a CFO can instill a sense of meaning in others to drive performance, they would be doomed to fail.”

Recognizing the limitations of being a lone individual, Suloshini underscores the necessity of garnering support from others. “You are only one person and you cannot do everything, you need the support of others” she explains. By leveraging influential communication and team leadership skills, Suloshini ensures effective collaboration and drives success in her role as CFO.

Perseverance and Progress

Suloshini believes in driving excellence and pushing boundaries through continuous improvement, highlighting the Japanese concept of Kaizen. “It’s something that is now a part of me, not just in the finance world,” she reflects. Drawing parallels to her baking experiences, Suloshini emphasizes the importance of perseverance in refining processes. “If I bake a cake and it flops, for whatever reason, I continue to bake the same cake (week after week) to see where I’m going wrong,” she shares.

In her role as CFO, Suloshini finds fulfillment in enabling the growth and development of her team. Her greatest satisfaction as a CFO is definitely not signing AFS (Annual Financial Statements). It’s more around people, she emphasizes, expressing her joy in witnessing the flourishing of individuals under her leadership. For Suloshini, true success lies in empowering others to excel in their roles.

The Power of Integration

Finance needs to evolve from being the people who sit in a dark corner, working relentlessly on spreadsheets, that truthfully, no one understands,” asserts Suloshini. She emphasizes the importance of finance playing a more active role in decision-making processes. “I am cautiously optimistic that my focus on people driving change and understanding where the organization wants to be will drive this new, more evolved finance function,” she explains.

Suloshini’s approach prioritizes people-centric strategies aimed at aligning finance with the broader goals of the organization, paving the way for a more impactful and influential finance function.

Beyond Daily Measures

Suloshini advocates for dreaming big while emphasizing the importance of taking action to achieve those dreams. It is crucial to understand the need for proactive steps toward one’s goals. Flexibility and adaptability are also crucial, according to Suloshini. “Having a plan is great, but when curveballs are thrown, have the maturity to pivot,” she suggests.

Furthermore, Suloshini encourages self-compassion amidst the juggling act of various roles. “Don’t be too harsh on yourself either – you’re only human,” she reminds readers. Reflecting on her own multifaceted roles as a wife, mother, daughter, employee, and pet owner, Suloshini acknowledges the inevitable challenges and occasional shortcomings.

Her advice? “Don’t measure yourself daily,” she advises. Instead, she recommends assessing accomplishments over a period of time, allowing for the ups and downs of life’s demands. By taking a broader perspective, she believes individuals can find balance and fulfillment across their varied responsibilities.