Meet the CFO: Sankar Narayan FCPA

Sankar Narayan FCPA, CFO Virgin Australia.

Engineering is logical, structured and mathematical, and finance isn’t dissimilar, says Virgin Australia’s CFO.

The role

I have responsibility for all aspects of finance for the entire Virgin Australia group. I have IT reporting to me, procurement and transactions. We have around 400 people. There is a direct operating budget, but also budgets across the group.

Generally I’m actually playing a very direct role in the cost outcomes for the group. I’m working with senior management in driving better outcomes across the entire cost base, which is around A$4 billion.

In the beginning

Aviation is new to me – or was new to me three and a half years back.

I’ve got an atypical background for a finance person. I actually started out in engineering in the US. I got my Master’s in electrical engineering from the State University of New York and my early career was in engineering. I did my business studies and got an MBA with the Booth School of Business in Chicago.

Then I did some consulting and then moved into finance. I’ve been in finance for the past 18 years.

"The best advice I received was that if I wanted to go into finance, to make sure I had well recognised accounting qualifications. "

Joining Virgin Australia

I was overseas in the role of CFO with Astra All Asia Networks (before that I was CFO with Fairfax Media), and looking to come back to Australia. I got a phone call from a recruiter who identified this opportunity. The timing was great and I was highly impressed with the job so I came back. I joined Virgin Australia in April 2011.

Career boosts

There have been various steps rather than one big step in my career. Engineering taught me to think logically. The next step was doing my MBA, which let me expand into other disciplines, finance in particular.

Then I moved on to management consulting, which gave me a very broad strategic framework. I look at management consulting as a finishing school for an MBA program.

And after that I did my CPA in Sydney. The best advice I received was that if I wanted to go into finance, to make sure I had well recognised accounting qualifications.

Lessons learned

The key lesson is to always think outside the box, to not just be accounting-focused, to have an appreciation of the other disciplines. In my view, all finance professionals need to have a very strong basis and background in accounting and finance, but what really makes them succeed even more is to ensure that they are well-versed in the other functional aspects of an organisation. Having a good understanding of those aspects is essential for finance leaders to be more effective.

Challenges ahead

If you look at the past three years, it’s been quite a demanding journey, but we are very pleased with our current strategic position. We have a strong brand presence, a strong customer preference. For us the challenge is to leverage the gains we’ve made over the past three years and build upon that. You can’t afford to sit back in aviation.

This article is from the December 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.

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