He has a sharp eye whether he’s on the cricket field or whether he’s poring over spreadsheets — R Shankar Raman doesn’t miss much. And if he’s able to keep the finances of Larsen & Toubro in good shape it’s because he keeps himself that way. The slim and trim RSR, as he’s popularly known, loves the outdoors and works hard to stay fit.
As CFO of L&T, he has his task cut out for him. Business cycles can be cruel, currency movements volatile and interest rates unfriendly. And operating in the infrastructure sector — probably the worst-hit space in the last few years — cannot be fun. But thanks to RSR’s firm grip on the firm’s finances, especially his management of working capital, L&T has more than weathered the storm. A people’s person to the core, has not just encouraged youngsters to come up the curve, he also knows the value of bringing in fresh blood into the team. RSR, who joined the L&T group in November 1994 and was the first CEO of L&T Finance, may come across as quiet but he’s always there for the team and ready to play his part.
His was a baptism by fire; since he took charge as CFO in September 2011, revenue growth has virtually halved and there were two years when profits shrank. But despite a presence across a dozen or more businesses, L&T’s working capital-to-sales ratio has always been reined in and is actually trending down; analysts have applauded this performance and Nomura projects the ratio will fall to the teens very soon from 22% over the last nine months.
It can’t be easy when you are dealing with thousands of crores of debt and the cash flows aren’t quite what you would want them to be.
Not surprisingly, twice in the span of three years — between 2012 and 2014 — RSR was ranked the best CFO in Asia in the Industrial Sector in a survey conducted by the New York-based Institutional Investor magazine.
Indeed, every earnings season, all analysts, regardless of which sector they track, listen carefully to him. As someone steering the finances of a capital goods behemoth, his commentary pretty much captures the state of the economy. RSR is forthright, his comments are incisive.
More than three decades of experience have taught him not to take undue risks. While almost all firms routinely hedge foreign exchange exposures, L&T’s mutual fund and bond investments have been hedged using index futures. At 58, RSR has many years ahead of him and as he has done all these years, you can expect him to play with straight bat.