The secret of his slim and trim physique is a regular regimen of yoga and a brisk morning walk. No matter which city he wakes up in, Seshagiri Rao makes sure he doesn’t miss out on the exercise. As a young boy, Rao cycled five kilometres to school every day from his village Gudem, about 20 km away from Vijayawada, and he knows the secret to an agile mind is an agile body.
But there’s another reason why Rao can’t afford miss out on the exercise. He has a sweet tooth and while he misses his mother’s ‘arisilu’, a Sankranti speciality, he’s happy with gulab jamuns and ice cream.
Given the high levels of stress in the corporate world, it’s amazing how the group CFO and joint managing director, JSW Steel — FE’s CFO of the Year — never loses his cool, never raises his voice. But that is Rao for you, always soft-spoken, always calm in many ways like Geetanjali Pandit’s “Buddha at Work”; that’s among the many books he devours on management philosophy.
While Rao today is feted as a finance professional, what led him to pursue commerce was actually the not-so-good financial situation of his family. “My elder brother studied commerce so I didn’t need to buy the books,” Rao recalls.
But he loved the subject in KBN College in Vijayawada where, not surprisingly, he was a rank holder. He still has a love for numbers as both his daughters.
A self-confessed workaholic, much to his wife’s annoyance, Rao says he learnt the importance of hard work and other values from his father. He never forgets what he believes is the most valuable lesson his father taught him: Don’t do anything that hurts your self-esteem.
Rao would have remained a banker, like his elder brother who retired from State Bank of India, but decided to move out of Andhra Bank because he didn’t like being transferred every three years. And since along the way he had acquired degrees in cost accountancy and also become a company secretary, he decided to move back to the corporate world at the Essar Group. Ten years later he had joined the Jindals. Over the two decades at JSW Steel, Rao has negotiated many a steel cycle, always making sure the firm’s finances were in good shape.
The iron ore crisis post the ban on mining in Karnataka was a terrible time for JSW Steel. With a shortage in the supplies of ore, the Vijaynagar plant was operating at just 30% capacity. Ore prices shot up even as the top line was in trouble but Rao managed to keep the company afloat. It was as bad when steel was being dumped into India by China and Japan but JSW Steel weathered the storm.
There’s more to managing a company’s finances than book-keeping, he says, pointing out that it’s the risks that need to be closely watched.
At 59, he is no hurry to hang up his boots but does have a few things in mind that he would like to do post retirement. The first is a sort of a second honeymoon with wife Shobha because he says he hasn’t travelled too much except on work, and would like to visit cities both in Europe and the US. And to spend a little more time with his daughters.