From CFO to corporate strategist, S Suryanarayanan beams at the nine eventful years he has spent at Allcargo Logistics. Initially tasked with bringing order to the finance function, Mr Suryanarayanan's role evolved as the company grew into a global leader in integrated logistics solutions. A chartered accountant by qualification, he currently serves as executive director ECU Worldwide.
His rich experience in the logistics, chemical and engineering sectors and deep understanding of fund raising, made him an obvious choice to be extensively involved in the company's inorganic growth strategy. Prior to joining Allcargo, he worked in organisations such as Reliance Corporate Finance and Great Eastern Shipping.
In an interview with Compass, Mr Suryanarayanan talks about his 'exhilarating journey' at Allcargo. He sheds light on what makes the company unique, how he managed back-to-back successful acquisitions, and his passion for travelling. Excerpts:
Q You have been with Allcargo for nearly nine years now. Can you describe your current role and responsibilities?
A The last nine years have been one exhilarating journey for me both at Allcargo and ECU Worldwide. When I joined Allcargo as the chief finance officer (CFO), I was entrusted with the task of upgrading our existing accounting and budgeting systems, among other things. My team and I worked very hard to bring them up to the level that they are at today. I am proud to see where these systems stand today. Evolved, mature and adding value to the business.
Over the years my role has evolved, from a group CFO role to a larger one, of working from the chairman's office on multiple initiatives. Currently, it is more strategic in nature and I am involved in acquisitions, system development, trade-level management, HR, and so forth. The added responsibilities have helped me realise my own potential.
Q You have played a pivotal role in the company's growth by managing important acquisitions. Can you describe the most prominent ones? The rationale behind the takeovers and the challenges you faced?
A The acquisition of our agents in Shanghai and the US stand out. Both were big-ticket acquisitions and the credit of making both these take overs successful goes to the entire team. It was a shining example of collective effort.
The strategic rationale behind the acquisitions was the role the acquired companies could play in Allcargo's growth and facilitate the holistic development of the entire business. Unlike these two, the other acquisitions were necessitated either because we had to increase certain specific trade lanes or we had to acquire a product to bolster the company's offerings.
The integration of people and processes with our organisation has been the biggest challenge, as with any other merger. These issues take time. Having said that, the acquisitions have been quite successful from the business perspective and their contribution to the company has proved that our decision to grow inorganically was well-timed.
Q How do you foresee ECU's future and what is its biggest strength?
A I am confident that our digital blueprint and the 2020 strategy that we have charted out for ECU Worldwide will help it grow twice its current size in the next five years. Our biggest strength is our people. Right from the country managers to the operating staff on the ground, our people bring a lot of passion to their work and have played a very important role in shaping the positive work culture we have in the organisation.
Q You have been a part of the logistics industry for many years now. What was it about Allcargo that attracted you professionally?
A The promise and potential for growth that I saw not just for myself but also for the group — with all the right things happening — was the primary motivation for me to join Allcargo.I am glad that my decision has been proved right. Both at the individual and the organisational level, I've seen heady progress in the last nine years. It has been an extraordinary journey, and I take tremendous pride in Allcargo's growth and in the fact that I have been part of that growth.
Q You have worked with a number of leading logistics players, such as Reliance, Dachser and Great Eastern. In your opinion, is there something unique about Allcargo's culture? Does the organisation work differently from other players?
A The most commendable thing about Allcargo is the fact that irrespective of where we operate or the businesses we are engaged in, we have excelled. We are among the top one or two businesses in each vertical. That is the most credible thing about us. We have continuously strived for excellence and we have achieved it to a considerable extent.
Another laudable achievement of Allcargo is that it has fostered a culture of entrepreneurship. We actively inculcate and encourage the entrepreneurship culture. Efforts to standardise or seek alignment across the group would have killed the spirit of entrepreneurship. And that is what we have consciously avoided at Allcargo. Other than some corporate policies, we have consciously avoided any attempt to standardise allowing a fair amount of functional autonomy to the businesses.
Q Travel is a big part of your life and you have visited remote locations that are off the beaten path. Can you share some interesting travel anecdotes?
A Travelling, especially for business, enables me to meet new people and get a better understanding about them and world markets. It helps me to find ways to be a true business partner to the regional CEOs who run the business in a specific region. I see myself as a facilitator who helps the business perform better.
I have travelled extensively. Frankly, I have lost count of the number of countries I have visited. Except for the African continent and few countries in Europe and South America, I think I have visited all the countries in the world.
One travel experience that stands out in my memory is of my travails while negotiating an acquisition deal in Ningguo, China. I had to interact with two gentlemen who were heavy smokers. The smoke inside the room got so heavy that at one point it became difficult to see and even breathe. I felt fear gripping me. I thought I would die of the passive smoking and had to step in and out of the room to escape the smoke.
Q How do you balance work life? What are your passions or interests? Can you talk about your family life?
A I keep myself occupied at office and at home too. I like to spend time with my family and pursue my hobbies — golfing and reading. I am a voracious reader. Other than business magazines, I read a lot on various subjects. I am interested in military history too and whenever I travel, especially to Europe, I do make it a point to discover the local history. I like to play golf; however, I struggle to play the game now as I travel a lot and don't like going out on weekends. I would rather spend the time with my family. My wife and two daughters make my family. My daughters are married. Though I am not able to spend too much time with my wife, she is very understanding.
I am blessed to be working in an organisation that's given me all that I could have asked for in a career and a family that's been a rock-solid support system.