Apr 15, 2024
5 mins

From healing to leading: Dr. Aradhana Sarin’s transformation into AstraZeneca’s CFO

Talking Transformation At General Electric: Rockstar CFO Podcast
Quick summary

Payhawk sponsors the 'Secrets of Rockstar CFOs' podcast, where host Jack McCullough uncovers the essential components of successful CFO strategies. In his chat with AstraZeneca's CFO, Dr Aradhana Sarin, Mccullough traces the female leader's remarkable transformation from a medical doctor to a corporate leader. Delve into Sarin's CFO journey, defined by her commitment to innovation, team-building, and empowering women in leadership.

Table of Contents

    Payhawk sponsors the 'Secrets of Rockstar CFOs' podcast, where host Jack McCullough uncovers the essential components of the most successful CFO strategies. In his chat with AstraZeneca's CFO, Dr Aradhana Sarin, Mccullough traces the finance leader's remarkable transformation from a medical doctor to a corporate leader, including her commitment to innovation, team-building, and empowering women in leadership.

    HBR report: how to drive business strategy and growth

    Dr Aradhana Sarin, the CFO of AstraZeneca, reflects on her remarkable journey from medical wards in India to the complex realm of global finance. In her discussion with Jack McCullough, she shares how intuition, instinct, and innovation have shaped her unconventional path.

    Beyond swapping a stethoscope for spreadsheets, Dr. Sarin’s tale transcends boundaries, blending her medical expertise with sharp financial acumen. This blog delves into Dr. Sarin’s CFO strategy and her adeptness at navigating the dynamic landscape of the pharmaceutical sector.

    1. Harnessing intellectual curiosity: Dr Sarin's key to continuous learning and growth

    Dr Aradhana Sarin's transition from medicine to finance reflects what she describes as her never-ending thirst for knowledge.

    This innate desire to continuously learn and grow played a crucial role in her (far-from-typical) career as she navigated from being a hands-on physician to a global financial strategist. Her journey, marked by this drastic shift, exemplifies the importance of intellectual agility for today's CFOs.

    Dr Sarin's story, though unusual, shows that success as a CFO lies outside number crunching. Yes, CFOs must create solid corporate finance strategies and effectively manage important but routine operations (like month-end close). However, they should also be curious and adaptable to find solutions and overcome new challenges.

    2. Why diverse experience is essential for successful business strategies

    Dr Sarin's transition into the financial realm involved not only acquiring new skills but also developing strategic business know-how.

    Aradhana describes:

    Every day, I learned a lot. I saw various cycles of ups and downs in the industry on Wall Street and analyzed a lot of companies. Your real value-add can be when you understand the business aspect as much as you understand the finance aspect.

    Her experience in diverse environments, from the medical wards in Tanzania to the financial world of Wall Street, gave her a unique skill set, which she's put to work in her role as CFO. to scrutinize and strategize business operations. This skill set proved invaluable in her roles, especially in her journey at AstraZeneca.

    Not every CFO can count medicine as a string to their bow, but most at least understand the importance of a diverse CV when it comes to experiencing different companies. And diverse experience is pretty vital when it comes to creating good business strategies and learning how to become a CFO Rockstar.

    Post-hospital, but pre-AstraZeneca, Dr Sarin honed her expertise at Alexion Pharmaceuticals. There, she gained exposure to various business cycles, saying, "it gave me a good sense of what a good business strategy looks like."

    3. Building effective teams

    Dr Sarin also illuminates the art of building successful teams. Her philosophy revolves around the idea that a leader's success is intricately linked to their team's performance.

    She explains:

    Having a great team is everything; your success is determined by the success of the people around you.

    From the nuts and bolts of day-to-day operations, including spend control, forecasting, and year-end, close to the intricate nuances of team-building, Dr. Sarin believes that recognizing and nurturing individual strengths within a team is key to overall success.

    Her approach also extends beyond professional competencies, focusing on accepting and nurturing individuals' complete personas and fostering a holistic work environment. "We all have different personas. We have a work persona, a family persona, and a friend persona, but it's accepting the whole individual so they can bring their full self to work and then be able to contribute," Dr Sarin continues.

    4. Sustainability and social impact

    Dr Sarin is also passionate about the intersection of finance and sustainable business practices and the finance team's role in driving this forward.

    She says:

    AstraZeneca as a company is on the cutting edge of what we can contribute to sustainability in our industry and across most industries as well. We're working with various governments across the globe, especially post-pandemic, on how we increase and help increase the resiliency of healthcare systems around the world. We have reduced our travel budget and travel-related carbon targets that are monitored and tracked across the company.

    But her commitment to sustainability isn't just about compliance or mandated corporate social responsibility; it's about integrating these practices into every aspect of the business.
    From managing resources to ensuring ethical and sustainable practices, Dr Sarin's approach to finance involves a deep consideration of environmental and social impact.

    She shares how this looks in practice, discussing her involvement with AB InBev and highlighting how global companies can significantly impact local communities.

    It's global, but the impact is also local in a country and a community. I'm impressed by [AB InBev's] mission and focus on sustainability. If you think of the impact [their initiatives] can have on farmers, water supply, and all of those things, it is local.

    Transforming finance with innovation

    In today's complex financial landscape, technology can accelerate your path to success. Curiosity and in-depth business understanding are important skills, and so is understanding when and where to automate, leverage good technology, and move faster to pour effort into game-changing initiatives.

    Adopting solutions like Payhawk, including corporate cards, expense management, spend control, multi-entity management, and seamless ERP integrations, can help large, mid-size, and growing businesses stay a step ahead when navigating regulatory compliance, minimizing operational disruptions, and effectively managing corporate spend.

    As Howard Thompson, Global Financial Controller at GDS Group, shares:

    The biggest benefit of Payhawk is the live, real-time information we get in the business. It's really important to track all our expenses and costs for each event. We use all the custom fields when creating and adding expenses in the Payhawk solution — so each event has a project code. We can get that custom field from NetSuite and the project code from NetSuite into Payhawk to completely track ROI.

    And our solution was a game-changer for non-finance colleagues, too, quickly quashing any change management fears or stresses. Hannah Dobson, VP of Sales at GDS Group, says, "Payhawk has saved me time (+10 hours a month), but more importantly, it's saved my team time. It's a dream because now I can get my team to do their own expenses quickly and efficiently."

    Ready to see how Payhawk can transform your company’s finance management and bring out your inner CFO Rockstar? Book a demo today to learn more about saving time and boosting spend visibility with smart, better-connected spend management software.

    Trish Toovey - Content Director at Payhawk - The financial system of tomorrow
    Trish Toovey
    Senior Content Manager

    Trish Toovey works across the UK and US markets to craft content at Payhawk. Covering anything from ad copy to video scripting, Trish leans on a super varied background in copy and content creation for the finance, fashion, and travel industries.

    See all articles by Trish →
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