There’s no doubt that Vineta Bajaj’s career in finance has been rocket fuelled. From her roots getting qualified in Limerick, becoming Group Finance Director at Ocado Group, to now, when she has become Group CFO at Rohlik Group, a Unicorn with over €600m revenue - all by 36 years old.
So, what strengths does Vineta have that supported her inspirational journey in finance?
When Vineta got to Ocado, she planned to stay for two years.
“From a career perspective, you stay for a year to learn your role, and in your second year you add value. I ended up staying 10 years because I was always given more interesting projects and progression that helped my career.”
That said, a year or so ago, Vineta realised she had likely reached the ceiling at Ocado as Group Finance Director.
“I'd actively planned my career to get to CFO level so I started to look carefully for the next opportunity. I have been absolutely gung ho on this particular career path so I was going to take my time waiting for the right role.”
Throughout her career, but even more so as Vineta’s seniority grew, she has been subject to prejudices surrounding the ‘CFO club’.
“There was so much scepticism because I'm Irish. I'm a female. I'm an ethnic minority. I've never experienced so much conscious and unconscious bias in my life.”
Rather than let it deter her, she argues that it’s important to own your diversity.
“Make your own rules, take your diversity and own it like a virtue,” she says. “I'm different: I bring diversity of thought. I'm younger. There are four generations in the marketplace. I represent a generation.”
Vineta is resilient to the emotional impacts of the prejudices she has experienced.
“I'm not personally impacted by these things. This stuff really doesn't bother me.”
Vineta makes use of what she calls her mother’s ‘Cinderella rule’: “clock strikes 12, go to sleep, tomorrow's a new day.”
“No matter what happens, no matter how horrible that recruiter was, how bad that meeting was or how terrible somebody was to you, the next day is a new day.”
Crediting her upbringing and her mother, she believes one of her key strengths is in being able to emotionally tune-in to people, which has helped her to build trusting relationships.
She will adapt each one-to-one with her team members depending on their style and what they need. Rather than a fear-driven culture, she has a no-blame culture, trusting her team to do the job.
She would always rather they tell her when there is a challenge rather than trying to figure something out by themselves, often stopping by a desk on her way out to ask if she can help.
She says a level of informality and fun helps; being in the office for so much of our lives it is vital to feel a sense of team, belonging and enjoyment.
Vineta places great importance on remembering small personal details, birthday celebrations - and how everyone appreciates cake.
“It's important to value someone on a personal level. At Ocado, we always did birthday cake at three o'clock.”
“It didn’t matter where I was, if I was in a meeting, I would stop the meeting and go, ‘I need to do this birthday celebration’.”
Having risen quickly through the ranks herself, it wasn’t long ago that she was in the same position as members of her team, meaning she is able to more easily relate to their challenges.
“I think my leadership style is driven by the fact that I was there very recently.”
“I remember how I hated when communication wasn't done right, or when I asked for development and didn't get it. I remember it used to bother me.”
What would she recognise as hero qualities in a CFO?
“Leadership, leadership, leadership.”
Vineta sees this as a hero quality because “you are nothing without your people.”
“I always say you hire people who are better than you, and I adapt myself to work with them so they are the best versions of themselves,” she says.
“That’s what you have to do as a leader.”
"I actually have two people in mind. The first is Richard Exact, who was the first person to join Ocado and finance, building it up to being the finance team that it was. I was so fortunate to be hired by him, work for him, learn from him, work alongside him…and then take half his job! The second is Duncan Tatton-Brown, my previous CFO at Ocado. I still lean on their two, slightly opposing, approaches to making finance leadership decisions. There’s Duncan’s approach, seeing investment in the bigger picture of commercial growth, and Richard’s more prudent, cost management approach. My internal compass will swing one way or the other or land somewhere in the middle, but I am able to tune into their voices when I need to make a call. That’s the benefit of working closely with two great ex-CFOs with first-rate leadership. I aspire to be a patch of them, one day."
"I listen to so much music. I am a pianist and a piano teacher. I love all kinds of music, but I often find that I switch between classical music, classic rock, dubstep, and heavy metal for “inspiration”. It depends what I need to be inspired to do at the time! "
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