After spending the past 21 years in various finance roles at public companies, Vasant Prabhu, vice chair and CFO at Visa, has learned a thing or two about managing up, and managing down.
Prabhu’s résumé includes top finance jobs at PepsiCo, McGraw-Hill, Safeway, Starwood, NBC Universal, and currently Visa. While at Starwood, he noted that he stayed with the company for a decade amid many changes. “I had as many as four CEOs there,” he told me. “They say when the CEO changes, the CFO is the first to go because the CFO is often the person the CEO likes to pick. I’ve been able to survive those [changes]. I’m on my second CEO at Visa, by the way.” If internal and external stakeholders and the board feel as if the finance chief is a valuable member of the team, and the CFO accepts adapting to the new leader’s style, it seems to work out, Prabhu said. And a bit of luck helps as well, he added.
At Visa, working closely with CEO Alfred F. Kelly Jr. on strategy and ensuring the whole organization is on the same page are a pivotal part of Prabhu’s job, he explained. That includes ensuring a culture exists for “thoughtful risk taking,” he said. But at the same time, he must create a “culture of accountability [in which] people have to deliver on what they said they were going to deliver [on].”
But when it comes to hiring talent? He has a relatively simple rule. “I’ve upgraded my team over the years,” he explained. “You have to hire people who will be talent magnets themselves, so that they’ll upgrade their own teams.”
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