Coworking with Naveen Chopra

CFO of Paramount
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· 4 min read

Coworking is a weekly segment where we talk to CFOs and others in the finance space about their experiences, their companies, and the larger economy. Let us know if you are—or you know—a CFO we should interview.

Naveen Chopra is CFO of entertainment company Paramount, a role he’s held since 2020. His background also includes stints at Amazon, Pandora, and TiVo.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You didn’t study finance, a pretty typical path for CFOs. How did you manage to get into finance and what’s been helpful along the way?

You’re right, I don’t have a CPA. I’ve never been a financial analyst. I've never worked at an investment bank. So I am somewhat of a nontraditional CFO.

I was trained as an engineer, and I worked originally in a variety of product roles. I ultimately ended up taking the work that I was directly involved with, in any specific product or field or line of business, and thinking bigger about how that played into the broader company’s financials. And, you know, that put me in a position where the management team of those companies say, “OK, well, if that’s your point of view, why don’t you go fix it?”

When I had the opportunity to become a CFO for the first time, I think that the experience of actually being the person who had to sort of deliver the numbers, as opposed to just report on them, made me a much better CFO. And I see that with a lot of my peers as well.

I think the best CFOs are the ones who really know what it takes to operate the business; they’ve kind of been there in the trenches.

I immerse myself in the product questions and strategy to deal making, because I don’t think I can really understand and represent and make decisions about capital allocation and other things without really understanding that level of detail.

What conversations do you feel like you’re having again and again as CFO in this sort of volatile environment?

There’s no doubt that the macro environment is on everybody’s mind. I spend a fair amount of time with other CFOs and other business leaders across a variety of different industries. And I think everyone is trying to understand a few basic questions: is it going to get worse before it gets better? How bad is it going to get? And how do we think about the conflation of the political environment, monetary policy, and the geopolitical environment?

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Those are very complex domains and there’s a lot of interaction there that it’s difficult to predict, difficult to model. As a result, I think those of us who ultimately have to operate businesses, are increasingly in a world mode of, “OK, the short term is going to be pretty bumpy, and let’s make sure we’re doing all the right things to navigate that, but at the same time, let’s not lose sight of what we’re trying to do long term and what the long-term opportunity for our business is.”

What questions and what thoughts does the CFO need to be looking at to see opportunity in the face of uncertainty?

The broad questions that everyone is looking at now, No. 1, are there opportunities for greater efficiency in my business?

Two, it’s important that all businesses think about the scale and velocity of change. That’s something we’ve all learned in the last six months is how quickly the market can turn, and making sure that you’re running the business in a way it can be resilient to that. What am I cost-dependent on? What sort of capital markets or interest rate exposure do I have? Just trying to give yourself breathing room on as many of those things as possible.

The last question is really around leadership. Given all the change, market valuations have corrected so much. It’s really time internally for leaders to step up and figure out how to make sure that employees understand the priorities, they understand the changes, they understand how to react to them, and that you can maintain morale in the face of a pretty challenging environment.

What’s something that someone wouldn’t be able to find out from your résumé or LinkedIn?

The most notable thing I would say, I come from an immigrant [background]. I moved to the United States when I was seven or eight years old, and I do think that a lot of the things that I’ve done professionally have been somewhat influenced by that experience—you know, not having a safety net, and really trying to think about how you’re going to kind of make your own way in the world and not having a template to follow and having to hustle every step of the way. It’s definitely been an influence on me.—KT

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CFO Brew helps finance pros navigate their roles with insights into risk management, compliance, and strategy through our newsletter, virtual events, and digital guides.