Role of the CFO

Coworking with Ravi Inukonda

He is the CFO of DoorDash.
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Ravi Inukondo

· 6 min read

Coworking is a weekly segment where we talk to CFOs and other leaders 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.

Ravi Inukonda is the CFO at Doordash, a position he took on in March 2023. Before that, he served as the company’s VP of finance and strategy for nearly five years. Earlier in his career, Inukonda was also an engineer. Here, he connects the dots to demonstrate how experience in seemingly disparate fields can help finance professionals.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you get into this field, and into the role you’re in now?

I had somewhat of a very circuitous path into finance. In undergrad and graduate school, I studied engineering and computer science. I started out as an engineer, then I moved into product management.

One of the things that I loved in my role both on the engineering side as well as the product management side is, I started gravitating towards more of, “Hey, how does the business actually work? What does the work that I’m doing mean for the overall business?” It got me excited to go back to school, and then I went into business school.

Then coming out of business school, I worked for a few years at Goldman Sachs in investment banking. One thing that I’ve always been curious about is how everything fits together. And one of the things that I realized about finance is it lets you connect both the inputs and the outputs, and that, I thought, was very powerful. It felt like solving a puzzle.

Finance is a discipline that connects the goals, the investments, the input metrics to the output metrics. It’s also very concise because you could describe how the company’s performing in a few statements such as the P&L, balance sheet and the cash flow. To me, going back to my engineering roots and connecting that with my interest in how the business works, finance felt like one of those disciplines which combines my passion as well as the ability for me to see the bigger picture and say, “Hey, if I work on this, this is the output that is going get generated.”

How would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t work in finance?

When I think about my role, or a CFO’s role, I would bucket it into three broad buckets. The key goal is to be the strategic thought partner to the business; [from the] outset, that’s what I think the CFO job needs to be.

Key for CFOs is to ensure that [you] have a deep understanding of the business. It’s very critical to have that entire view of the business. What are we trying to build in the long run? How does it relate to what we need to do in the short run? What do the customers need? And how do we help solve those problems? Then how do you translate that back into goals that you can hold teams accountable to and combine that with the capital allocation, whether it’s dollars or investments?

Then once you have the goals, the job becomes a lot more about how you track the goals. How do you provide insight or use analytics to provide insights and how do you help the teams become successful? That is a broad bucket that the CFO is responsible for.

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The second bucket is you have to be the scorekeeper. You have to be the independent, unbiased referee, if you will. But the key there is not just to keep the score, right? It’s to be able to take insights from what you’re doing in terms of scorekeeping to drive the business further. You have to be able to inspire the team with both good news as well as bad news.

And finally, you have to be the narrator. You have to be able to tell the story. You have to be able to convey: Can we communicate and convince investors and board members? What’s the long-term vision of the company? How does what you’re working on today relate to the long-term vision of the company?

If you weren’t a CFO, what would you be?

If I were not as fearful in a different life, I would probably love to be a surgeon. The reason I mention that is, it feels like another problem-solving exercise and job in many ways. It’s just that you’re problem-solving in real time.

Given your multidisciplinary background, what advice do you have for other CFOs who want to better understand the needs of other teams?

Be a student of the business; be a student of business models. Understand various disciplines, not just the core finance function. What drives product? What drives a chain? What drives analytics? It’s very important to understand the input metrics of a business and what that means in terms of output metrics.

At the same time, finance is the unbiased, independent third-party view for the business. It’s almost like the glue that holds various functions together, [so] it’s important to build trust across the business. It’s important to co-own goals. The underlying core needs to be: You want to help others in the company, whether it’s product or engineering, to become more successful.

One of the things that has helped me, having gone through product as well as engineering, it has helped me understand where everyone is coming from. It helped me become more empathetic. It helped me get a view into what problems different teams are trying to solve. And that has made me a more effective leader, not just a finance leader.

How did you develop trust and other crucial CFO skills when you were first starting out?

One of the hallmarks of the success that we’ve driven at DoorDash is what we call our weekly business review process, where we get together with the key leaders across the company, and go through all the goals.

We look at goals that are green and talk about why they’re green and what we can do more. We look at goals that are red, and look around the table and cross-functionally see how we can help those teams get those goals from red to green.

This level of transparency, this level of pragmatism—where the goals are transparent, the tracking is transparent, where we have an honest conversation with each other about how we hold each other accountable—I think that’s been key for us to drive some of the success we’ve seen in the business in the last decade.

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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.