Ravi Chopra has built his career inside finance functions designed to serve growth-minded management. Such was the case in the late ’90s when Chopra joined Cisco Systems, which at the time was experiencing 50% growth annually. Jump forward 10 years, and you’ll find him busy leading the FP&A function for growth-driven Juniper Networks.
Asked to reflect back on a 25-year finance career, Chopra doesn’t hesitate to cite his former employer. “I learned most of everything that I know today at Juniper,” says Chopra, who quickly names Robyn Denholm, Juniper’s former CFO and current Tesla chairman, as a present and former mentor. Still, when the door to the CFO office swung open for Chopra, the accomplished finance executive no doubt found his operations knowledge being put to the test.
In 2017, Chopra would exit Juniper Networks and take on the CFO role at SonicWall, a company that had neither a finance nor an HR organization after it split off from Dell, Inc., in late 2016. Dell had acquired SonicWall in 2012 but divested the business along with Quest Software as part of the larger Dell EMC integration.
Despite some missing parts, SonicWall arguably split off with something far more valuable intact: its brand name. Prior to being acquired by Dell, the cyber protection company had long since established itself as a leader in the small and midsize business space.
“It was just an amazing challenge, and I think that we have now come out on the other side of it rather well,” explains Chopra, who believes that the speed with which SonicWall built its new infrastructure and achieved operational efficiencies allowed the firm to more quickly determine where to allocate capital. –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Ravi Chopra
Headquarters: San Jose, CA
CFOTL: What was the opportunity that SonicWall represented to you and what did you see?
Chopra: Having (served) in different roles within finance, you get a really good appreciation of the different aspects of finance, the different aspects of a business. What’s important today is that you want to be an operational CFO, which leads me to why I joined SonicWall. Obviously, there are lots of opportunities for many of us. We’ll look at opportunities. We want to jump into those. I looked at many opportunities. With SonicWall, the biggest thing was that they had great technology. It was part of Dell, and in the divestiture, there were two things. One was that we almost had to build this company from scratch because it came with no infrastructure. All of our finance and IT infrastructure belonged to Dell, so it was almost like a start-up. We had to build the infrastructure again. It was a running company with hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, and profits.
But at the same time, we needed to turn this company around – to make it grow because it had sort of stopped growing as part of a business unit within Dell. At the time of the divestiture, we were running on an ERP system that belonged to Dell, so we had to transfer into our own ERP system. I had probably three finance people of my own, so not only did I have to hire the next 30 to 35 people over the next six months, but also we needed to transfer all of the ERP over. We also had to get through our first full audit, finance the company, and go through capital-raising. So, basically, within the span of one year, we had to take a business unit, extract it, and set it up to be a running company on its own so that it could then start to scale into growth.