When Struggle Meets Success: Journey Of A CFO

From Academically Poor to a Leading Indian CFO, Nitin Parekh’s life is a lesson in grit and sheer determination to overcome one’s circumstances and rise to the occasion.

Nitin Parekh is the Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of India’s leading and 4th largest pharmaceutical company Cadila Healthcare Limited. The company clocks an annual turnover of more than ₹15,000 crores. Parekh’s life is a lesson in grit and sheer determination to overcome one’s circumstances and rise to the occasion. Back in school during his early years, he was an academically average student and admits to having cleared two grades due to mass promotion and grace marks. The turning point in his life was when his father called him and expressed his concern, “Our family is economically poor and if you don’t study well, then you will have to run a handcart of salt to live your life.” These words had a profound impact on Parekh, who was then a mere boy of fifteen. They served as a reminder and a challenge to do better. Parekh believes his life story can be a valuable lesson for students and professionals who spiral into the throes of depression when they encounter failure and at times, take their own life.  

Born in a family of four children to Dalsukhbhai, a supervisor in Gujarat State Khadi Gramodhyog Board and his wife Vimlaben, Parekh’s humble lodgings was a rented single room that measured 10 ft.x12 ft. Weak in mathematics in his eighth standard, Parekh confesses clearing the eighth standard during the 1974 ‘Nav Nirman’ agitation in Gujarat where students were mass promoted that year. Scraping his way through the ninth standard, Parekh joined the tenth standard at a time when the 10+2+3 education format was introduced.  Even today, he believes that the school authorities valued his other virtues and helped him into the tenth standard and the school teachers could have done the same to avoid seeing the same face in the classroom for another year. 

Originally intending to become a doctor, Parekh soon changed streams to commerce to find his true calling and pave his way towards a new destination. While he was unsure of his decision, his father called and advised him, “We are a lower-middle-class family and we don’t have any money (capital) to start the business. If you can’t study properly there is one small cottage industry type business which I have thought for you. It is such a business that does not need much capital investment, is a day-to-day necessity of mankind and is also not a seasonal business.” Confused and embarrassed by these words, Nitin asked, “What is the business?” 

His father responded, “You have to buy a handcart and daily stock of salt and need to move from society to society and street to street to sell the salt.” For a fifteen-year-old Nitin, this was a moment of utter shock and sorrow. He was completely shaken by the mere idea of selling salt on a handcart. This very conversation was a catalyst to a lifelong drive and passion for education. 

Parekh decided then that he would never sell salt from a handcart to support himself and focus on his education with renewed enthusiasm. However, there was one more hurdle- there was no place to study. Living in a small rented room without electricity provision post 10 pm, Nitin walked to a friend’s residence five kilometres away every day, to stay over and study at night. That year, in his tenth standard Gujarat board exam, Nitin Parekh scored 74.37% marks and also secured 297th rank in the board. His tenth standard board exams were the beginning of his upward academic trajectory. In the eleventh standard, he topped in all three classes in the school and secured 81% marks in the annual exam.  

During his twelfth board exam, Parekh prepared hard, forgoing sleep often studying 16-17 hours a day. Following his achievement of securing the second rank in the twelfth standard Board examinations, Parekh joined Gujarat’s HL College of Commerce, Ahmedabad. One of Parekh’s strongest drivers for academic excellence was his grandfather- Dharshibhai. Right before his death, his grandfather had advised him, ‘Nitin the family members like brothers and sisters can ask for their share in the family or ancestral property but education is such a precious wealth in which nobody can ask their share. Thus, you should invest time and energies in getting an excellent education.’ 

In University, Parekh ranked second too. Post his B.Com, he studied CA and LL.B. simultaneously. He secured the first rank in Gujarat University during both years of LL.B. and was awarded University First. In his CA (Inter) exam, he secured the first rank in Gujarat and the fifth rank in India. He also secured admission for an MBA course at IIM, Ahmedabad in 1983. Three Gold Medals were conferred on him for his performance in the second LL.B. exam. He also received an Industrial Scholar award for securing twelfth rank in the MBA exam of IIM Ahmedabad in 1985.  

Post his marriage, Parekh pursued his interest in academic achievement and embarked to attempt the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) course in 1988 in the year following his marriage. He secured the second rank in the country in the Prelim and Inter exams of the CFA course and secured the first rank in the country in his CFA finals. Not letting age be a bar to academic pursuit, he cleared MBA (Pharma Management) course at ICFAI University at the age of fifty-three. 

His professional career included a stint as the Executive Director in Ashima Group before joining Cadila Healthcare. Nitin Parekh is now the Group Chief Financial Officer of pharma giant Cadila Healthcare Limited. The group clocks an annual turnover exceeding ₹15,000 crores. As a veteran with thirty-five years of experience, financial deal structuring and design of funding instruments are his core strength areas. He has been instrumental in several M&A deals of Zydus Cadila, including the acquisition of Heinz India Private Limited and slump sale of Animal health business. Under his able leadership, Zydus Cadila has experienced very optimum interest costs.  

Speaking of Parekh, Pankajbhai Patel, Chairman of Zydus Cadila group opines, “Nitin Parekh is a man of utmost simplicity. He possesses great strength of doing a detailed and minutest study of any subject.”  

Parekh is also the winner of many awards. Recent ones include ‘Outstanding Manager of the Year’ award from Ahmedabad Management Association awarded in March 2021 by the Deputy Chief Minister of Gujarat, Shri Nitinbhai Patel. He was also given the ‘League of Excellence 2020’ award by CFO India for his contribution to the field of corporate finance. He was declared as the Best CFO in the Healthcare sector for 2012 and also for 2017 by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India among his other recognitions.  

Parekh is an experienced orator at different educational/management institutions and also includes Jain religion in his areas of interest and study. He states reading, literature and music as his interests and hopes to star in a Hindi movie with Amitabh Bachchan

Parekh’s story is one of resilience and a lesson in turning one’s circumstances around despite obstacles. He explains that students often spiral into depression and sometimes commit suicide if they fail to receive the grades their parents approve. These expectations in some cases lead to patterns of substance abuse and other unhealthy practices. Parekh hopes that his story might help students understand that there is no need to lose the heart due to one or two failures and that all failures can be handled with firm determination and a dedicated action plan. He believes one can always reach an Everest of success through their dreams, desires, determination and deeds.