Born and raised in Montreal, Canada, Sonalee Parekh believes it was her quantitative nature and a fascination with markets and companies that honed the edge she brings to her career in corporate finance today.
“When I was younger, my dad gave my sisters and I money to invest in companies and their stock. He taught us about compound interest and things like that when we were very young,” she said in a recent interview. “And just like that, I had a lifelong passion for it.”
Starting her career at PriceWaterhouse, before it became known as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Parekh met her future husband and became certified as a chartered accountant. From there, the now CFO of Belmont, Calif.-based RingCentral, moved to London to get into management consulting at PwC.
In the nineties, she then made the leap to Wall St. and joined Lehman Brothers in 1999. Then, at Goldman Sachs, Parekh advised telecom and media technology companies. Finally, in 2019, she decided that instead of advising companies, she wanted to be one of the operators.
“I packed up my bags and moved my family to California, to the Bay Area and I joined Hewlett Packard Enterprise, as a senior vice president of finance,” said Parekh. “Under my agreement, I was global head of corporate development, I did a lot of mergers and acquisitions, integration, investor relations, which was a really important part of the job and then I also was a divisional CFO of our communications and technology group,” she said.
Power of choice
After her stint at Hewlett Packard, Parekh said she was ready for her first public company CFO role, and she decided to take the financial helm of RingCentral.
“If you think about the time that I joined, it was about a year ago, the market was incredibly strong, and my phone was ringing off the hook,” Parekh said. She believes it was her unique experience on Wall Street that enabled her to stand out as a CFO candidate.
“I think there was so much demand for top talent and particularly, I got a lot of calls from people saying, ‘How did you pivot from Wall Street to an operational role to a CFO role?’ And what I always say is: it was the combination of both my corporate finance experience, as well as the Wall Street experience, so I knew how to speak to investors. I knew how to create a narrative in terms of an investment thesis,” Parekh said.
The finance chief said she picked RingCentral for a set of very specific reasons. “Coming from a growth company, I felt strongly about moving to a SaaS company because I believe software is the future. Our kids are going to become software engineers, not hardware engineers,” she said. And specific to RingCentral in particular — a cloud-based communication service provider — it was one of the only SaaS companies that was operating at scale, according to Parekh.
Besides the allure of the kind of company that RingCentral was at the time, Parekh was also drawn to the dynamic she had created with its CEO, Vlad Shmunis. The now finance chief said that she and her C-suite counterpart spent time together discussing strategy before she had even made a decision to land at the company.
“It’s always great to get to know your business partner, because then you know what you’re getting into, you know their philosophy and their vision,” she said.
Bull markets come and go
Coming up on the one-year anniversary of her role, Parekh said that a key thing to remember as a finance chief is that the market is a cycle.
“I am at an investor conference right now and I was at a dinner the other evening and everyone at the dinner had only ever worked through a bull market, which is pretty phenomenal,” Parekh said.
“When you're in a bull market, and you can go after every project, you're probably less focused on things like return on investment, you're probably more willing to back projects that might not have a high probability of being successful, but you're willing to try things out,” she said.
In contrast, she said, when facing the uncertainty of the current market “you fiercely prioritize."