Our Lady of Perpetual Succour High School in Chembur, Mumbai has several well-known alumni, including Oscar award-winning actor Anil Kapoor, and globally reputed composer and singer Shankar Mahadevan. I too started my education there, though, unlike them my success was never going to come from celebrity status in the entertainment industry. I chose an entirely different path when I decided to become a chartered accountant. A safe choice, maybe? It could have been, yet it also opened its own world of opportunity. So, how does such a dull sounding occupation create so many choices for our careers? And what are the traits that take accidental bean counters like me from average to potentially unforgettable?
Fame is not the only aspiration
Today, I live in Brisbane, Australia, but during my professional career, I have been fortunate to travel, live and work in many countries. I continue to regularly travel across the world, but my journey started with a simple and basic upbringing in a low-income, lower-middle class family in suburban Mumbai, India. After leaving that now somewhat famous high school, I decided to become a chartered accountant and qualified in 1995.
Back in those days, when the Big Four were the Big Six accounting firms, I set myself the goal of becoming a partner of one of these firms within 10 years. I pushed myself, joined KPMG, moved to EY and did it in eight years, becoming a partner in the Deloitte firm in Australia in 2004.
The power of resilience through adversity
In that same year, 2004, while on a visit to Mumbai, I came across a news article in the Times of India. It was about a highly intelligent night school Bachelor of Commerce student, Anil Kadam. He was struggling to get a job despite the high 84% marks he got in his BCom exams. I immediately contacted the reporter, who put me in touch with Anil. At the time, he was teaching in night school and lived in the slums of Mankhurd, down near the railway tracks. We met up the same day and talked through some ideas about how he could go about approaching the different accounting firms—Big 4 and second tier.
He had interviews at a few firms and immediately accepted a job offer from Deloitte in Mumbai. About 18 months later, he sent an email advising he passed his intermediate exams. Another 18 months later, he sent me an email saying he’d qualified as a chartered accountant after passing the exams very nicely indeed. Today, Anil is a senior manager in the international taxation division of the Big 4 firm and doing incredibly well.
From reinvention to innovation
Having achieved my goal of making partner in the Big 4, in 2007, I struck out on my own with a small advisory firm startup. Today, 16 years later, my business, Arzuh International, is headquartered in Brisbane and I offer a range of services across several countries.
During this time, I reinvented myself from an average bean counter by taking an interest in some of the geopolitical issues affecting the areas we all live in. I got involved in setting up new businesses and a think tank with some of the most reputed figures in their fields across commerce and government. This got me invitations to speak on many webinars on issues impacting geopolitical and other international matters. I was honoured to be appointed as an Honorary Adjunct Fellow of the globally reputed National Maritime Foundation of India, the premier think tank in India across range of maritime issues, including defence and security matters. During this period, I was invited to become the national advisor of the Australia India Business Council and subsequently, the national convener for the Defence and Security National Industry Group in the Australia India Chamber of Commerce.
This role has enabled me to promote Australia-India bilateral trade. The potential is to grow two-way trade from currently $46.5 billion dollars to over $100 billion dollars by 2030. In my own small way, a step at a time, I changed from being an average chartered accountant to someone influencing trade between two countries.
And innovation to networks
During this transitional journey, I initiated and helped set up the Association of Indian Chartered Accountants QLD Inc (AICA), which is the Brisbane Chapter of ICAI, in 2013 as the Founding Vice President. AICA now provides useful networking opportunities for newcomer migrants from India, as well as those living in Brisbane and across Queensland. Similarly, I founded the Society of Indian Chartered Accountants (SICA), which is the ICAI Chapter in Papua New Guinea (PNG) as the Founding Vice President way back in 2004. SICA continues to thrive as a hub for our CA fraternity activities. It also played an instrumental role in sponsoring CPA PNG to become a full member of the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC). Proud to have given back to the profession in my own little way through SICA and AICA, I enjoy motivating others to create their own positive legacy.
In August 2015, the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG) at the time invited me to join his delegation on their first Prime Ministerial visit to India. This was to participate in the Forum for India Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) Summit 2nd edition and promote trade and bilateral relations between both countries.
After that 2015 India visit, I became a Founding Committee member of the PNG India Business Forum (PNGIBF). In April 2016, the then President of India, the late Shri Pranab Mukherjee, officially launched the PNGIBF during his first Head of State visit from India to PNG. The PNGIBF was instrumental in creating trade opportunities for the commodities, precious metals, pharmaceutical and education sectors between both countries. The recent highly successful visit by Indian PM Narendra Modi to PNG to host the FIPIC Summit 3rd edition in PNG was an outcome of significant efforts over the past few years.
From chartered accountant to wherever you choose…
Sure, the journey has been long. But I’m not the only one to find fortune from a chartered accountant beginning. Three people stand out to me, though you’ll find many more everywhere you look. Take the journey of the founder of financial services company, India Infoline, Nirmal Jain and his business partner, Rajamani Venkataraman. Nirmal is a Chartered Accountant, and both are from normal families in Mumbai. Commencing as stockbrokers in the early nineties, thirty years later, India Infoline is one of the largest stockbroking firms in India. Both are billionaires in their own right.
Similarly, Chinubhai Chokshi, a dedicated freedom fighter for India until 1947, established C C Chokshi, one of India’s largest eminent Chartered Accountant firms until they merged with other firms under the Deloitte India brand. Today, the legacy of CCC has been revived and continues under the Chief Mentorship of Dileep Chokshi where C C Chokshi Advisors have headquartered in Mumbai, India. CCC Advisors have been making huge contributions to the profession and business community more widely across India. It is our honour to be associated with such stalwarts from the CA fraternity in India.
A good friend and role model for many years, Nilesh Vikamsey stands tall amongst these leaders with his ability to simply be there and help in any shape or form. His contributions towards my efforts in setting up SICA and AICA were immeasurable. Subsequently, as President of ICAI, he has been very helpful in many collaborations with our global clients keen to do business with and into India.
Resilience plus innovation equals reinvention
The common theme? Resilience and innovation. With these two traits, you can reinvent yourself in your twenties, your thirties, your forties, and beyond. Now in my fifties, I have the chance to offer advice to the next generation. So, know this: any average chartered accountant can start with a low salary. But with a bit of resilience and innovation mixed in, you can see the world and make it big.
If you’re at the start of your career, connect with me, Mahadevan Shankar (the not-so-famous version of my fellow alumni), on LinkedIn, follow Arzuh International on LinkedIn, and stay in touch through Arzuh International to hear about more opportunities for growth and prosperity.