How this CA went from failed attempts in engineering to Finance Head at LinkedIn India
How this CA went from failed attempts in engineering to becoming the Finance Head of a large tech company
- Hi, I am Amitesh Sinha, a Chartered Accountant from India.
- I come from a small town of Ranchi in India, whose history dates back to the second century, and yes for cricket enthusiasts, this is where MS Dhoni hails from.
- Post my multiple failed attempts at getting into a good engineering college, I discovered Chartered Accountancy.
- Here's my story of becoming a successful CA; getting two offers from the Big 4 firms in the space of 24 hours and being headhunted by one of the largest tech companies in the world, LinkedIn.
Back Story: Extreme transition from Engineering to CA
Growing in Ranchi, life was simple yet exciting. My father was a sales professional in the pharmaceutical sector and my mother was a primary school teacher in Ranchi. So, I come from a middle-class family where money was not in abundance.
My family was supportive of everything I wanted to do though, and life was simple yet exciting.
When it was time to decide on a career, I decided to become an engineer. It was the first time that IIT-JEE (premier engineering college in India) had introduced a screening test followed by the mains. Unfortunately, I didn’t do well enough to get into my desired stream of computer science.
Fast forward, the same year AIEEE (joint entrance exam for engineering colleges at Pan-India level) came into the picture, there too, I wasn’t able to get into computer science.
Post my failed attempts at getting into a good engineering college, I started looking for alternatives and that’s how I discovered CA. So, it came by chance.
When I chose chartered accountancy, there was not a single person in my family, who was a CA or even close to one, as a CS or cost accountant. All I found was that my late great grandfather Parmeshwar Dayal was a Financial Controller at British Administration in Bihar.
CA came as an obvious choice as other alternatives were out of my family’s budgets and bandwidth, and that’s how my CA journey started.
As a science student, I faced several challenges. It took me a while to understand debit and credit! But I had no choice but to complete CA, because of our financial situation.
Many of my friends moved to bigger cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, and Bangalore. I was constrained to be in Ranchi as moving to other cities would increase my expenses, but I enjoyed it and have no regrets.
I completed my articles from one of the largest and highly reputed CA firms, NK Kejriwal and Co in Ranchi and I must admit, it was one of the best experiences I had in terms of learning.
I passed all the exams and became a CA in 2007, so everything worked out for the best.
Big city or small city didn’t matter to me, learning, mattered the most. I am incredibly grateful for what I had then and what I have today.
Getting two job offers within a space of 24 hours from the Big 4 firms
After qualifying as a CA, I only planned one thing, which was to work for a ‘Big 4’ and make moves depending on my inclination.
Deloitte and KPMG had a recruitment drive right after the CA results in 2007, which I plunged into. The first day, I attended a chain of interviews at Deloitte (8 am to 5 pm), and at 7 pm I came out with the first offer letter of my life, to work as an Assistant Manager, Assurance for Deloitte.
The very next day, I went through the same routine with KPMG and came out with a better offer from the assurance department. Compensation (which mattered a lot then) and profile (IFRS and US-GAAP) were more important to me, so I chose KPMG.
Transitioning from a finance guy to a finance leader
KPMG again was a great learning streak for me…long hours, lots of coffee, and double cheese pizzas define them all!
I gained almost 10kg and after three years of working there, I wanted something different from life, I wanted to be a leader!
Fortunately, I got an opportunity at GE, a very well-designed organization. Here they not only had well-defined processes for the business, but they also had well-designed programs for employees. It was at GE that I started defining my career moves.
Within a week of joining GE, I went on a project to Charlottesville GE facility (a scenic town near Washington D.C.).
I started managing global supply chain finance projects and was nominated for a premier GE leadership program called LDC (GE Leadership Development Course).
The few colleagues I met at GE were great teachers in terms of technical aspects of finance, and many helped with the overall development as a professional. Even though my time at GE was close to two years, I learned a lot.
First time CFO and learning to think like an entrepreneur
Greenlight happened to me via my mentor at GE, Dhaval. He moved to Greenlight and offered me the role of Global Controller. I immediately accepted without thinking too much.
Two things were exciting about this role, one working again for Dhaval and two, getting a global profile.
Greenlight was into the manufacturing and distribution of solar lamps and systems. They had great expansion plans in Africa and other parts of Asia. I was fortunate enough to be in the core team and was part of the whole expansion process from managing the scale-up and sustaining it.
It was an exemplary time for me to learn the business in different geographies – Sub-Saharan Africa, China, SE Asia, USA, to name a few.
Soon things changed and within 15 months of joining, I was appointed to be their Global CFO. This was a huge move for me and there were many facets of challenges, managing cash positions, managing investor’s fundraising, and so on.
Greenlight has one of the greatest founders who gives you wings, so that helped me a lot. (Support from founders or CEOs is a rare commodity in tough times.)
I kept my foot grounded and moved ahead, tackling one challenge after the other. I also interacted with sector and industry leaders for advice and always tried to make connections for learning.
Working for Greenlight taught me to have an entrepreneurial mindset.
Headhunted by LinkedIn as a Finance Head in India
After almost five years at Greenlight, I got an opportunity at LinkedIn via reference/headhunting. This opportunity came as a total surprise as I was not actively looking out for opportunities.
So, what next?
I decided to go for an interview and see where it takes me, also I found it interesting since it was an offer to lead their finance department in India.
Another reason which got me excited was that this role was based in Bangalore in India (my girlfriend and now my wife, Priyanka did her MBA here and she always wanted to move back to Bangalore)…everything just made sense and I took up the opportunity.
At LinkedIn, the learning was amazing. Managing finance for a tech company is quite different, as the focus of the organization is engineering and product, and finance has to be an enabler and a business partner.
I learned lots of concepts on how to manage a subscription revenue-based model and digital marketing finance.
Accounting was not much different, as I had done numerous audits for tech companies. What was different was the financial planning and analysis part, which goes with the kinds of products tech companies sell.
After 18 months at LinkedIn with lots of learning, I knew it was time to move on. A lot of my friends thought I was crazy to leave a company like LinkedIn, but my dreams were different!
Quitting the tech company and joining the impact investment sector
Asad, who is the CEO and Managing Partner of SIMA Fund and also one of the oldest asset managers in the impact investment sector, was an acquaintance since 2015. In the past, we had spoken several times about me working with him, and finally, it happened in 2020 with SIMA funds.
After exploring the SIMA Fund route, I didn’t take much time to call it off with LinkedIn, as I was getting something that was quite unique. Also, this role allowed me to come back to the impact sector, which I missed from Greenlight.
The partner role at SIMA Fund is very satisfying in many ways. The learning is humongous, networking is great and at the end of the day, it’s an impact sector which means, every dollar which we place is used to serve someone at the bottom of the pyramid. Very few commercial roles have this opportunity.
What has your 15 years of work experience taught you?
Over 15 years of experience I have realized the following:
- Culture plays an important role in how anyone succeeds as a leader.
- I learned that getting results is the mother of all tasks, but we should never discount on how to achieve those results.
- Interacting with people or teams in various geographies was a great enablement for me to understand people with varied emotions, skills, and ways of doing things.
- Career growth is a relative term. The real growth for me is the sense of satisfaction that I get in delivering and learning my work. As long as I keep learning and delivering, I feel I am growing.
- Have a mentor. One person who has inspired me in my professional journey is Dhaval Radia, who was the CFO at GE. Back in 2012, the CFO role was not as diverse as it is right now, but he realized the role CFOs would be playing in the future and taught me how to think like an entrepreneur!
Two valuable factors that helped me grow in my career
- The basic financial skills I learned during my CA journey articles and my early days at KPMG.
- The second was the middle-class value system in which I grew up. They are powerful and make you a strong person in your decision-making process and setting your own principles.
What is your secret of going from a smaller city to a successful finance leader?
This is a tough one, I never planned this or prepared. I just learned from my seniors, clients, vendors, and peers by simply observing them. Just as I started driving without driving lessons at the age of 12 or 13, I learned how to drive by observing my father on the wheel (please don’t tell the local police!)
The best way would be to invest in yourself and be observant. There are also so many online avenues to learn from these days.
Never stop learning, be it from peers, juniors, seniors, or industry leaders. Now in this new world, it’s a fathomless loop of learning and unlearning. Also, pursue additional qualifications as you go along. I would like to mention my wife, Priyanka, who is a banker and has pushed me to complete my CPA (from Maine Board in the USA) and CS. She has been the real force behind me taking bold decisions in my career.
Ask for support and help. If you need support, don’t be afraid to speak up as it helps overcome challenges.
On the other hand, always offer your extended support to peers, juniors, or anyone who needs it. My mother was a teacher, and my inclination towards helping students comes from her.
Lastly, work hard.