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 smaller city in India, Ranchi, whose history dates back to the second century, and yes for cricket enthusiasts, this is where MS Dhoni hails from.
- I always wanted to be an engineer however after failed attempts in my entrance exams, I decided to become a CA.
- Here's my story of coming from a small city to becoming a CA; getting two offers from the Big 4 firms in the space of 24 hours, working in several MNCs and even working at LinkedIn as the finance head.
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 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 and encouraged me to be the best version of myself.
When it was time to decide on a career, I decided to become an engineer. Unfortunately, I didn’t do well enough to get into my desired stream of computer science.
Post my several failed attempts to get into a good engineering college, I started looking out for alternatives and that’s how I discovered CA and a few other qualifications!
However, 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.
From failed attempts at engineering to becoming a CA
When I chose Chartered Accountancy, there was not a single person in my family, who was a CA or even close to one, like a CS or Cost Accountant.
All I found was that my late great grandfather was a Financial Controller at British Administration in Bihar.
As a science student, I faced several challenges and took 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 however I was constrained to be in Ranchi, as moving to other cities would increase my expenses. In hindsight, that has been one of my best decisions, no regrets.
I completed my articles from one of the largest and highly reputed CA firms in Ranchi, NK Kejriwal and Co. and I must admit, it was one of the best experiences I had in terms of learning.
Finally, in 2007, I passed all the exams and became a CA. Everything worked out for the best.
Extra Tip: Big city or small city didn’t matter to me, learning, mattered the most. I am incredibly grateful for what I had and what I have today.
Getting two job offers within a space of 24 hours from the Big 4 firms
As a 22-year-old young Chartered Accountant, I was not sure what I wanted to do next. 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 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.
Long hours, lots of coffee, and double cheese pizzas (I gained almost 10kg) define my time here...in short, KPMG was a great learning streak for me!
Transitioning from a finance guy to a finance leader
After three years of working at KPMG, 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.
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 learnt a lot...it was at GE that I started defining my career moves.
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 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.
I was quite young and this was a huge move for me. 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 to learn.
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. (It is difficult to ignore an opportunity as a Finance Head for one of the largest tech companies in the world!)
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.
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.
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.
I learned lots of concepts on how to manage a subscription revenue-based model and digital marketing finance.
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 to join 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 known to me 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 role, 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.
Questions I get asked most often.
"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.
"What has your 15 years of work experience taught you?"
Over 15 years of experience and I have realized the following:
- Culture plays an important part in how anyone succeeds as a leader.
- I learnt that to get results is the mother of all asks, 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' which 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 what it is right now, but he still 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 learnt during my CA journey articles and my early days at KPMG.
- The second was the middle-class value system which I grew up in. They are powerful and make you a strong person in your decision-making and setting your own principles.
Now with this new world, it’s a fathomless loop of learning and unlearning. So, never stop learning, be it from peers, juniors, seniors, or industry leaders.
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 Company Secretary from ICSI, India. She has been the real force for 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. I follow my grandfather, Dashrath Prasad (served as an Officer at High Court) when it comes to giving advice: "What comes easy is not worth it, and unless you work hard to achieve it, it’s not satisfactory. We all talk about luck, timing, etc., which are not in our control, but hard work is."
Amitesh Sinha is a seasoned finance professional, with over a decade of global cross-functional work experience. He is known to successfully build and lead winning teams under stressful times, driving major business turnarounds in the company and most importantly, setting up teams, systems and world-class finance processes.
Now It’s Your Turn…
Were you inspired by Amitesh's journey? Did you find the mojo to start?
We are eager to hear your story. Write to us in the comments.
(Article edited by Lindy Ntuli and image edited by Ankit Lodhi)
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