This practicing Cost Accountant shares how timely decisions of diversification & specialization helped him survive
- I am Harshad Deshpande a practicing Cost and Management Accountant and partner at M/S Harshad S Deshpande & Associates.
- I am also an Insolvency Professional, Registered Valuer, and Company Secretary from India.
- After almost a decade of working at a Cost Accounting firm, in 2012, I started my own firm.
- In the first few years, I thrived until I hit a roadblock due to changes in regulations!
- Timely decisions of adding new skills and degrees to my repertoire helped me bounce back and provide new services.
- Here is my story.
Back to the roots: Studying to be a Cost Accountant
After my 12th grade in the Commerce stream in 1999, I decided to take up a professional course.
Most of my friends were pursuing CA, but I wanted to find a niche wherein I could excel.
I did a lot of research and realized Cost Accountancy would be a better fit for me considering my interest in Analytics, decision making, Strategy and of course my passion for numbers.
Considering the fewer number of Cost Accountants in comparison to CAs, I thought I could succeed sooner as a Cost Accountant, thus giving me a cutting edge in the competitive world! So, I registered to be a Cost Accountant from ICWAI (The Institute of Cost and Works Accountant in India). This was in 2000.
The Turning Point
Fast forward, I completed Cost Accountancy Inter exams before I could complete Graduation in Commerce (B.com).
In 2001, when I was in CMA finals, I started with my articles (although it was not mandatory then). It was here that I got introduced to the 'Corporate World' and I loved everything about it.
Within a few months, I got a hang of the work and my efficiency increased. I used to get data and responses at a lightning pace which was a big surprise for my colleagues and Seniors.
In fact, I was enjoying my work so much that I would also help our clients with some additional work. In short, I was doing more than what was needed of me because I enjoyed my work.
One day my Senior got to know about additional services I provided just to help the clients (without any billing). He then encouraged and trained me in the fundamental principles of Auditing, Maker/Checker rule and professional ethics.
Suddenly everybody started to take notice of this ordinary boy. Boo-yah! This boosted my confidence even more…since then there has been no looking back.
Forging my own career path
I got to know my CMA Final result at a client’s place – a leading Indian MNC. They were all so excited for me and that day we had a grand celebration in their office.
To top it all, my client immediately offered me a job opportunity as an Assistant Manager with a decent salary.
A few days later, I got another offer from a client where I used to work previously!
Coming from a middle-class family, getting such lucrative offers at the age of 23, was very tempting. But the urge of doing something different and becoming an entrepreneur someday made me think twice!
Finally, after a lot of introspection about my future goals, I decided not to join any Corporate. Instead, I continued to work at the same firm as a “Professional” on an assignment basis!
I must admit this was one of my toughest but most rewarding decisions.
Why did I not start my own firm immediately? I realized early on that one would also need Resources, Infrastructure, and most importantly experience apart from technical skills to serve a client.
Unlike public accounting services, Cost & Management Accounting requires more deep-down analysis & experience as we have to offer advice and suggestions to people in the management cadre.
They are people who have been running the show for years. So, I decided to gain all of this while working at the firm and later start on my own when I was more confident.
Honing my interpersonal skills and pursuing additional qualifications
I started to realize that on the professional front, while technical skills matter a lot, soft skills are equally important.
Be it communication skills, negotiation skills, networking skills, people management skills and for that matter even your skills to get business (client acquisition skills!) So, I decided to work on building my skill set.
Around the same time, I also realized the importance of having additional qualifications.
Company Secretary (CS) was an obvious choice because of the exemptions available for a Cost Accountant. So, while working full time, I decided to pursue the CS course from ICSI (The Institute of Company Secretaries of India)
Simultaneously, I completed CISA (USA) as well since at that point in time, Information Systems (IS) Auditing was gaining prominence.
To add Global exposure and get Chartered credentials, I did CIMA (UK) which is considered to be the Mother Institute of all Management Accounting bodies worldwide.
Shortly, I was promoted to a Partner in the firm...this was a great achievement for me.
Taking a leap as an entrepreneur
The sudden urge of becoming an entrepreneur took me by surprise and inspired me to start out on my own.
So, in 2011, while I was still a partner at the firm - I informed them about my decision to start my own firm.
I served a six-month notice period and in that time frame, I closed lots of deals for the firm. (Retain relationships and respect forever is very important!)
Finally, in 2012, I started Harshad S Deshpande & Associates and was all on my own.
2012 was a great year to start a Cost Accounting firm as CMA firms were in huge demand due to the widened scope of Cost Records & Audit Rules in India.
Marketing our services
I did not move with my earlier clients from the previous firm on moral grounds. So, I had to start from scratch, with zero clients.
Being a CMA practitioner, the first thing I did was to make the Industry aware of the variety of ‘unconventional services’ we offered like Cost Reduction, Cost Control, setting up Cost Accounting systems to measure the costs, Revenue optimization using Cost Accounting Techniques, ABC / ABM, etc.
I addressed quite a number of conferences & seminars, when Govt released New Cost Audit, Rules 2012.
I wrote various articles on how the new mechanism can play a dual role of not only complying with the law but also how to be benefited from it from a business perspective. It was well appreciated by Industry and professionals.
Meeting new people and keeping in touch with them without having any expectations of work helped me in building good relationships.
(I always believed that the help/support given without any expectations yield much bigger returns in the long run and also make relationships quite positive.)
Having a comprehensive experience by now made me build up my own team & office infrastructure and by early 2014 we were one of the tops firms within a short span of 3 years.
Major Roadblock: Rethink and innovate
In 2014, the Government of India reversed the avenues opened up in 2012!
The scope of Cost Audit & Cost records was curtailed resulting in many corporates getting out of the scope of Cost Audit & Records. It was time to rethink and innovate again.
By this time, I had 5 qualifications from 3 different continents and had acquired the knack to crack the exams.
In December 2016, I heard about the Govt coming up with Insolvency Professional exam. Honestly, I had never heard about this domain. With my good academic track record, I thought to give a go.
After a series of failed attempts at this difficult exam, I qualified in April 2017 and became an “Insolvency Professional”. This opened new avenues to me in Banking and Insolvency laws and I was able to successfully resolve the stressed corporates & NPAs.
We soon got empaneled with Banks & Financial Institutions. Word-of-mouth publicity started bringing new opportunities every day.
Diversifying our Firm’s area of services
One more new profession that was coming up was that of a Registered Valuer.
In 2018, I became one of the early entrants as a “Registered Valuer”. With early-bird benefits and good connections with Professionals and Corporates, it was like “Power Play” to the growth story. I recall doing more than 200 assignments this year!
Today our firm has 5 partners and 3 offices. We added natural extensions that every firm has like Accounting, Audit & Tax.
Our focus remains to be the number one service provider for niche value-added areas like Cost & Management Accounting, Insolvency and Bankruptcy laws & Valuation services.
Complete Growth Timeline till present
- Joined a CMA Firm
- The focus was to learn technical skills.
- Partner in the Firm
- Learned the importance of delegation, team management and the whole life cycle of operations
- Handling client acquisition & Business development of Firm
- I learned the way to find prospective clients/ assignments, how to approach clients, soft skills, presentation skills, carving out the scope & the role of professional, Commercial discussions, negotiations & closing the deal.
- During this phase, the thought to start my own firm was getting crystallized and I started to test myself whether I could source work on my own or not.
- Started own firm. Well thought and planned decision.
- First-year is always critical in being an entrepreneur in terms of managing Cash flows and having patience.
- We kept growing and doing very well and were one of the top growing firms
2014, 2015, 2016
- In 2014, the Government of India reversed the avenues opened up in 2012 for Cost Audit. We hit a roadblock.
- Growth got curtailed, Cash flows dried up. We had to manage the trained team of 15 people by infusion from the personal account.
- We needed to get accustomed according to the Govt Policy & Industry demands.
- In Dec 2016, I decided to be an Insolvency professional.
- I qualified as an “Insolvency Professional”.
- It did much more than expected and with the blend of skills of Operations and Commercials, soon was able to successfully resolve the stressed corporates & NPAs. This professional degree gave a lot of learning of decision making, managing people as well as keeping stakes of all stakeholders protected.
- I became a Registered Valuer.
- More than 200 assignments in a year.
- Empaneled with Banks & Financial Institutions as “Insolvency Professional
- We were a team of professionals who were CA, CMA, CS, Insolvency Professionals & Registered Valuer having rich experience and expert knowledge at our disposal.
- On 1st March 2020, I also qualified as an Independent Director so as to help corporates with rich experience acquired during the course of my journey.
- Today we have more than 100+ clients in costing, 500+ valuation assignments, 7 matters of IBC
A few words before winding up…
What’s more important than acquiring credentials is how do you put to use it effectively. It is all about creating a win-win situation; the moment it will slightly weigh be on one side, the equilibrium will shift.
In the days to come, freelancer jobs will be looked upon as a flexible source to get the expertise at optimized cost without commitments.
The next-generation has to look for future avenues, technological developments, changing business models, changes in consumption patterns of goods & services, and behavioral patterns in order to make good decisions.
Having an entrepreneurial mindset and not getting excited about short term opportunities is the key to success.
(This article is edited by CA Uma Krishnan and image by Ankit Lodhi)
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