This Chartered Accountant and former GE CFO quit his 20-year old corporate career to be an entrepreneur and help SME's
- Hi, I am Pankaj Makkar. I was born and brought up in Delhi, India and moved to Canada in 2005.
- I am a Chartered Accountant from India and went on to pursue a CPA from Colorado and a CPA from Canada as well. (CPA license from Colorado is currently expired).
- I am also Six Sigma Green Belt Certified from GE which really helped me throughout my career to be process-oriented, identify and remove Non-Value-add work from any process.
- In 2018, after working in the corporate world for almost 2 decades at various senior positions, I decided to take the risk and venture on my own.
- Here is my story of how I quit my fancy designation and high-paying C-Suite job and started my own Cloud-based Accounting and Consulting Firm ‘Vizhen Books’ to help SME’s succeed.
Back Story: Why I decided to pursue Chartered Accountancy?
You might be surprised to know that I ‘never’ set out to be a Chartered Accountant, it just happened by accident (at least the first one)!
I come from a business family in India where my dad was actively involved in the business. So, growing up I always dreamt of joining his business right after school, which was the norm in traditional business families those days!
Surprisingly, my Grade 12 results were much better than expected and it could get me selected into the prestigious Delhi University!
I decided not to join my dad’s business; instead, I took the opportunity and enrolled at the University! It was around this time that one of my buddies told me about the ‘CA Foundation exam’ (the first level exam to obtain a CA designation in India).
Since the curriculum was similar to what I was already studying for the 1st year of university, I decided to sign up for this exam and I also loved numbers. In short, I had nothing to lose!
Luckily, I passed that exam and this motivated me to continue pursuing CA. I enrolled for the next level, CA Inter and passed the exams as well! I then started with my articles and simultaneously passed my CA Final Exams in 1999 at the young age of 22!
When I think of it now, I guess my love for numbers and ‘zero expectations’ or fears of failing any exams really helped me clear all the CA levels in the first attempt!
From working at a small CA firm to a breakthrough at General Electric
After becoming a Chartered Accountant, I worked for a couple of years at a small CA firm in Delhi, and in 2002 I joined General Electric (GE) as Operations Manager for the Outsourcing business in India.
GE is a company full of opportunities. If you have the right attitude of learning and the willingness to grow each day, you can take your career to any level and that’s exactly what happened with my career at GE!
Fast forward, after working at GE, India for 3 years, I realized that I didn’t have much more to contribute to that particular role.
Also, around the same time, I was planning to immigrate to Canada and explore opportunities outside India. So, I left my job at GE India and moved to Canada in 2005.
Luckily, as soon as I landed in Canada, I got an introduction for a Financial Analyst job opening with GE Healthcare business. I took the opportunity even though it was a step down from my previous role at GE. I was ready to work hard and make my way up the chain!
Transitioning early on from a Financial Analyst to a CFO in Canada
In 2005, during my first year at the job, my manager (Controller) left the company, and for 3 months that position remained vacant!
I knew this was an opportunity for me to step up my game and take on the key responsibilities of the Controller even though I was new in my role and had my own full-time job as a Financial Analyst, I did exactly that!
My initiative paid off and after a few months, the company created a new role for me as an ‘Assistant Controller’ to help the new Controller with his responsibilities. This was such a big accomplishment for me and from there on my journey continued and I kept climbing up the corporate ladder!
In 2012, I became the Finance Leader (the equivalent of CFO) for GE Healthcare’s Medical Diagnostics business. I helped the business navigate through various acquisitions, dispositions, mergers, restructuring and ERP implementations. There was a tremendous amount of learning that happened through all this.
And just like that, 5 years whizzed by even though I had signed up for only 2-3 years for the Finance Leader role.
The key to my growth was taking full charge of my career, having mentors to guide me, putting a lot of hard work every day, and the desire to learn.
What next now?
Giving up a fancy compensation and job title to be an entrepreneur!
During my last role at GE Canada (2017), there was a restructuring of many of the senior finance roles and consolidating them into the US.
I had several discussions with the management about my options to move to the US or other parts of Canada to take up the next role but I was not ready to relocate at that time! My kids were settled well in their school and after living in Oakville (Canada) for 10 long years, it felt like home to me. So, I decided to leave the job and ended my 15-year career with the company.
As a part of figuring out my next steps, I started exploring some business opportunities. At the same time, I also started interviewing for Senior Finance roles within the Toronto area to see what’s available out there. In a few weeks, I got an offer for the Senior Controller role in a mid-size company based out of Toronto.
What next? I had two options right in front of me, either continue my career in the industry or pursue my entrepreneurial dream which I had since grade 12. I was definitely at crossroads!
I did contemplate taking up that role (after all it was a great job title and compensation package) but my wife encouraged me to follow my entrepreneurial dream and not accept the job offer.
I took her advice and made the decision to stop looking into the job market and start focusing 100% on my entrepreneur journey. I knew it was a now or never kind of a situation! And that’s how I decided to pursue the entrepreneurial route in 2018.
Launching a cloud-based accounting firm to help SMEs
After spending a few months travelling and exploring different business options, I was speaking to my good friend, CA. Atin Gupta, who was a Partner at MNP at that time (one of the largest public accounting firms in Canada).
He surprised me with the news that he was leaving his job and following his entrepreneurial dream as well. What timing!
With his public practice background and my industry background coupled with quality and outsourcing experience, we had a lot of complementary skills to offer to businesses and decided to team up together!.
With 40+ years of collective experience, we could add a lot of value to any business, and thus starting a professional services business seemed like a natural choice for us. That’s how Vizhen Books was born in 2018 with the mission to ‘help’ small to mid-size businesses solve their day to day business problems (not limited to accounting and finance).
And there was no looking back from that point!
Questions I get asked most often.
“Do you regret not starting a business in your early 20s?”
I feel everything happens at the right time. Even though I have been dreaming about running my own business for a while, I felt more confident starting my business at this time especially after gaining 20+ years of experience.I also had some savings to pay my bills while getting this business up and running.
“What was your experience during the initial stage of your business?”
Undoubtedly, it was a difficult decision to start something from scratch after being at a peak in your career with a very comfortable salary.
But when you listen to your heart and have the right people around you to advise and encourage you to do the right things, it gets easier.
Here is the timeline of our growth to date:
- I started Vizhen books in 2018. It was a difficult but fun ride in the first year.
- Since I had never worked in the small/mid-size business space before, I put in a lot of hours to learn their challenges, tools and resources to address those challenges, built a community of experts in different fields to help my clients solve their business problems, learning on the fly every single day.
- With limited resources, I had to wear different hats each day from business development to admin, from service delivery to training and everything in between.
- To avoid making a lot of mistakes in the first year, we engaged a consultant, Ryan Lazanis from Future firm who had built the kind of practice we wanted to build and had sold it recently. We wanted to learn from his mistakes. It was a good investment of our time and money with Ryan as he helped us navigate through 100s of technology stacks available in the market and recommended the right tech for our practice and our clients.
- The fun part was signing up the new clients, delivering quality service, appreciation and referrals from the clients. It was a rewarding and encouraging experience.
- Overall, I spent a lot of time in the first year in learning, building the right processes for the practice and for the clients so we both could win.
- We are now 18 months in this business and have built a strong team of 10 experienced accountants servicing more than 30 clients.
“What advice would you give finance professionals?”
Based on my personal and professional life experience, this is what I want my readers to know:
- Overcome your fears – We all have fears and limitations created by our own minds and the only way to overcome those fears is by action. Know what your fears/limitations are, do what you are fearful of and you will see that getting to the other side of fear is the best feeling ever.
- Know what matters to you – Once you figure out what matters to you and what’s most important, you will get clarity on where to focus your time and energy as this is the most limited resource you have in your hands.
- Write your goal and manifest on achieving those goals each day…believe me, it works.
- Learn something every day – Learning is a lifelong process, never stop learning new things. There are enough resources around us to enable us to learn each day. Invest your time in self-learning.
- Surround yourself with people who have a growth mindset – They say “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. Choose who you want to become and surround yourself with the right people.
If you want to start your own business, believe in yourself, surround yourself with the right people, take chances, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
No business can be built overnight, it takes consistent effort over a period of time to build any business. Be patient and you will never regret it.
Pankaj Makkar, CEO of Vizhen Books Inc. is a fitness enthusiast, marathon runner and a new triathlete (finished many half marathons, 3 X full marathons, 50K trail race and 3 X Ironman 70.3). He lives in a beautiful town near Toronto called Oakville with his two amazing kids (Jiya and Krish).