This Chartered Secretary took a 3-year Sabbatical and tells us how a career break does not mean the end of the world
- “The universe is not outside of you. Look inside yourself; everything that you want, you already are.”
- Hi, I am Kanchan Singh Mehta, a Chartered Secretary from the UK and a Law Graduate and Company Secretary from India.
- I am originally from Mumbai (India) and now based in Canada.
- After 7 years of working as a CS and Compliance Officer in India, I decided to take a career break and take care of my child who was just 6 months old then.
- Here is my story of how I was able to move to Canada and restart my career after taking a sabbatical for 3 years.
Company Secretary and not Chartered Accountancy – the path I chose
I scored pretty well in Grade 10 that I could easily get into a junior college to pursue science (in India we pursue grades 11 and 12 at junior colleges). But I was not interested in science and wanted to pursue commerce.
Back then, I was fascinated with the idea of pursuing my graduate studies in management or in finance. In fact, I used to visualize myself in chic business suits and jackets, attending meetings and being a part of the glamour and drama of a business giant! (I know it sounds crazy, but that’s the way we are as teenagers.)
After Grade 12, most of my friends from college were pursuing Chartered Accountancy since that was the trend.
Most students assume that if you are a commerce student, you have to pursue Chartered Accountancy! It may sound cliched but that's how it was then and even now!
Well, in my case it was a bit different. I recognized early on, that I was not very good at Accounts. However, I discovered that I was very good at Economics and the other theoretical subjects.
There was definitely a lot of peer pressure to pursue CA as my entire group of friends from college had decided to pursue the same. I was the only one who did not want to!
Gradually I realized that I would be a good Chartered Secretary and not Chartered Accountant. And here started my journey at the Institute of Company Secretaries of India to become a Company Secretary.
In fact, I remember explaining to many of my relatives what exactly are the roles of a Company Secretary and how it is different from a Secretary’s role! I guess this was the situation 10 years back due to a lack of awareness among the general public about who a Company Secretary is. I am sure things are changing and people are more aware of the importance of a Company Secretary now.
CS was the right decision!
As I said earlier, I pursued CS just because I was good at law and other theory papers and wanted to do something different. Initially, these were the only reasons and that was the drive and motivation. However, while I was pursuing the course, I started feeling more and more that I had made the right decision...I knew this was what I wanted to do.
I was fascinated by the subjects which I was reading, I found them easy to understand and slowly I gained confidence. In the meantime, I realized the importance of having good communication skills and worked hard on improving myself in articulating myself in a better way.
Simultaneously, I also pursued Law along with CS (It is a great combination and I totally recommend the same!)
Forging my own path in the corporate world
After qualifying my CS exams and completing my training from a Listed Company, I started my career at a small organization (it had a setup of just 8-10 people) as their Assistant Company Secretary.
While I got to learn a lot from this job, I was not very happy with the limited scope of work.
I realized that I wanted more: more people to interact with, more challenges, more work, more incentives! In short, I did not want to settle for less.
Fortunately, I got my big break in just 6 months and landed a job as a Company Secretary and Compliance Officer at a listed company based in South Mumbai. It was a job that demanded a lot from me.
After I took up the job, I realized that the CS who was working there earlier had least 4-5 years of experience. I was just a novice. However, I was not deterred by this.
I used this as an opportunity to prove myself to everyone and match up with the level of experience and expertise which my colleagues were expecting. I spend nearly 7 years at this Company and the initial 2 years were quite difficult and tough.
Pursuing Chartered Secretary, UK
Well, going to a foreign country was always on the cards, which is why I pursued Chartered Secretary from the UK. Yes, there are exam centers in India. I appeared for it from Mumbai!
There are six main routes into the qualifying programme. Members of ICSI can opt for the MOU entry route where they are eligible for module exemptions under the Memorandum of Understanding Agreements between ICSA and ICSI.
If you are a current Associate or Fellow member of ICSI (the Indian Institute) with a minimum of two years’ relevant experience/training, you may be exempt from up to four modules from the full qualifying programme. You would only be required to complete: Company Law, Corporate Governance, and Risk Management (3 subjects).
Fast forward, I enrolled for it in the year 2014 and became a Chartered Secretary in 2016. Take it from me. It was not easy studying for the Chartered Secretary course from the UK while working full time and being pregnant!
I still remember writing one of my exams while I was 6 months pregnant (I was quite sick that day, but I cleared that exam luckily).
Taking a career break while at the peak of my corporate career
After 7 years of working as a CS and Compliance Officer, I decided to take a career break and take care of my child who was just 6 months old then.
I took a break of 3 years and we moved to Kuwait from Mumbai (my husband got an internal transfer from his Company).
During this break, I was in touch with my subject and was working as a Freelance Law Consultant. These 3 years at Kuwait were amazing since I spent so much time doing everything that I loved: gardening, arts and crafts. I got to pursue my biggest passion - reading!
The next move - Canada
We applied through the website of Government of Canada www.canada.ca on our own, no agent nothing! It is a very simple process and self-explanatory.
Canada is a beautiful country and has lots to offer to professionals like us. That said, it can be tough in the beginning. So be prepared to face a few challenges.
Everyone has different aspects and expectations from their career...so, I would suggest that you enlist them, weigh them and then decide.
Questions I get asked most often.
"Is it okay to take a break in your career?"
Yes, it is. I was clear in my head what I wanted and did not allow any other thoughts to overpower them. I was sure that this is the time for my family and kid and so I did that. I believe that there is a perfect time for everything and I am glad that I realized that my perfect time for parenthood was then.Even during my sabbatical, I stayed in close touch with the industry and colleagues. I kept an eye on the important changes - legislative, procedural, everything. This way, I never lost confidence while talking to anyone even after a break. In fact, after this 3-year break, I felt so refreshed and energetic and was all set for the next phase of my career in Canada. I couldn’t ask for more!
"What are the key skills required for a company secretary?"
Do not take up any course just because everyone is doing it. Follow your passion.
During the tenure of 7 years at my previous company, I recruited a lot of Company Secretaries for my team and one of the most important things I would look for was his/her communication skills and command over the language. With a strong command over the language, anything can be conquered.
Work on your communication and personality development skills thoroughly. Everyone knows the law...very few are able to explain it and put it in words!
Keep yourself abreast of the important changes in the Companies Act and how you would achieve the transition from the old to the new Act and also how it was going to affect our businesses.
So just don’t drain yourself in filings and back-office work. When at work, demand your employer that you want to be a part of some presentation or some learning initiatives.
“How has your ICSA qualification helped you?”
It is the only organization that can facilitate the international movement of governance professionals...it gives you an edge over the others! It shows that you have the knowledge, skills and experience to take on a job with significant and wide-ranging responsibilities.
They have nine local institutes in their international network, supporting over 29,000 members living and working in over 80 countries. Their membership is fully transferable between countries and local institutes depending on where the member is based.
"How did you immigrate to Canada without an agent?"
We went ahead without an agent as the guidelines and all other requirements are mentioned on this website. (The downside of using an agent is that they are quite expensive and we do not have control over our file.)
It is a simple process and we all are educated enough to fill up a few forms and upload some documents. In fact, they have a calculator as well (just Google CRS score calculator), where you can just enter a few details and check your score and decide, whether it falls under the minimum score/cutoff score which is declared once every two weeks by the Government.
It is not a very long process (for us, it took 11 months precisely) and if all the documents are in place and as per their requirements, it should not take more than 9-10 months.
I would certainly advise everyone out there, not to use an agent!
With changing times and evolving roles, professionals should concentrate more on their interpersonal and communication skills than just theoretical knowledge!
We make a mistake by reading the entire law and all possible books before the interview, in the hope that we will pass the technical interview. But the world is changing.
What people are really looking for is the best first impression and this definitely would be possible with good communication skills.
And when it comes to the decision of taking a sabbatical, ask yourself whether it will bring inner peace, joy, and contentment to you. See what difference you will be making in the lives around you with your presence and decide accordingly!
In fact, it is always better to be different, stand out from the crowd. It might be challenging, but quite rewarding.
Kanchan Singh Mehta is an experienced Chartered Secretary from ICSI (India) and The Chartered Governance Institute (Canada). As a Corporate Governance Professional, she has expertise in working in the financial services industry and is also an internationally qualified Law Graduate with excellent legal and administrative skills.
Now It's Your Turn...
Do you agree that as professionals we all should have different aspects and expectations from our career?
Would you ever take a sabbatical? Comment below and let us know.
(Article edited by CA Uma Krishnan and image by Ankit Lodhi)