This Cost Accountant qualified as a CA at 34 and later quit his job as Head of Finance to build a thriving CA practice at 42.
- Hi, I am Gautam Thakker, a qualified Chartered Accountant, Cost & Management Accountant and Company Secretary from India.
- After working for over 2 decades with Fortune 500/S&P 500 MNCs including 4 years in Dubai, I started my own CA practice in 2017.
- It took me almost one year to break even and three years to reach my corporate income but I am glad to say that the risk of quitting well-paid corporate jobs paid off well.
- Today we have a staff strength of 35, our own office, diverse clients across industries and geographies including a few outside India.
- Here is my story to inspire you – The most successful people follow passion, not paychecks!
Back Story: Deciding to pursue CA at the age of 29!
In 1993 while still in college I registered for the CA course along with Cost Accountancy. I always wanted to be a CFO so this combination seemed perfect.
However, over a period of time, I began to focus a lot more on Cost Accountancy and almost quit pursuing CA.
My thinking was that completing CA will take longer (about 5 years) and I was in a hurry to get a post-qualification professional degree so I could start earning early in my career!
By 1997, just after my graduation, I qualified as a Cost Accountant and immediately started working as Finance Executive in one of the Godrej group companies.
As a 21-year old, it was so exciting to work for a large corporate only to realize that having just a Cost Accounting degree may not be enough to achieve my long-term career goal! So, I pursued Company Secretary.
In my initial years of work (when I was not a CA), I realized that for me to get overall exposure in all areas of Accounting, Audit, Tax, Controls, Financial Planning & Analysis, MIS, External Reporting, Treasury, Business Finance and eventually get into a CFO role, it was imperative for me to be a qualified CA.
So at the age of 29, in 2005, after a long gap of 12 years, I pursued CA yet again with more rigor and conviction. (By now I was a qualified Company Secretary.)
Qualifying as a CA at 34 and forging a career path
Over the years as my roles evolved in the corporate world, and by 2007, I was a Financial Controller and India Shared Service Leader of an MNC.
This was a senior role and completing CA while working full time was a challenge (Corporate job vs. as a student who gets longer leaves to appear for exams.)
Finally, in 2010, at the age of 34, I qualified as a CA. By now I had about 15 years of work experience...this was definitely late by any standards (but better late than never).
I soon got an opportunity to work as Group Finance Controller for a large MNC into the healthcare, life science and laboratories equipment sector.
About a year after working with this company, I had started to think about being on my own.
Shortly, I was offered an opportunity with a global biopharmaceutical company as Director, Head of Finance.
Apart from India Finance Leadership, the role also required setting up a finance shared services practice and building a team to support global entities. This would help groom the entrepreneur in me.
So, I took up this role keeping in mind that this will likely be my last corporate job and post that I will start my own venture.
Over a period of 6 years in this role, I built and managed one of the most talented professional team of 100 people.
Taking an entrepreneurial leap
In 2017, after almost 2 decades in the corporate world, I started my own CA Firm.
(Almost 6 long years after the first thought of starting my own practice and me finally executing it.)
When I started, I had no experience in CA practice, no clients, no office, no staff, no infrastructure. I just had one thing – Belief!
My family’s support was rock-solid and they believed in me more than I believed in myself.
Assurance from them was that even if my new venture isn’t successful, it is fine. This actually took away a huge burden off my shoulders and pushed me forward without fear.
Building my CA Firm from scratch
Leaving some of the comforts and luxuries of corporate life like well-paid jobs, plush office, foreign travels, managing large teams, etc., was a huge paradigm shift for me personally and professionally.
Every day in practice is like building your house brick by brick.
I got my first client through a friend who introduced me to his ex-employer. So it was an outcome of the network plus my corporate experience in finance and corporate laws.
I also started teaching US CPA, Dip. IFRS, UK ACCA and UK CIMA at weekends. This helps me stay up to speed with international Accounting standards (IFRS, US GAAP) and stay connected with young budding professionals whose energy is contagious.
While matching income with a Corporate job was never my primary objective nor a success parameter however it took me about a year to break-even and around 3 years to match earlier income.
My growth in the initial stages:
- Place of work: Work from office or home, lease vs buy, size of office to start with, etc. were some of the initial decision points. I chose to start with a small rented office. Imperative to have a place of work. Helps build confidence in clients and also to hire staff.
- Building a team: Nobody would want to take the risk of joining a start-up CA firm and rightly so. I had to put in a lot of effort into convincing recruitment firms to search for the right candidates. I also spent a lot of time convincing candidates to join my start-up firm. Some candidates didn’t but a few did though with initial apprehensions.
- Managing staff: My initial team predominantly included freshers/people with 1 to 2 years’ experience and it was a big challenge vs managing a highly qualified and experienced team of direct reports that I was used to in the last 10 years my corporate life. Perseverance and patience are what helped me manage this initial struggle.
- Suppliers: Getting service and infrastructure providers to support me too was a challenge. Vendors would ask for advance deposits before providing products/services on credit.
- Clients: Corporate MNC clients generally prefer big 4s and smaller clients would not change their CAs. For someone like me who entered new territory, this was the toughest part in the initial months.
- Clock was ticking: Most of all, there is constant stress after the last paycheck of a corporate job and with no clear line of sight on when will client assignments begin.
- Improved my networking
The entire process of starting on my own has been the most satisfying accomplishment for me...even if what you build is small, it’s your own!
Challenges on the way
I chose a path that was uncomfortable and clearly a big risk vs continuing with what I had been doing for so long.
Needless to say, there was a lot of struggle in the initial phase and I was prepared for it. But I did not anticipate some of the challenges like a few listed below:
- First-year things moved very slowly, big challenge adjusting to this slow pace.
- Adapting to change in the work environment from a large number of people in a big Corporate office to just 1 or 2 people in a very small new setup.
- Doing all the groundwork after several years of being used to delegating tasks to incorporate.
- Change in work culture from conference room meetings, calls with global stakeholders to working by yourself in isolation in the initial few months
Timeline of my growth journey
- Mid-2017 started my CA practice.
- First things first! Getting Certificate of Practice from ICAI, got a firm name and other registrations done, found an office space, researched a lot about practicing firms and initiate networking.
- Connected with several practicing CAs to get a perspective on their journey and experience. This helped me a lot as I started my journey.
- Hired one staff who was a fresher. A very bright commerce graduate pursuing ACCA.
- Got 2 clients with small assignments and both towards the end of the year.
- More prospect clients started approaching me seeking proposals. Not all but about 2-3 out of 10 would convert to clients and assignments continued to be small.
- The biggest challenge was to resist the temptation of going back to Corporate life. This is the time when you start feeling the most pain of not having a fixed income and you often wonder whether you have made the right decision of quitting corporate life. On top of that, I kept getting calls from recruitment firms for CFO/Head Finance openings.
- My biggest success was getting assignments from a few Corporate clients through a couple of my ex-employers / ex-bosses. They didn’t have any apprehensions about my lack of experience in CA practice. This helped my practice grow but also boosted my morale and confidence big time.
- Best year so far in terms of growth in clients, assignments, staff, and revenue.
- Shifted to a bigger office and more importantly from a rented one to my own.
- The team grew to 30 and the number of clients crossed 50.
- All this was driven by new clients kept getting added with word of mouth and existing clients giving more assignments as they gained more confidence with my firm’s service delivery.
- The biggest challenge for me was when new clients with bigger assignments would ask me my 'number of years in practice' and my response would be 2 years. (Most new clients want to avail service of a CA who is in practice for a much longer period.)
- I accepted the fact that the only way this challenge will be addressed is with the passage of time and good work.
- Most challenging year due to a slowdown in the economy and managing client service delivery during a long period of lockdown etc.
- Fortunately, my Corporate work experience particularly on Business Continuity Planning helped me manage my work without disruption as I had already built the required infrastructure for such situations.
- While the first quarter of 2020 continued witnessing growth in assignments and staff, my biggest accomplishment of 2020 so far has been survival and sustainability.
- My firm did not lose any assignments in the challenging times of COVID. My clients have been kind and I have been fortunate!
“Things you wish you did when you started?”
- Had done more research and discussions with experts on whether to go for ‘Specialisation or General Practice’. While there are different schools of thought on this subject, I chose the latter. The decision worked in my favour but it was driven more by gut vs. analysis.
- Hiring at least 3 people instead of 1. This would make my firm appear more ready and sustainable in the eyes of prospective clients.
- I should have invested more in technology infrastructure like tax filing platforms, systems, etc. from the very beginning vs. waiting for assignments to come. That would have made me more prepared later when work started flowing in.
- Attending more seminars of ICAI, Bombay Chartered Accountants Society and other forums to improve my awareness in the areas of practice.
- Should have done networking much before I started.
“How did you bootstrap your CA Firm?”
I did plan my cash-flows well with sufficient buffer and was conservative in my estimates as one can never predict how long will it take to generate revenue.
I set a target for myself that if I’m unable to break-even in 3 years then I would revisit my decision.
One should have adequate savings to be able to sustain even with zero income for at least one year.
"You don’t need a new sunrise to start over, you only need a new mindset!"
I started CA practice at the age of 42. While it is true that if I had started earlier, I would have reached bigger milestones by now yet I do not regret the timing of my start.
The best time is not a certain age number but is when one is willing and mentally prepared.
Believe in yourself and be confident enough to instill confidence in your clients. Never compromise on integrity and ethics even if it means you have to let go of some of your high-paying assignments. Take care of your reputation. It lives longer than you!
Gautam Thakker has diverse industry experience in FMCG, Healthcare/Pharmaceutical, Banking/Financial Services, Engineering MNCs across multiple geographies. In 2017, he founded Gautam Thakker & Associates and is also a Board Member (Non-Executive Director) of a few corporate clients.
Now It's Your Turn...
Would you pursue CA at the age of 29? Would you quit your job to start your own? Gautam is happy to answer all your questions, connect with him at email@example.com.
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