From facing rejections to being laid off to Country Counsel & Company Secretary at Boeing, India: Meet Dr. Akhil Prasad

The Finance Story

 

  • Hi! I am Dr. Akhil Prasad; Country Counsel and Company Secretary at Boeing, India.
  • I grew up in Meerut (India) and by all means, I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. However, everything started to change when our family businesses started to flounder and the family went into deep financial problems.
  • From being rejected at 15 interviews to traveling in a crowded chartered bus for 10 long years to losing my dad at a young age to losing my job – God has been kind that I have come a long way.
  • The support of my family and my desire to upskill myself at every given opportunity, helped my career to thrive! 
  • I have come to realize that - Life is full of obstacles and the one who keeps learning and walking, is one who will always succeed.
  • Here is my story.

Failing medical exams multiple times

My father was a very popular medical practitioner at Meerut, UP treating over 500 patients every day for free! My mother retired as a Professor of Zoology from RG Degree College, Meerut.

My father’s profession inspired me, and I wanted to be a doctor, like him.  However, he encouraged me to pursue another profession probably realizing that it was necessary to have financial stability.

I spoke to my mother about my desire to be a medical doctor; she convinced my father and he eventually agreed that I would get one attempt to qualify for medical entrance.

As luck would have it, I appeared for most of the medical entrance examinations at that time but failed each one of them by a small margin.

I was deeply distressed.

With no clarity of what I would want to do next, and with very few options, I decided to do a Bachelor of Commerce at Meerut College. 

Being a CS was 'not' my career goal 

After finishing BCom, I started to prepare for MBA entrance examinations.

Shortly, we were told that my name was included in the list (due to be published) of a leading educational institution in Mumbai (those were the days when MBA entrance results were put up on the notice board).

I was very excited. I packed myself and went to Mumbai (India) to pursue my MBA dream. However; when the lists were finally put up, my name was not there!

I decided that now I am not going back to my hometown and instead would do something or the other and make some career for myself.

I then joined a Diploma in Management program at an institution in Mumbai and thanks to support from my Uncle, soon got an internship with Essar Gujarat Limited in Sales and Marketing.

As was perhaps destined, with Essar, I was deputed with their Company Secretary, as they were coming up with a mega-public issue of securities.

Working with the Company Secretary of Essar inspired me a lot.

I was motivated to pursue a career in this field and I took admission to the CS program...here started my CS journey! 

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From family reputation at stake to qualifying as a CS

On the professional front, I thought I was finding some direction, however; on the personal front, we had to face a lot of challenges.

The family was in huge financial problems. A debt recovery case was initiated against my family as the banks deemed us “wilful defaulters”! This was a huge prestige issue as the family had been very well known in the city.

To avoid the looming litigation with the bank and to preserve the family’s honor, we sold some of our prime property to clear our name. (I learnt early in life that “don’t spend reputation to build a fortune, but sacrifice fortune to build a reputation”.)

Shortly, I had to quit my job in Mumbai and return to my hometown, as my father was not keeping well and I thought I should be with him during these distressing times! 

With my father’s failing health and financial problems mounting, pursuing my studies was very difficult to manage, but I persevered, as there were no other options and by God’s grace, cleared all my CS examinations in the first attempt.

Perhaps, destiny wanted me to.

Facing interview rejections and being offered a meager salary!

As a part of the CS curriculum, in 1993, I took up management training with Modi Xerox in New Delhi. 

As soon as I got my CS membership, like most freshly qualified professionals, I was dreaming to conquer the world.

I applied to several companies only to get rejected at every interview. It was heart-wrenching. 

Fortunately, after 15 job rejections, I was selected by Filaments India Limited in New Delhi.

I was all excited however everything was not rosy!

The organizations looked at a CS, as a compliance career and often overlooked the potential that a CS could offer as a corporate counsel. (In fact, I mostly reported to the CFO, as the role of a General Counsel was still evolving.)

Also, the compensation they offered was severely limited. 

What next?

Also Read

How this CA from a tier 2 city in India went on to become a CFO by unlearning and thinking beyond finance

Upskilling and specialization changed my life… Forever!

I realised that I need to upskill so decided to pursue specialization on the legal side.

I started with a law degree from my hometown (1993 - 1996).

Unfortunately, around the same time in 1995, I lost my father, when he was still in his mid-fifties and I was still not married.

As everything fell apart, my mother and I supported each other mentally; reminding ourselves that our forefathers have seen tougher times and we too were to sail through the tough times, with hard work and determination.

By now I was working in Delhi, travelling daily from Meerut (my hometown) to Delhi. (It was a 3-hour one-way commute in an overcrowded bus!)

After I had finished my law degree around 1996, I was looking to upscale my career as a corporate lawyer...only to be told by one recruiter at a large company that my law degree lacked significance and carries no reputation!

In fact, he selected my CV, called me for an interview, and told me this to my face! I wondered why would someone do this!

I then realized that had he just rejected my CV; I would not have received that feedback, which was one of many of my career shaping moments.

I took the feedback positively and immediately decided to pursue a Master of Laws in Commercial Law [LLM (Comm Law) from Meerut University.

(Some people also dissuaded me that LL.M won't give me any career advantage, as LL.M is good only for Professors! My thought was simple, I wanted to enhance my knowledge. Doing an LL.M was never intended that I would get a better job.).

During my 10 years of daily travel from Meerut to Delhi, I completed four degrees.

Then destiny again shone on me and as I completed the LL.M program in 1998, in the year 2000, I was selected to be the Assistant General Manager: Legal for Electrolux Kelvinator and Company Secretary for Intron Limited (another Electrolux Group company).

The then Managing Director indicated that he had selected me because I had a specialization in Commercial Law, I was Company Secretary and I was in possession of LLM.

This endorsed my belief that gaining knowledge was the only way to progress.

I now decided to pursue a Doctorate in Commerce .

Climbing the corporate ladder & pursuing international law

In 2003 I got a position as Senior Attorney and Company Secretary with General Motors (GM) India. This job role changed everything for me.

I travelled to a lot of countries in the Asia-Pacific to help businesses develop vehicle sourcing partnerships with GM Korea, GM Thailand, Fuji Heavy Industries, GM Australia. I was exposed to international colleagues across the region.

By now I started thinking on the lines of the global legal environment and was keen to acquire knowledge of international law.

In 2005, I completed my Doctorate in Commerce and immediately got an opportunity at Disney as a Director of India Legal Affairs and Company Secretary.

I was now convinced that pursuing academics or working hard, is what one can do, which attract opportunities. In my case, it worked! 

Going from success to success only to be laid off!

By now I was with Disney and had a wonderful learning opportunity about content licensing and distribution, with the world’s largest media company.

Around the same time, I completed a Solicitor program under The Law Society of England & Wales and the Chartered Secretary program through the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, United Kingdom (ICSA).

Life seemed right on track! 

However, in 2007 there was a complete revamp of Disney’s various businesses; including a reverse business merger with UTV. This resulted in the redundancy of many senior positions, including mine!

When I got laid off; I was the only income-earning member in my family, kids were small and there were many obligations to honour. This looked very difficult to face.

However, I knew I had to pick myself up, work harder, seek help and leave the rest to God.

I quickly started to reach out to friends and colleagues for assistance, and support. 

What now?

42 rounds and 6 months later, saw light at the end of a tunnel

Fortunately, one of my head hunter friends told me about an opportunity with Fidelity - one of the largest mutual fund and private equity companies in the world.

He told me that it will be a long process and I have to clear almost 40 interviews to get the role and even a single adverse interview will disentitle me to the job! 

A daunting task for someone who had recently lost a job but moments like these make you determined.

I prepared very thoroughly for the interviews and after 6 long months, I was offered an opportunity with Fidelity Investments  India, as it's Head of Legal and Company Secretary. This was in 2007.

Eventually, I was also got Board Membership with the Indian subsidiaries of Fidelity.

International Executive LL.M & bigger opportunities

In 2010, I registered for a Doctorate in Laws of Media Piracy at Meerut University. This was due to the fact that I had gained some excellent experience in content licensing at Disney and thought that I should do research on the subject and get a degree!

A short while later I also thought that it was time for another international qualification.

In, 2011, I was lucky to get admission in the Executive LL.M program conducted jointly by Northwestern University, Illinois and IE Law School, Madrid which I completed in 2012.

Fast forward, in 2012, I was approached by an international head-hunter for a role at Boeing.

All went well and I was selected at Boeing as their Country Counsel Head and Company Secretary. Eventually, Boeing India management was kind enough to include me as a Board Member of its Indian subsidiaries.

In 2015, Boeing provided me an opportunity and trained me at their Leadership Centre at St Louis, US. Then, in 2019, Boeing assisted me to do an Advanced Management Program at The Wharton Business School, Philadelphia, Penn.

God has been kind and upskilling continuously definitely pays off! 

Wrapping Up…

I am blessed to have worked with some of the best businesses and organizations. However, I must confess that I have always constantly focused on introspection, self-assessment, self-improvement, and upskilling.

It seems to me that this is all one can do and makes you a better person, attracts opportunities.

Gain trust and confidence from the clients you serve.

It is also extremely important to devote time to family and pursue your hobbies.

Most important - Always extend a helping hand to people around you.

(Image edited by Ankit Lodhi)

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