This Chartered Accountant Failed 11 times And Now a Ph.D. & Professor At B Schools

The Finance Story

  • Failure is inevitable in life. We all have to face failure at some point or the other. Failure is a learning experience. Nothing in life goes in vain - failures in particular.
  • I am CA (Dr.) SK Ganguli from Kolkata (India). Today I am a Chartered Accountant, a Ph.D., a professor at top business schools...but this was not always the case. I failed multiple times in life before realizing that Nothing in Life is a Waste Especially Failure.
  • Here is my story of Failures and Never Giving up.

Tracing Back Roots - Dealing with Failures Early On

I was born in a highly educated Bengali joint family in the suburb of Kolkata (India).

My grandfather was a professor of Mathematics at the University of Calcutta. He was instrumental in establishing a number of schools and colleges and a legendary figure in his time. My father was an economist. My uncles were engineers, doctors and so on.

In a family like this expectation so far as academic excellence was concerned ran very high. Thus right from the very beginning, being the junior-most male member of my generation I was subjected to 'intense comparison' in the backdrop of the brilliant academic performance of my uncle’s sons who were much senior to me.

While my first cousins got an opportunity to study in top-class schools, I was sent to a local Bengali medium school (not even an English Medium school). But the icing on the cake was my own mediocrity!

In grade 12, I took pure science. My private tutor of Mathematics told my father (and in my presence) – Your son is not sharp enough – reinforcing my family’s assessment of me. 

I managed to secure a first-class in class 12 exams ( remember that in those days only around 3% of students used to get First Class). Unfortunately, I failed miserably in the state joint entrance examination of engineering, IIT entrance examination and so on. I appeared for those examinations without any special tuition and no guidance at all.

I was broken, dejected and miserable. I considered myself a real ‘good for nothing (a term ascribed to me by an English teacher when I was in my primary class, and subconsciously I carry the stamp even today).

Changing Lanes: Switching to Commerce And Pursuing CA

In the backdrop, B.Com was considered the right choice for me. The only silver lining was- I could secure entry in one of the top two commerce colleges in Calcutta as I had performed very well in the college interview.

Being essentially a student from a science background, I hated commerce subjects, I found accounting too mechanical, law too boring and so on.  

In a  different setting and good company in college, I witnessed my new found friends talking about Chartered Accountancy, Cost Accountancy, and Company Secretary.

Many of my friends started preparing for the CA Entrance exam (now known as CPT) after a few months into B.Com. But my own low self-esteem and inferiority complex caused hesitation in starting preparation for CA entrance.

In the second year of B.Com when I found some of my friends clearing the CA Entrance exam, I also started preparing for it. And here started my CA Journey from ICAI (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India). 

My Journey Becoming a Chartered Accountant

Since I decided to pursue CA while still in college, my CA Entrance exams and B.Com exams were around the same time. I worked many times harder for the CA entrance examination and cleared but I ended up failing B.Com. Failing B.Com was a real shocker. However, I gave my best and managed to clear the B.Com  exams later on!

After clearing the CA Entrance, I could start with my articles and simultaneously had to prepare for CA Intermediate Exams (second level CA Exams).  I started my articles in a big audit firm in Kolkata. (I got into that firm through an interview process)

Though it was big a firm with a variety of clients, it specialized in internal and management audit of tea gardens. I had to spend long hours in the office and had to go on outstation tea garden audits in North Bengal and Assam (that is away from my city, Kolkata).

I got a lot of work exposure during my articleship but my studies suffered.  Just for a few marks in aggregate, I failed to clear CA Intermediate examinations in my first attempt.

In my CA Intermediate second attempt, I cleared Group One and then my real struggle started.  It took me 5 years and 11 attempts to clear CA Intermediate Group 2.

Now it was time to overcome the last and final hurdle of becoming a Chartered Accountant - CA Final Examinations. 

For my CA Final exams, I got a tutor ( Professor Asim Sengupta) who was a retired CEO of a big MNC. One day he just casually put his hand around me and said 'Do you know that in quant papers – you are as good as some of the rank holders I have taught? If you don’t believe yourself, just have some faith in me’.

Finally, I had someone who believed in me and considered me worthwhile. This one statement made all the positive difference in my life. Sometimes having only one single person believe in you can make a world of a difference.

CA Final exams were not smooth sailing, but at the same time, it was not as painful as CA Intermediate. One fine morning I discovered that I did reach the destination, I was a qualified Chartered Accountant. Woohoo!!!

Dealing with Personal Issues

My personal life was in turbulence as my parents fell terribly sick. My father had a massive heart attack just prior to one of my many attempts at CA Intermediate Group 2, nevertheless, I didn’t miss appearing for the exams.

Just to add to these problems my father got entangled in a series of court cases (all were basically property disputes involving tenants).

As my father was sick, I used to appear in the courts for him. My studies suffered enormously but at the same time, I got first-hand exposure as to how the law and legal system worked.

In between, I finished my articles, remained unemployed for quite some time and through some connection landed a job with one of the group companies of Birlas. It was the job of a despatch clerk of a share department (nothing fancy).

I am a Chartered Accountant. What Next?

Post that I left my job at the Birla company and got a job as a works accountant outside of my hometown. But I couldn’t take it up because of problems of the preoccupation of handling the court cases and acting as a caregiver of my ailing parents.

It was then that I decided to start my own CA practice. I started operating from my home that was neither in an office district nor in a decent locality. Somehow I started getting some small clients who used to come to me for income tax matters.

At that point in time, the real estate boom started taking place in my locality. Some of the developers came to me for tax purposes initially, and then they started consulting me all the other ancillary legal matters. The practical exposure in my personal property matters and the kind of disputes I had to deal with, came handy in those consultations.

I started getting some cases in company law matters that called for appearance before the Company Law Board.

My Journey in Academics

Writing Articles, Speaking at Prestigious Colleges and getting a Ph.D. I also prepared a dossier containing details of accounting treatment to be followed in the real estate development business.

My friend late Rahul Roy ( later on to become the youngest president of the ICAI and a partner of Ernst & Young before leaving for the heavenly abode at 47 ! ), seeing the dossier suggested to me to write an article on the topic and send the same for publication.

First I didn’t give much importance to the suggestion but after a few months, in some spare time I made an article from the voluminous dossier and sent it to the Hindu Business Line (a well-known business magazine) and the same got published in 2 installments. I got paid for writing!  Then I regularly started writing for HBL.

One led to other and I was called upon to deliver a lecture at the training institute for the revenue service officers in Kolkata many times on accounting and accounting standards. Based on the feedback, I was invited to talk on Accounting Standard at the nodal academy for training IRS officers at Nagpur.

Then a call came from IIM- Calcutta to teach the financial accounting course. Before long I knew, I took a serious plunge in teaching and training. I was advised to do a Ph.D. if I wanted to take up teaching full time. And yes, I started my Ph.D. taking a finance topic.

Here, mathematics and statistics  I learned hard way at our time at CA Intermediate came very handy. That is when I realized - Nothing in life is a waste.

After completing a Ph.D. I switched over to academics full time. My journey is as follows:

  • I started my stint with the Institute of Management Technology (IMT)- Nagpur (India)
  • Then moved on to Institute of Management Technology- Ghaziabad (IMT) for 6 years as a full-time professor of Finance
  • Then joined Xavier Institute of Management - Bhubaneswar as a Professor
  • In between, I went abroad ( Warsaw, Poland) and Dubai as a visiting professor.
  • I presented academic papers in numerous international conferences that, among others included conferences at the University of Cambridge (UK), University of London, finance and economics conference of Miami, Florida (USA) ( awarded best presenter certificate) and so on.
  • My papers mainly on finance and corporate governance have been published in tiered academic journals in India and abroad.
  • At the moment he is also writing a book on Financial Management as per the new syllabus of CA and doing a lot more.

In Conclusion...

On a serious note,  I say that years of struggle and unending failures have taught me the below 4 principles:

  1. Failures happen for a reason. Failure can either CHANGE you or SHAPE you.
  2. Nothing in life goes in vain - failures in particular. All are not lucky. But please understand you are luckier than a lot many. If you have to struggle - please don't run away. Despite the struggle, you may never succeed. But someway would emerge. The struggle may take you in a different direction altogether.
  3. Everything happens for a reason. From extreme bad, extraordinary good can emerge beyond your comprehension.
  4. Hope is the - Biggest Thing, Never Lose It

And a Big Thank You to my wife who supported me through all of it. Without her support life would not be the same.

Now It's Your Turn...

I would love to know what have you learned from my journey?

Have you faced failures in life? How do you deal with them? 

Leave a comment below and let me know. 

I could be reached at skganguli@rediffmail.com or Dr. Santanu K. Ganguli on  LinkedIn.

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