How an impromtu decision to quit her job and become an entrepreneur took CS Sharada on a journey of a lifetime
- Hi! I am S. C. Sharada, a Company Secretary (CS), lawyer, and founder of S. C. Sharada & Associates, Company Secretaries.
- With determination and sacrifices, I qualified as a CS in 1991 when it was not widely recognized and started my career at a multinational company.
- In 2006 after working in the corporate world there for almost 14 years, I made an impromptu decision to quit my job and became an entrepreneur.
- It has not been smooth sailing - I had to pivot several times, part ways with my co-founder, deal with breast cancer but I can proudly say I braved several storms with the right attitude.
Earning and learning at the same time
Growing up, I never received solid mentorship, but I took valuable advice from my mother who always emphasized the importance of formal education and financial independence.
During my B.Com, a woman company secretary, in a career counseling session, said CS is a course where we can continue to earn while we study.
That caught my attention because the family circumstances required me to earn and study simultaneously.
In University, I did not have a penchant for numbers, but legal subjects and writing. My passion combined with the scope of studying while earning made CS the right profession for me.
So after my graduation, I found work that could give me sufficient time to focus on my CS studies.
On a daily basis, I studied in the mornings, went to work, and came back to study in the evenings.
I donned many hats - as a tutor, a receptionist-cum-typist in a pharmaceutical company an Accounts Assistant in my school and a junior assistant in a government department.
Discipline was the key back then and even now.
Finally, I qualified as a CS in 1991 and completed my Bachelor of Laws (LLB) in 1992... All my efforts paid off.
Kickstarting my corporate career
Unlike today, in the late ’80s, the CS profession was unrecognized and often mistaken for general secretary/PA roles.
The practice side of the profession was just evolving and definitely not attractive for a fresher like me. Therefore, it had to be a job.
Even in the corporate world, there were limited opportunities, as we looked in either listed or large unlisted companies, with mandatory CS appointments.
Fortunately, I landed my first job in a public company and later moved to Bühler India, a multinational manufacturing company in Bangalore.
There, I spent 12 good years of learning in the corporate world as a CS, handling a variety of functions and taking challenges that other colleagues avoided. This brought new opportunities and wider recognition within the organization and sowed the seeds for the next phase of my career.
Taking a leap
Over the years, at Bühler India, I was handling legal, banking & indirect taxes in addition to CS responsibilities.
It was a superb journey, but I felt my role was not challenging enough.
One day out of the blue I took a split-second decision to resign – with no planning, no business in hand and no fear of failure. The year was 2006.
I remember how astounded the managing director was to receive my resignation email.
Despite his attempts to make me stay, I maintained my decision and left because I yearned for more challenges and financial growth.
Now came the big question "What Next?
Starting out…with no plan
To start on my own, I approached one of my friends, a corporate lawyer with whom I interacted extensively when I was at Bühler India.
She was supportive and we decided to work together...after all a CS and Lawyer is a great combination.
I never wanted to start a company to render CS services but a client who walked in to discuss his India entry strategies got me and my lawyer friend excited about setting up an LPO (Legal Process Outsourcing). He said he will bring in clients from the US.
Some news of successful KPO buy-outs back in 2005-06 got us starry-eyed, however, it never took off as an LPO for various reasons.
We then pivoted to CS and legal consulting, leveraging our own knowledge and experience from corporate and legal practice. I am grateful to Buhler India for being my first client and offering me a year-long consulting assignment.
Getting clients, valuing our services, quoting the right fees, hiring people, and delivering quality services were difficult in our early stages. Thanks to her practice experience and my corporate stint, we tried our best together.
Unfortunately, after a few years, we parted ways due to various circumstances.
Parting ways with a co-founder is not easy and I had to do a quick course correction to stay on the runway.
In 2013, I decided to set up my own individual practice S.C. Sharada & Associates, offering company secretarial and legal consulting services to start-ups, joint ventures, wholly-owned subsidiaries, incubators, and not-for-profit companies.
Challenges and the way ahead
2013 was almost a milestone year.
I was getting settled when the Big C – Breast Cancer struck me. It shook me up but never defeated my spirits.
While out of office for nine months, my team served our clients with the same quality while I was transparent and not ashamed of my illness. I worked intermittently between chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation while attending board meetings bald-headed!
Once I returned I focused on empowering employees to become better leaders and communicators. This way, we stabilized the practice, retained employees, broadened our client base, carved new practice areas, strengthened systems and processes, and achieved depth in our work.
By referring clients to trustworthy service providers, I gained goodwill and credibility. I can confidently say ‘Givers Gain’.
In the last three years, we have been keeping up-to-date with the ever-changing laws and regulations through in-house presentations and newsletter articles.
As an early-stage start-up legal mentor at IIM Bangalore for over 4 years now, I have observed founders at close quarters and understood their business strategies, challenges, successes, and failures. I have a deep insight into the start-up funding space which is exciting and demanding in terms of timelines.
Besides regular corporate work, I am excited to provide governance structure advisory, channel CSR funds from corporates to NGOs, handle trusts and societies to become better-governed structures and work with incubators (which are section 8 companies).
The mixed experience in the early days gave me insights about finding suitable partners, doing a business plan, analyzing strengths and weaknesses, entering into a Founders Agreement, and being clear about all details. Now, I use the experience to mentor and guide other start-up founders.
Breast Cancer could not stop me. I never felt ashamed of myself and even attended board meetings with a dupatta around my bald head (loss of hair during chemo treatment).
On the personal front, while I was at Bühler, my family expanded and I had two children.
Normally, women have to sacrifice their careers to build stable homes for their children and families. As for me, I decided I will sacrifice neither.
I must acknowledge the tremendous role my husband played in supporting me all through.
I am no superwoman but with determination, discipline and dedication nothing is impossible.
My message to all CS professionals – Unlike before, a CS can now head finance, internal audit, human resource, and legal or set up a practice in many areas. We are well-equipped to serve Boards as Independent Directors as well. So go out and seize the opportunities.
The world is our oyster!