How this CA From India Got a 100% MBA Scholarship in Switzerland and now working in Sweden. Here is his story.

  • Have you ever considered studying in Switzerland on a 100% scholarship and then working in Denmark and Sweden?
  • A lot of us would love to work in Europe but do not know how to get there. In fact: In today's article, Shrihari Venkateshwaran shares with us his journey from becoming a Chartered Accountant to studying in Switzerland on a 100% scholarship to working in Denmark and Sweden. 
  • Shrihari is a qualified Chartered Accountant from India (The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) and has done his MBA from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland on a 100% scholarship.
  • Here is his story.

Humble Beginnings

Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions.

I come from a conservative and orthodox family from the southern part of India and spent most of my childhood days in the lush green and mountainous parts of western ghats in India.

My father is an ex-banker and my mom is a homemaker. Growing up, I was always chased to score high marks and my parents were very particular about getting a 90+ in every exam. I wouldn’t call myself super-intelligent but then mostly because of this “pressure”, I always ended up scoring 90 plus in most of the exams.

To think of it, I regret the fact that I was more focused on scoring rather than enjoying what was being taught. Merit is important but these high scores will not define who you will become or what you will be. After a certain point, there is little relevance to quote our high school or our graduation rank/marks.

Be it choosing Commerce after high school or Bachelor of Business Management (BBM) for graduation...I jumped the gun. It was all a momentary decision and there was no turning back!

From Almost Changing Lanes To Qualifying as a CA

I must admit, I was also one among many who got lured because of a high earning potential and I enrolled for the Chartered Accountancy program from ICAI even before I completed my class 12 exams.

But then while doing BBM, pursuing an MBA seemed more attractive than CA and I was on the verge of dropping CA. That is when I had my first mentoring and career counselling session.

Mentoring can have a huge impact on one's career and in my case, it helped me to understand the potential of CA as a profession that put me back on track.

My CA journey was very interesting and I learnt a lot during my articles. The most important aspect I realized while doing CA was it is very important to surround yourself with the right kind of people/ friends. In my case, I had 4-5 friends who were all highly ambitious and that started to have an effect on me.

I would not call my CA journey to be super easy but at the same time, I wouldn’t call it an arduous journey.

Taking a Plunge in the Corporate World and Pursuing CIMA

After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant, I got into EY India as a Corporate Tax Consultant. But soon I realized Tax was not something I would be interested to make a career in.

I switched to Infosys (a leading IT company in India) as a Budget and Cost Controller which helped me to explore further study options like CFA, CIMA and FRM. After speaking to a few individuals, I decided to pursue CIMA due to the fact that in the curriculum there is a good blend of theoretical as well as practical knowledge.

Was CIMA worth it after CA? What I failed to research was the extent of the reach of the CIMA professional qualification. Apart from UK/Ireland, few Middle Eastern countries and SouthEast Asian countries, there is not much scope for CIMA. At this point in time, I would say I have not got the return for my investment in CIMA (yet!).

CIMA: It has 4 levels of exams if you start from scratch. In my case, since I was already a Chartered Accountant, I started the CIMA journey by writing Management Case Study Exam (Management Level). There are many fast track options that the institute offers if you have finished a certain level of education. You can find more of the details here. Apart from registration, each exam sitting has a fee and also you have to pay an annual subscription fee. For a member, we have to pay GBP 275 every year.

Pursuing an MBA After CA In Switzerland On A 100% Scholarship

After completing my CIMA, I was not very happy with my decision. I felt that it was not getting me the recognition that I expected. It was in 2016 that I started investing my time in preparing for GMAT to pursue an MBA abroad.

For MBA, it is always a very strong factor to have 3-4years of work experience and in my case, I had 3 years of articleship and around 3 years of professional experience which I felt was the right mix for applying for an MBA along with my academic qualifications. Unlike other professional qualifications, doing MBA needs meticulous planning.

In addition to an expensive budget, you also need to quit your job which means there is an opportunity cost involved as well. In my case, I was on a budget constraint. I was not in a position to take a hefty education loan as I already had a Housing Loan.

How Did I Get a Scholarship to study in Switzerland? The good thing about GMAT registration is that you will receive these promotional emails from different universities which will give you an opportunity to apply for scholarships.

While I was preparing for GMAT, I had received one such message for a scholarship from The University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. I took part in essay competition at the University of St.Gallen and apply for the scholarship. This university was not on the list of colleges but then I chose to take part in this as a mock preparation as I had nothing to lose.

I did not take this opportunity lightly and I gave it a good amount of time to write the essay on Manufacturing companies of Swiss - competencies, and challenges.

Based on this essay, I was shortlisted for a couple of interviews including a discussion with the Dean of the Business School.

These interviews are designed to check on the stress levels, clarity of thoughts, passion and the drive. It can push you to the edge but always remember when pushed to the edge, you get to bring your true self.

Based on the essay and the interviews, I was given admission to their MBA program with a 100% scholarship.

Accepting the scholarship? Given the situation, this was the best thing I could have asked for but then I was not ready to accept just for the scholarship without doing enough research. I started connecting with the alumni and had quite a lot of interaction with them before deciding to join. Unlike my graduation or CIMA, this time I did quite a lot of research and I was aware of what I was getting into.

And finally decided to go ahead with this college for my MBA.

After MBA: Challenges in Finding a Job in Switzerland 

Europe is not an easy place to land a job as an expat. Each of the countries has its own reputed institutions and naturally, preferences would be given to those graduates.

While in Switzerland as an expat, it is very hard to get a work permit.

In spite of having a good experience and educational background, I was not lucky enough to get a job within Switzerland. One of the factors which also played against me was not knowing German.

So if you are coming to Europe, invest your time to learn French or German (at least till B1 or B2). Along with focusing on my course, I was equally focused on getting good connections on LinkedIn.

What Next? Applying for Finance Jobs in Scandinavian countries.

In my case, once I realized getting a job within Switzerland was going to nearly impossible, I started to explore countries like Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Middle East and also back home (India).

Thanks to my admissions officer, I got to know about Scandinavian countries and I started to apply for jobs in Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

There was a time when I was using LinkedIn more than any other social media.

Finding a Job Opportunity in Denmark

I was determined to find a job before I completed my MBA. Luckily I came across an opportunity in a well known Dairy Company in Denmark.

I had no referrals or any inside contact for this role. I applied like any other through their job portal and when I had the chance to talk to the hiring manager, I made sure to be myself and not to flatter just to get a job.

Before the interview, I had spent more than 20 hours studying this dairy company and its competitors, the dairy industry and general macro trends affecting this industry.

I was methodical in my approach for this interview which helped me to crack the entire process.

Within three weeks of my first interview, I had an offer letter and that moment, my friends, is truly unforgettable. A major weight off your back is always a good feeling.

It was my drive and networking which helped me secure this job opportunity in Denmark.

Losing my job in Denmark and Moving to Sweden

Switzerland to Denmark was a remarkable journey. New country, new culture, new industry - there was a whole lot of new experience in this for me.

I got into Performance Management at my new company where I was looking into all the future investments. It was an exciting role and I felt at home working for this amazing company. Just when I was enjoying my work and settling in, I hit a roadblock. This dairy company had a re-organization which resulted in me losing my job! It was shocking as I had never experienced something like this and I was losing my sleep over it.

After a few days, I was back to square one and I started to network and apply for jobs. It was not an easy process but I DID NOT  lose my motivation. Within three months (a deadline I had set myself), I was able to find a new job but then those three months felt more like three years.

After that, I was lucky to find an opportunity in H&M, Sweden. From a seamless interview process to an amazing team, I am enjoying this experience with H&M. Once again thanks to LinkedIn, I was able to join this amazing company. There is no shortcut to success.

Questions I get asked most often.

"What is it like Studying in Switzerland?"

The scholarship amount covered only my tuition fees which means I still had to take an education loan to support my living expenses.

The MBA was a year program and considering the intense levels, it was not possible to work while studying and hence I opted to take an education loan of EUR 18000 to support my cost of living in Switzerland.

Living as a student in Switzerland:

  • Switzerland is a very expensive country and it is not easy to survive as a student.
  • On average, you would need around EUR 1500-2000 to support yourself including housing.
  • What helped me to reduce this budget was a 3-month internship which is a part of the MBA.
  • Since this is a paid internship, you will get around EUR 2500-3000 which will help you to lighten the burden of the expenses.

"What is The Cost of Living in Sweden and Denmark?"

  • In the cost of living index, these two countries are always in the top 10. It is a very expensive place and in addition to that you will have to pay high tax (income tax alone in the range of 30-45% and if you add indirect then you will shell out around 55-60% in tax itself)
  • Salary levels in these countries are not as high as in other European Countries. The salary level depends on what kind of qualification you have and the experience you carry with you. With MBA+a professional qualification and work experience of 4-5 years, you can expect to get a package of EUR 55-60K
  • Housing can be expensive and difficult to find. In Denmark, you would need an average of EUR 2000-2500 while in Sweden you would need around EUR 2000 and be prepared to shell more than 50% of this budget on housing.
  • When it comes to VISA, it is not difficult to get one if you have a proper work contract. In Sweden, you can become a Permanent Resident in 4 years and a Citizen in 5-6years.

"How I Found Job Opportunities in Europe as an Expat Chartered Accountant?"

1. Finding a job in Europe

  • Finding a job within Europe could be a really hard game with most of the companies freezing their budgets. But don't stop your efforts. Countries like the Netherlands, Germany are hiring a lot of expats.
  • As I have mentioned, start networking with people on LinkedIn.
  • Connect with people, talk to them and let them know your area of expertise and how much value you can add to their team. Be sure to show that you have an open mind to change and adapt.

2. Do not restrict yourself to only one country

  • Don't restrict your options to one country within Europe.
  • Central and Eastern European countries are having a lot of vacancies and be prepared to explore that part of the continent as well

3. Professional Degree

  • Get a professional international degree - CFA or FRM or MBA.
  • If you decide to pursue an MBA, try to specialize in Data analytics, design thinking, AI-related field etc which are going to shape the next 5-10years. They are in-demand jobs in European countries.
  • It is ok if you have an average performance in your schooling and college education.
  • Have a sound SoP, a good GMAT score and prepare well for the interview- naturally you will get a good scholarship which can take your burden off to a great extent.

3. Invest in learning the local language

  • Wherever you are in Europe, please invest your time in learning the local language!
  • So if you are coming to Europe, invest your time to learn French or German (at least till B1 or B2).

4. Network network network

  • Last but not least, don't sit back and wait for companies to reach you.
  • Keeping knocking until they open the door for you. Never ever give up!
  • Networking is the secret code to get a job in Europe.
  • Once you are in Europe, start talking to professionals who you think can help you.
  • Ask for their time, meet them and express your interest in working for them.
  • DO NOT GO WITHOUT PROPER INFORMATION about the company or the person you are talking to. It can be a big turn off.

Wrapping up...

"Fix a goal and make that goal your life" - this is what I have done so far and I will be doing it for the future as well.

As I am writing this, I can very much say this is just the beginning of my journey and I am loving whatever has been put on my way. At 31, I am not saying I have all the experience to make the good decisions but then as I share my experience here, I believe some of you would be able to take a note of some of my bad decisions and not commit the same mistakes as I did.

When I look back, I see a lot of last-minute decisions, seesaw battles, poor judgement and many such which given a chance I would love to go back in time and change.

Opportunities are fast changing. My mother always used to say this - "concentrate hard on your studies and score well in this exam. It is going to change your life". I can tell those exams had little impact but now I concentrating hard on learning, unlearning and relearning.

Passing exams are one level, learning on a job is the other. Be prepared to disrupt and do your homework thoroughly. There is no room for excuse. From India to Switzerland to Denmark and to Sweden - if I have done this so can YOU.

Now It's Your Turn

Have you considered working or studying in Europe? If yes, what are you doing about it?

I could be reached on LinkedIn at - Shrihari Venkateshwaran.

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