This CA and ex-Big 4 Partner started his firm as a one-man army at 48 and today thriving with 120+employees
- Hi, I’m Arvind Devanathan a Chartered Accountant and Entrepreneur from India.
- In 2010, after almost 2 decades of working in the industry and as a Partner at Big 4 firms, at the age of 48, I founded D Arvind & Associates LLP.
- Today our firm comprises 5 Partners and more than 120 employees with headquarters in Mumbai and offices in Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Coimbatore, and Hyderabad.
- Here is my story.
From 41% in 10th grade to CA in the first attempt
I had a humble upbringing, starting my education in a vernacular (Tamil) medium school in Chennai, India.
When I was in 7th grade, my parents realized that I needed a more rigorous education and shifted me to a challenging English-medium CBSE board.
The sudden transition made it difficult for me to cope with things and as expected I failed in many subjects. In fact, I just scraped through and was promoted to the next class.
Fast forward, in class 10, I was made to work extremely hard and eventually passed with just 41%! (The moment I saw the result, I jumped with joy to the amusement of my friends, relatives, and parents.)
Then started the most difficult days in my life, college admissions!
Finally, my school after all the convincing decided to admit me in their Commerce Stream...my parents' untiring efforts paid off!
To everyone’s surprise, I topped my school in the 12th board exams. This was the turning point in my life.
I later got B.Com admission to one of the most prestigious colleges in Chennai and eventually started with my CA journey.
I quickly cleared all the CA exams (without multiple attempts) in the year 1986!
Career in Indirect Taxation as a CA Fresher to Tax & Legal Head
When I started my career after qualifying as a CA (1986), I did not have any idea what I would be doing!
I soon got an opportunity at ACC (leading player in the Indian building materials space) but in their 'indirect taxation team (and not accounts or finance)'.
I wasn’t sure about this role, but I was selected after several rounds of interviews. Moreover, they allotted me a nice flat which I thought was too much for a person from a very humble background as myself. I was so excited and took up the opportunity.
A few years later (1990), I joined DCW Ltd, a chemical company based out of a remote salt village in Southern India, and became their youngest general manager at the age of 33.
I later got an offer from Castrol Ltd, in the year 1997. This opportunity was in Mumbai and it was daunting to move from a traditional and Tamil-speaking village to the commercial capital of the country!
In all honesty, the first few years were quite difficult due to the language, MNC culture and my lack of exposure to technology.
However, I put my head down and worked hard (as always) and quickly became their 'Tax and Legal head' by getting promoted every alternate year.
Industry to Big 4 Firm - the unfamiliar territory of consulting
After almost six years at Castrol, I reached a saturation point when I realized that while my designation may keep improving, my role was not growing.
As I started my next job hunt, I received many offers as group head of taxes for reputable industrial groups, but I was not satisfied.
Around the same time, I met Mr. S. Thirumalai, the then-head of the 'Indirect Tax practice' at Deloitte. He persuaded me to join consulting and asked me to head the Mumbai practice for indirect taxes at Deloitte.
As I was looking for a new challenge, I realized that consulting would allow me to work with multiple clients across varied sectors. This was exactly the kind of growth and learning I was looking for, so I took it up!
Consulting was initially difficult, but it didn’t take me long to master the art.
Soon, I was able to advise large clients of the firm on 'tax matters' and 'handle their litigations' before the tribunal with ease.
My greatest challenge was the revenue targets and the need to bring in quality clients for the firm. This was not a skill I had developed and I found it highly challenging. However again I made up for it with sheer hard work and perseverance.
All in all, it was a couple of years of struggle, but I was able to grow greatly at Deloitte.
Unplanned entrepreneurial leap
Much like most of the significant moments of my life, my entrepreneurial journey was pure serendipity.
After a few years at Deloitte, I moved to KPMG and was leading their indirect tax practice for the southern region.
At this time, a dear friend of mine had just started a pharmaceuticals company and urged me to join his board as the Finance and Legal Director with an equity stake.
(This friend had previously offered me a role in his startup but I was deep into my industry career and hence refused. Later his venture went on to get acquired for almost USD 60 million.)
I did not want to miss this opportunity and so resigned from KPMG only to realize that managing commercial, finance and legal operations of a pharma company was certainly not my cup of tea!
At this stage, I had two options - I could go back to the Big 4 or start something on my own.
My wife remembered the stress I had endured at the Big 4 on travel and targets and suggested that I should not return to those. (My wife supported me wholeheartedly in every walk of life!)
Also, since my financial needs were always limited, I decided to take the plunge and start on my own to face the unknown one more time.
That is how 'D Arvind & Associates LLP' was born in the year 2010 as a one-man army.
Growing the firm
I started in Chennai in a 1000 sq feet office at a prime place as I was very particular that even a small office should be in the right place and building.
A few months later, an ex-colleague joined me and so did my son, Akshay who had just passed class 12.
For the first three years, I was going slow but steadily growing. However, the moment my son and nephew passed their CA exams and decided to continue with our firm, I made up my mind to grow this to a large firm.
Was it an easy road? Not at all. We faced several challenges, the main being the ability to attract and retain the right talent.
My USP has always been tax optimization and fighting complicated litigations before tribunals. I have excelled at this right from my days in the industry. These skills really helped me build the firm’s reputation.
- I took my first year very lightly as the intention was to do chamber practice without the need for much travel.
- By the end of the first year, the firm consisted of 2 partners, 5 articles. My son (Akshay) who cleared his CA Intermediate Exam and started his formal articles with the firm.
- At the beginning of 2011, I lost my only partner to the Big 4.
- We were left with just me and 6 articles including my son. By the end of the year, my nephew (Adithya) also completed his CA Intermediate and joined me for his articles.
- The team might not have been large but business kept growing slowly and steadily.
- We handled a few significant Tax optimization Studies and litigations that kickstarted our growth.
- By the end of the year, we had moved to our own office.
- As our Business grew well, we recruited two Chartered Accountants, an EX IRS and a couple of more articles, and the team grew from 7 to 18.
- By this time, we had also expanded to handling Indirect tax issues and litigations of big MNCs and Indian Corporates. However, we remained focused on Indirect taxes.
- With another successful year under our belt, we moved to an even bigger office.
- These were the crucial years of growth for the firm.
- A CFO from a large MNC also joined our firm as an Advisor to start 'non-Indirect Tax services'. My son also cleared CA and the business started growing well.
- We were servicing many MNC clients in Mumbai, Pune and felt the need for starting an office in Mumbai. However, the commercial rents in Mumbai were terribly prohibitive.
- In a move of sheer conviction, I decided to pool my savings and purchased a small 1200 sq. feet office in a posh complex at Andheri from where we started.
- My son moved to Mumbai and joined our advisor there to set up an office and soon Mumbai was our new headquarters.
- My son was made Partner and asked to lead the Mumbai practice. My nephew also qualified CA and was made a partner in charge of the practice in Chennai. This left me with ample time to explore other geographies and opportunities.
- By 2016, we had a sizeable client based in Bangalore and we opened our third office here. We roped in a senior finance professional to head the practice there.
- We also collaborated with a dear friend, Mr. Shailendra Gokhale, who used to head the supply chain at Castrol, and this allowed us to expand our offerings to supply chain, cost optimization and business consulting in the oil sector.
- 6 years into the journey, our firm had grown to a size of over 60 employees.
- Many changes in regulation during this period offered DAA with large avenues for growth.
- GST was implemented and it paved the way for great expansion.
- Many of our clients opted for us instead of the big 4 Firms to handle their indirect tax matters including migration from the old regime to the new GST regime.
- With this new expansion, we opened offices in Hyderabad and Coimbatore in 2018.
- The insolvency and Bankruptcy code, which was brought during this period, gave us new opportunities.
- My daughter Mannya also became a lawyer and a company secretary and started assisting us with NCLT and CESTAT litigation.
- With an increasing portfolio of clients and services, Mr. Satish Sangameswaran, one of the most respected tax professionals and Senior partner from PwC, joined the firm, bringing in a new and valued skillset to the leadership team.
- Later, Mr. G. Siva Kumar, left his role as a CFO of a very large company to join us and manage Audit, assurance and financial advisory services.
- By 2019, we had expanded to open a shared office in Pune and the firm size crossed 100 for the first time.
- Then came COVID. It has been a challenge but the firm is still standing steady.
When I started my entrepreneurial journey, the first year, we had a small client base and I earned 10% of the income I earned in a Big 4 as a partner but I never doubted my decision.
As a matter of fact, it took me close to six years to reach my Big 4 kind of earnings!
I never doubted my decision, even though I could reach my Big 4 earnings only after six years of starting the firm.