This Partner at KPMG UAE shares how important it is to have your career laid out and still be brave to make bold moves
With 34-years of work experience, Raajeev can say one thing, chartered accountancy gives people a sense of financial security. Raajeev is a partner, and head of quality and risk management at KPMG.
- Raajeev Batra is a chartered accountant (CA), Partner and head of quality and risk management at KPMG.
- Raajeev worked in Saudi Arabia for eight years as part of his early career before returning to India.
- He has been in KPMG for 17 years and has substantial work experience in sectors including Real Estate & Construction, Urban infrastructure, Aviation, and Consumer goods.
- His advice to everyone is to not be scared of change and embrace technology.
Decided to become a CA at 10
I do not know if CA was a plan or destiny, but I do strongly believe that there was a defining moment in my life that helped me reach where I am today.
My uncle is a CA who went on an overseas trip to China in the late 70s.
I was 10 years old at that time.
When I went to pick up my uncle from the airport he handed me a red ballpoint pen that he brought from China.
That one small gesture, and my uncle’s ability to go overseas and build a career as a CA left an indelible impression on my 10-year-old mind.
That is how this desire to become a CA took shape.
Rush to leave the country
Thanks to a few CAs around me, I was clear with what I wanted in my career very early on.
In the 1980s India was not quite as evolved as it is today.
Finance transformation had not started taking place thus everyone was in a rush to leave the country for a better life and more opportunities.
I was not so different!
At that time all I wanted to do was to get my CA qualification as soon as possible and move to an overseas location.
I mainly aimed for an international Accounting firm, most preferably PwC as that would open doors for me.
But you should know that back then (1984) PwC like any other Big 4 firm did not hire undergraduates but I did not give up and somehow managed to get through.
PwC actually shaped my career.
Lesson to note: Getting the right first break largely impacts the trajectory of our career. So be mindful before taking up your first job offer.
Fast forward to 1988, soon after completing my CA, I took a leap to E&Y… eventually moving to Saudi Arabia.
Taking a salary cut and returning to India in 1996
After eight long years in the Middle East, I was making some decent money, and was happy with what I was doing, most importantly.
Then again destiny played its card very favourably for me.
In the early 1990s, India started going through its economic liberalization under the leadership of Dr. Manmohan Singh.
Now it was time for me to see what India had to offer.
One fine day in 1996 I quit my job with E&Y Saudi Arabia and returned home and joined Arthur Andersen (one of the largest public accounting firms) as a Manager.
Of course, upon entering I took a significant salary cut. But I knew for sure that I wanted to remain in this profession, I wanted to serve clients, and I needed to have a variety of experiences. Most importantly, I believed in India's growth!
There were two special areas that I am extremely passionate about - One is infrastructure and the other is aviation.
Coincidentally when I was working with KPMG in India, I got an opportunity to serve GMR, who had won the bid to take over operations of the Delhi International airport, as part of the Airport privatization initiated by the Government of India.
I took the opportunity.
One month into the project with GMR and I was offering services to the Mumbai airport as well, which was also being privatized.
I was there when the privatisation of the aviation sector was taking off in the country. Being able to surround myself with the right skills, and utilising the opportunity was important for me.
Three years went by and I ended up advising almost every aviation player in India.
Lesson to note: From this experience, I learnt just how much it is important to have a journey laid out in our minds.
Leveraging India’s growth and taking an untraditional route to return to India was one of my best decisions! Those experiences I think I still value and treasure.
Age is no restriction: Starting my career in the UAE at the age 50
On the career front, everything was going on very well.
In 2015 I had just turned 50 and got an opportunity to move to the UAE.
Honestly, at this stage of my career and life, UAE was not on my list.
In fact, it is ironic that I obviously wanted to work in the UAE, when I was in Saudi Arabia because Dubai has that flamboyance, and it is a global city.
One might say “Why would you want to change your career at the stage when you are well established and a Partner & Head of Governance Risk & Compliance Services in KPMG India?”
But I did not think age was an issue. At that moment I looked to achieve two things; a larger leap in my career and an opportunity to transform a service line, which I would be leading.
Most importantly, I was doing this being in KPMG.
I joined KPMG in the UAE as a member of the Executive Committee, thus contributing to the decision-making of the organization.
To go through that significant career change was an important choice that I had to make.
Lesson to note: When you are changing your career at that crucial stage of your life you should not look at only your salary.
Managing the challenges in my career
The biggest challenge in my opinion is changing.
It can be unsettling at times when an organization goes through change, or even your personal life goes through some changes.
There are a few instances where I was steadily growing but suddenly it stopped and the pace took a downturn.
I remember, 15 years ago, there was an FDI boom in India, a lot of which was being assigned for infrastructure development, specifically in power and urban infrastructure.
This led to a number of companies venturing into these sectors for the first time and earmarking significant funds to construction of projects. Both the investors and promoters needed assurance that the money is being rightfully spent.
With my passion to help organizations manage risk, this was an excellent opportunity that I seized by setting up an advisory service to help manage the construction risk.
This was an unchartered area as I was offering services that typically would be done by an Engineer and not a CA.
However, I thought through this opportunity like an entrepreneur and got the team with a diversity of skills, including engineers, lawyers, accountants and management graduates to provide more holistic advice to clients.
Remember - I am a risk consultant by the way.
As long as you have the right skills and are surrounded by people who have the right skills to support you, your career will grow and you can manage all the challenges.
Future of business
In the end, quality and risk management is all about managing risks. Artificaial Intelligence (AI) and technology are all enablers of this business.
If any professional asked me what are the big job opportunities today, that is not just limited to finance, I would say it is the space of data analytics and visualization, AI, Cyber, and ESG.
The fundamentals of business have not changed, but the way of doing business is surely changing.
Business is still about serving a client or a stakeholder.
Acquiring one professional qualification is a must for financial security, but that alone is not going to get you where you aspire to be.
Clearly upskilling is the name of the game and Chartered accountancy, I still believe, gives you a sense of financial security.
Another thing I want to say before signing off is that, think about what people should know you for.
My identity is not about being a chartered accountant.
There has to be something unique that you have done in your career so that people can relate to or associate with you.
And if you are looking at moving to the UAE - make the move!
UAE is a good place to live and work as it offers global exposure with the biggest grounding in the international business. UAE offers an exceptional quality of life and continues to invest in innovation and infrastructure.
These are the reasons why UAE is ranked among the Top 5 countries to live and work.
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