Chennai-based Swetha Kochar was often told to dream slow and small because what if she had a child and didn’t feel like returning to work? What if she could not because not many female financial consultants and advisors make it big? Kochar didn’t fall for the advice, she instead followed her instinct, tapped on her skills, and is today one of the country’s most successful Chartered Accountants who went on to gain an experience at financial firms and now serves as partner and leader at PKC, a consultant giant that deals with business advisory, tax and audit advisory, funding and business automation among other services.
In an interview with SheThePeople, Swetha Kochar talks about her inclination towards finance, her work at PKC Consulting, the impact of digitalisation, the gender gap in investments, and what it takes to be a leader in business.
Swetha Kochar interview
Were you always clear about pursuing Chartered Accountancy and the path following that? Where did you drive your influence from?
When I was eight years old, I used to tell everybody that I wanted to become a Chartered Accountant when I grew up. And nothing ever changed. Growing up, I spent much time with my father in his office and saw him deal with clients. I would hear client after client say how my dad changed their lives and celebrated with him every win. This inspired me to be a Chartered Accountant, and I love that it allows me to work with my father. In hindsight, though, one thing which we should all do is experiment with our lives. I was too straight-jacketed with what I wanted to do. If I were to redo it, I would explore more, speak to people across professions more, intern more and understand what excites people to be in a field they want to be at.
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As a woman in business, what were the primary challenges you faced in finding your way up to becoming a leader in the industry?
Entrepreneurship by itself is challenging, and that’s what makes it fun. I was told time and again only to expand the business once I had a child because what if I didn’t return to work? To me, that was bizarre. I returned from maternity break in 45 days full-time because that was something I wanted to do consciously. For me, it was always clear what my priorities were but for other people to understand that this could be important for a woman took a lot of time. I’ve had similar experiences with clients as well – some clients outright expressed they were not comfortable working with a woman, or I had to have a male counterpart in the meeting to show them I meant serious business.
“From a woman’s perspective, the big challenge I faced, internally in the family, and outside with clients, was winning the trust that I could achieve the big dream I had as a woman. A large amount of bias still exists for women looking to create impact at scale and it’s unfortunate that even in 2022, we are talking about this.”
With digitalisation impacting every sector in the market, how has your experience been regarding outreach with PKC via digital mediums?
Every founder knows they need to go digital but needs help knowing where to begin and how to make their digital investments successful. Founders are sometimes confused about which software product to choose, as there are hundreds of products for any application today, and how to make it work. Eighty per cent of companies don’t use more than 10-20 per cent of the capabilities of the software they have invested in. The challenge that companies face in the digitalisation journey is to be able to integrate that software product truly into the company’s business and become an organisation that enables data-based decision-making through effective software utilisation. Till this is not solved, the software investment is futile for the most part. To solve this, companies must actively build the right processes and SOPs before investing in software. Companies must also put together a dedicated internal/external team to integrate the software with existing processes and define the business metrics the software should measure.
What drives you to continue evolving in diverse roles and what factor can you recall that has impacted your growth as a businesswoman?
One factor that has impacted my growth is having a network of senior entrepreneurs as mentors and friends. I invest in people and relationships – whether it’s colleagues, clients or mentors. The other thing which has helped is I recognise what I’m good at and enjoy doing versus those parts of the business that I don’t have the skills for and that drain my energy. I amplify my role in what I’m good at and for others, I find a way to quickly hire someone who knows better than I do, partner with an existing organisation or outsource the piece entirely.
Your work at PKC Consulting also involves scaling up small and mid-sized businesses and family businesses by setting up effective systems. What challenges have you come across in doing that, and how effective has the transformation been in helping build these organisations?
The transformation journey has been delightful – every bit of the dream that I had when I decided to consult is what I wanted to do. Clients have seen exponential growth – revenues have grown 3-4 times for some, and profits have jumped for others. Founders have scaled and sold companies to international behemoths. There’s one common notion across clients – Founders can manage business spending just 1-2 days a week on operations and everything else on sales and growth. Clients no longer need to be physically present to manage a business, they see all they need to on real-time, mobile dashboards that get populated straight from the source of information. This, for me, is the reason and joy of doing what I do. Like in any business, there have been challenges along the way. We’ve had to dispel the negative connotation that people sometimes hold about consultants, and we’ve had to constantly stay updated with the latest technology innovations to deploy to clients. We’ve built strong training and processes to ensure clients see their vision come to light when they work with us.
You’re an active investor and member of Chennai Angels, an angel investment group. As someone actively involved in the industry, have you come across a gender gap when it comes to women and investments? How do you think we can encourage more women to take charge of their finances and make platforms available for them to do so?
The percentage of women that invest is freakishly low. There is no freedom without financial freedom, so investing is a must. There are multiple ways to take charge of our finances – to carve out a monthly amount that can be put aside for investments and be disciplined about it. Find ways to boost income to reach the target amount, and once it’s set aside, have an investment advisor or a friend who can show you the world of options. At any point, 30 per cent of one’s income must be kept aside for investments religiously. Depending on one’s risk appetite and usage of funds, you need to make a fair mix of investments.
“I would encourage women to look at start-up investing by becoming members of angel investing platforms – most cities today have an angel network. Mutual funds and SIPs are great places to start the equity investing journey. A portion in debt funds – bonds and FDs adds to stability. Traditional investments such as gold and real estate never go out of fashion. Remember, no amount is too small to invest.”
How do you think women’s entrepreneurship changes the game regarding gender equality in business?
Women in entrepreneurship change the game completely. As I mentioned, there is no freedom without financial freedom. If women are to be truly equal, then building a business gives not just financial independence, but also flexibility and a wide network to leverage on. Women being financially independent is perhaps the biggest step towards equality.
“There is no freedom without financial freedom.”
What advice would you give to women pursuing entrepreneurship?
When I hear men speak of business, their visions and dreams are large. But when I talk to women, their dreams are usually meek because they want them balanced with family, kids, and circumstances. My first piece of advice to women is to dream big. Put constraints aside and think of what you want to do. And when you dream big, you start attracting the right energy and people who don’t constrain you but empower you. You attract the right opportunities that can work themselves with family and fit together beautifully.