- Raja Lahiri is a Chartered Accountant (CA) and Partner, Growth advisory services at Grant Thornton Bharat, leading the TMT sector and IPO advisory verticals.
- As a teenager, his dream was to make it to the Indian cricket team but later he went on to pursue chartered accountancy, thanks to his father’s sage advice.
- Over the last 25 years, Raja’s career in consulting has evolved from auditing to deal advisory, M&A, PE, technology sector, while serving various leadership roles at the Firm.
Journey to being a Chartered Accountant
Born and raised in Kolkata, India, one of my passions was playing sports, especially cricket.
I was selected to represent the State Junior cricket team. My aspiration was to hopefully, play for India one day!
I enjoyed my studies along with cricket and was at crossroads when I had to choose the direction of my life.
My father, who was a businessman and my mentor advised me appropriately at that stage.
I still remember his golden words, “Whether you choose to be a professional cricketer, a doctor, or an entrepreneur, knowledge of finance is very important. In the field of accounting, the top-most course in Chartered Accountancy (CA).”
My father also introduced me to some very successful professionals and business owners who were CAs.
These interactions changed my perception regarding CA as I got inspired by their personality, confidence, and vast knowledge.
This encouraged me to pursue Chartered Accountancy as a career and from there on, began my journey.
I pursued my articleship training from Lovelock and Lewes (a network firm of PwC).
I remember Shyamal Mitra, then Managing Partner of Lovelock & Lewes, sharing his thoughts of wisdom “A good auditor needs to first understand the business and how the industry works. For example, if you were to do an audit of a paint company, you should have an understanding of sales trends, seasonality, paint-making process, etc., as they will enable you to connect with audit objectives and execute effective audits.”
All these experiences left an indelible impression on my mind.
Starting my career
Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I wanted to experience the intricacies and the pulse of businesses. So when I qualified as a CA in 1997, I was absolutely clear about joining the industry!
My first job offer came from one of India’s largest and most respected conglomerates and I was keen to commence my career.
My father once again helped me to think through the vast opportunities of learning in a consulting firm given the potential option to learn about various industries and businesses. This did make a lot of sense to me.
At the same time, I also got an offer from KPMG, which was at the initial stage of setting up its practice in India.
I joined KPMG in their assurance services vertical at the Kolkata office.
From Assurance to M&A, Venture Capital and Private Equity
KPMG provided a great learning ground and exposure to working with India’s leading companies across multiple sectors.
Under the guidance of many successful professionals and leaders, such as Ron Chatterjee and Debashis Dasgupta, I had the opportunity to learn about high-quality work, professional standards, client and people management, communication, and presentation skills.
I was very well progressing in my career.
In 2001, I was supposed to go to the KPMG New York office on an international secondment. However, the after-impact of 9/11 events led to the postponement of my international secondment.
Of course, it was disheartening, but I was offered to join the newly formed Transaction Advisory and Due diligence Practice. This gave me a leap in my career.
From assurance services, I moved to a very different world, the world of transactions and deals - mergers and acquisitions, venture capital, and private equity!
My role was to set up the Bangalore practice, which provided me the opportunity to truly build a practice from start, including hiring people, acquiring new clients, delivering high-quality work, and growing the practice.
I had the opportunity to learn a lot from successful professionals and leaders, such as Vikram Utamsingh, Abizer Diwanji, and Zubin Shekary, who helped me hone my due diligence and deal advisory skills.
Over a span of 10 years, I led some of the marquee deals, both in India and cross-border, and advised top corporates and PE Funds.
The learning and experiences were simply phenomenal which gave me the opportunity to interact with top CEOs, CFOs, business owners, and investment bankers, from Indian and global corporates, law firms, etc.
My dad's advice proved right!
Leadership experience: growing a practice
After spending close to 14 years at KPMG, in 2011, I had the opportunity to join another leading global accounting firm, Grant Thornton Bharat as a Partner.
My initial role at Grant Thornton (GT) was to grow the deal advisory practice across transaction advisory, valuation, and investment banking. It was extremely exciting to contribute to the practice's growth.
With a strong entrepreneurial and distinctive culture at GT, it was a privilege to play various leadership roles, including leading regional practice, private equity initiatives, technology sector.
These opportunities taught me a lot about leading teams, creating purpose, vision, and strategy for the practice, and executing strategy.
Leading the fast-growing TMT sector in India as a national sector leader, and being part of the Grant Thornton Global Technology Industry Group opened up a new array of opportunities to work with leading technology, media and telecom (TMT) players in India.
Moreover, advising companies with a global presence provided amazing opportunities to learn about overseas countries, their business styles, regulations, and also, the opportunity to collaborate with global teams.
At Grant Thornton, I learnt lessons on leadership from many top leaders especially Vishesh Chandiok, GT CEO. He taught me on dreaming big, challenging the impossible and making it happen, and always respecting people.
When I reflect, it is truly the CA profession, which has provided the foundation of knowledge and the opportunities to learn about business and finance!
If I may also add that my learnings from cricket especially around teamwork, persistence, hard work, & “never-give-up” mindset, have helped me immensely in my career and in playing various leadership roles. It has helped me to live a fuller life!
Family plays a key role in everything you do. My wife, who is a CA herself, truly encouraged me to be bold in my career moves. And off-course, my daughters taught me to be adaptable and positive in all situations and sensitive to people.
How to advance your career
I believe that one should enjoy the work, and interactions with colleagues and clients, and at the same time, craft a journey of higher purpose. I can share some perspectives and experiences which have been useful during my career journey.
Be a curious learner: Reading different types of books, talking to people, and getting out of the comfort zone are key. Learning is a continuous process and if one can make this part of one’s mindset, it will truly expand our thinking and provide us with broader opportunities to grow.
Adapt to change: Sports and cricket taught me a very important lesson. The cricket pitch is going to be different every time as well as the bowler. Hence, as a batsman, one needs to have full concentration with “eyes on each ball” while executing one’s batting.
Building strong client relationships and trust: Working on client relationships is an art and a lifelong process. Building and nurturing authentic and meaningful client relationships based on trust takes time and effort, but can be extremely fulfilling for a professional.
Communication and a commonsensical approach: Good communicator always stands out and needs a lot of practice and learning - make this a learning habit for both written and oral communication. Further, clarity of thought and the ability to take out clutter and focus makes professionals stand out.
The CA profession is a massive opportunity and responsibility to serve the business ecosystem and set the highest standard of ethics, integrity, and higher purpose in our work.
And finally, I want to say, enjoy your work with a higher purpose and create your own career journey with passion!
This interview was originally published on The Finance Story.