The Special Breed of Chartered Accountant MBAs in India – Story I – Hemanshu Chokhani
In our special series covering Chartered Accountants who also took the MBA plunge, we speak to 3 CA MBAs and hear their story. For those pursuing a PGDM or an equivalent in India, it was entering a world dominated by engineers. And that is probably what makes them more desirable for recruiters. IIM Bangalore calls CA Merit rankers and IIM Indore gives special points for being a Chartered Accountant as a part of the diversity drive. CAs have been and will always remain in demand at most top management institutions.
In our first part we meet Hemanshu Chokhani, a graduate of IIM Ahmedabad, Class of 2011 and also a CA ranker (14th Rank in CA Foundation and 36th Rank in CA Final). Hemanshu had always been an outstanding student of Narsee Monjee College of Commerce and Economics and he maintained that reputation at IIM A. He currently works with Booz & Co. as a Management Consultant.
“The pursuit of achievement is far more important than your chosen path of education”
All the views expressed below by the interviewee are his personal views. They cannot be attributed to any of his previous institutions or previous/current employers.
How was it being one of the few non-engineers (5%) in your batch of 300 odd at IIM A?
It’s an interesting question because in a business school when people join from different backgrounds and pedigrees, some tend to believe that what they are is because of what they have studied or done in the past. I believe most good business schools will transform that into self belief in one’s innate skills. So yes, when I joined I felt I was different and I guess it turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy for a while as I felt different because I wanted to feel different. However, as time passed I realized that fundamentally we think quite similarly. The approach was not to different towards solving a problem. An engineer was taught to think in a particular way and an accountant was taught to think in another, but fundamental logic and intuition does not vary. So I started off as believing we are different but eventually felt we were all very similar.
What about your experience in academics and in class? Did you feel you were at an advantage in certain topics like Corporate Finance, Valuation etc. as compared to your peers?
The short answer to that question is No. I think I did well because I thought I had that advantage and that I will do well. In fact I think I topped the Accounting courses in my batch (The first course for sure!) I definitely had very good education but there were others who did very well too. I had a friend who had a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering who did well because he wanted to do well and believed he could do well. So after a point these perceived competitive advantages started disappearing. It was more to do with belief and hard work.
Yes. There are certain advantages like being more comfortable with a certain subject and you may not have to spend so much time with it and so on and so forth. But given enough time with any subject matter, most people will succeed at it. There are enough examples of history graduates doing well at Statistics and doctors cracking mathematics exams in our business schools in India.
Did you feel you were looked at differently by recruiters? Were you type-casted as being someone who will only want to do Investment Banking or Corporate Finance given your CA rank holder background? Given the variety of jobs available at IIM A, did you ever feel that?
It is difficult for me to say that as even if there was an odd case I am not aware; it also reflected my interest at that point. Yes. I did get a lot of opportunities in the finance domain but I do not think it closed other options for me.
I don’t think recruiters would typecast you as most of them would be looking at your historical performance at that point. So For e.g. if you are a topper of the Economics stream it is as good as being a rank holder in CA. That is more important. The pursuit of achievement is far more important than your chosen path of education. That is the fundamental thing what top firms look far. They may look at your prior education and some specific skill sets but the 2 fundamental things most firms would look for are : 1) How achievement focused are you 2) How well you fit in the organization’s culture
Okay. A more basic question which a lot of CAs out there would love to hear about. Do you feel you needed a MBA after being a rank holder Chartered Accountant? How has the entire MBA experience helped you?
First up, CA has helped me gain firm grounding in some of the most important pillars of commercial knowledge today. However, it did not give me as many opportunities as I desired to spend quality time with like-minded people in an environment that fostered managerial education. That was my foremost requirement. For me, the MBA was not a job seeking exercise but an opportunity to learn in a great environment. Although articleship was an excellent source of practical learning, its mandate was inherently limited to assurance, accounts and taxation. CA was primarily a self-study kind of a learning exercise where we took books home and we would theoretically understand a wide variety of topics. This was excellent and gave me specific knowledge and a great idea of our commercial systems but MBA was extremely important for me. I think I took a lot out of it personally which I would have never got out of CA alone.
Do you think CAs do not get access to the same jobs that graduates from the IIMs get? For e.g. at the entry level we hardly see even rank holder CAs get front-end investment banking jobs despite the fact that their grounding in basic accounting and valuation is much better. It is far easier to be an accountant and get a similar job say in the UK.
Well. There are a lot of CAs in investment banking, management, private equity, insurance, corporate finance and the like. In fact, its only a few front desk roles where MBAs are supposedly preferred
There are different ways to look at it though. Let the reader analyse what is true for himself or herself.
One question is do people even want it? The idea may be nice but do they want to go through the grill? These jobs are challenging and one needs to be up for the task. A lot of people may not want to do this.
Second idea – Learning grammar and writing an essay are two different things. So accounting might be grammar but a great poet or a prose writer may not be excellent at grammar at school right. Also, a lot of this (Do note I haven’t personally done a lot of this) probably involves understanding macro trends and soft factors not always covered in an accounting course which you may pick up in a business school. That being said, I think a lot of CAs do extremely well in this field and occupy several senior management positions. Just a case of numbers I guess.
Of course. They really do well. We were only talking about entry level access for these jobs. Do you also think the ICAI could have introduced some of these things you spoke about – Macro trends, Soft skills etc. to make fresh CAs more employable for these kind of jobs?
Interesting question. One needs to think through this. What is the basic objective of the ICAI ? They would primarily want to focus on traditional functions of a CA – Assurance, Audit, Risk, Arbitration,Corporate Affairs and if a student feels he/she wants to focus on other avenues – then those options are available. But the ICAI probably would first focus on the basic pillars. Having said that, certain initiatives have been taken to further the interests of members and students nationwide. Moreover, the articleship phase is extremely important. It is a unique arrangement where true vocational and pratical skills can be learnt at little cost to the students. Some of the luminous figures in our country have arisen from this course.
Its mainly a stay-at-home kind of an arrangement with articleship. Maybe they can look at organizing more events that cover a lot of these aspects and where people can interact more. Also, more importantly, students need to take a more proactive role in utilizing these forums.
How does CA + MBA combine to help you in your current job as a consultant? You look at energy and healthcare as a part of your job.
Its a bit difficult to segregate the individual impact of my academic life on my professional one. First up, through CA I do feel very comfortable while dealing with financial statements and understanding the impact of an entity’s legal environment. Moreover, CA definitely helped me build my numeric and analytical skills. An MBA, has helped me put issues in perspective, to understand underlying currents and trends and work in fairly unstructured situations. Consulting can be quite challenging where one is regularly involved in solving difficult problems in short time frames. I believe that my collective academic experience, the grounding of articleship and interaction with some of the brightest people in the country has held me in good stead and helps me stay afloat daily.
Any message for Commerce graduates/CAs out there?
Well all I can say is be true to yourself and your goals. And that one should deeply think for him / herself before making life impacting career choices. Glorification of some jobs may make us feel attracted to them – however, we way find more contentment and success in another path. Its important to marry personal skills, beliefs and views to that of any chosen profession’s requirements. Best of luck in all your future ventures!
2 Other CAs whom we interviewed for other purposes (They are not MBAs)
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