We’ve got a brand new edition of #StoriesbyTWW! With Stories, we wanted to put together a series that inspires our community by sharing stories of women entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs that have taken risks, challenges and unexplored paths to get to where they are today. Whether it’s someone just starting off their career or someone who’s looking to change paths, come back to work after a break, or simply learn, we wanted to share these stories to help our community get more perspective from people who’ve actually done it successfully.
In this edition, we are featuring Swetha Kochar, a management consulting superstar from Chennai. Swetha, who is a CA Rankholder, worked in McKinsey where she worked with the top tier leadership of companies like SBI, Sun Pharma, Mahindra Finance and more. She then set up PKC, with the objective of bringing quality consulting to mid-sized and family-owned businesses in India so that they could run their businesses more efficiently. Since then she’s only gone from strength to strength, winning numerous awards on the way. Here’s her story!
Talk to us about your journey to entrepreneurship. You were a star at McKinsey. What made you make the move to your own business?
McKinsey was a home to me in every sense. My colleagues were amazing; the projects were exciting; the lifestyle was great, exit opportunities were lucrative, growth was quick – everything I could’ve asked for. More than anything, I looked forward to working there each day no matter how intense it got.
But deep inside I knew that I belonged to another purpose. It had always been my dream and passion to assist small and mid-sized entrepreneurs to reach their potential and achieve exponential growth. It was just a matter of time before I got to it. I took the plunge and voila, that’s the story of how I met the entrepreneur in me.
The world of an entrepreneur is filled with uncertainties. Mine has been no different. It has been consuming, confusing, challenging, scary, thrilling, exciting, irrational and a lot more!
Running a business is so much more than what meets the eye. In many ways, you are your own trinity – the maker, the doer and the executioner.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Ask my friends or family this question and they’d answer with the lyrics of Rihanna’s song “Work”, while trying to maintain a straight face. My typical day usually involves investing close to 15-16 hours to, well, work!
This has changed since I had my baby – they’re too cute to be away from!
Now, in the mornings, I spend 30-45 minutes working out or reading philosophy (which I’ve done for years and totally love), post which I keep an hour or two dedicated to my baby. It’s after this that the hustle begins. I manage to scratch off quick work calls or speak to people that I mentor while driving to work. My calendar contains my entire day’s schedule.
Meetings are usually of a few types: (a) problem-solving sessions with clients/teams working on production improvement or process automation or cost reduction engagements in diff industries (b) statutory audit or internal audit reviews or tax opinions for clients or tax litigation cases or (c) growth meetings with our BD team, senior leadership at the office, Partner meetings or external agencies So I go from one meeting after another – or one video call after another – interspersed with responding to emails which no matter what I do is always flooded. If only bank accounts worked that way!
There’s something I’ve learnt in the last 6 months that’s been invaluable. I make sure to take some time out to focus on things that aren’t urgent but are important, things that require me to step back and look at the big picture. It could be rethinking & reassessing firm strategy, branding, the emotional alignment of employees, helping employees build meaningful careers at the firm and so on.
I no longer measure my day by hours but by the importance of things that I got done.
But getting into this flow has required me to go “M.I.A (Missing in action)” from all modes of communication. I pretty much shut myself off from calls and emails for that brief period. As a result, work usually spills over late into the night and prolonged lockdowns have meant working till midnight or even after.
At PKC, you work with a number of small & mid-sized businesses. What are the biggest challenges of working in this space?
As much as there’s potential for these companies to grow, there are also many challenges that come along with it, such as:
- Consulting as a service expense is unknown to many small companies – we’re almost creating this market. The immediate challenge is changing mindsets and making clients comfortable with the idea of paying for professionals looking after operations and finances
- Employee skills can be a concern in some of these companies which means that we’ll have to drive change & upskilling from grassroot levels
- Most companies are not adequately digitized and are less technologically inclined.
- Scaling a low ticket, services business such as ours can be very challenging. Each client has a unique set of problems and that’s what keeps work exciting for me everyday!
What drives PKC is its vision to create disproportionate value and growth in these small & mid sized companies.
– To combat these challenges, we have successfully curated the right systems and processes to keep a constant check on our quality at scale.
– We have modularized solutions so clients can pay for just what they need.
– We breathe tech into everything which has helped us scale. We have automated most of our solutions – this has been game-changing! We have 3 home-grown B2B SaaS (Business-to-Business Software-As-A-Service) products. We’re India’s only CA firm to have a fully automated audit system – something we built through the lockdown and are happy to launch soon! Crafting this has impacted our overall pricing positively which benefits clients and has helped us grow the client base.
Conservative fields like finance & management consulting have very less female representation, especially in senior management. Why do you think this happens? And how do you think this can be tackled?
Talking about helping fellow women is my favorite part of any interview! In my view, many factors contribute to this.
For one, the work-life balance gets grossly disturbed owing to the long working hours, continuous travel and intense working environments. This heavily discourages women as we’ve been conditioned to the thought process of placing our families above everything else.
Another key factor is that women are often self-critical and doubtful of themselves and their work in general. This may become unfavourable to them because in fields like consulting, the output of the work is very much influenced by how the client perceives it to be, and hence the consultant who displays lower confidence gets valued less. I’ve myself painfully witnessed on multiple occasions ordinary men outperform extraordinary women simply because of this reason.
Moreover, the workplace policies aren’t accommodative to the needs of women as the top positions and decisions are predominantly taken by men.
I would love to see a change and for this many things around us need to change. First, women need to understand and accept their own dreams and ambitions. Thereafter, we need to set expectations and boundaries at home and the workplace, because without family and workplace support, balancing everything is a huge struggle.
Simple things like talking to family and colleagues about your timings, things that are important to you and understanding what’s important to them, finding women mentors & reaching out to them at crucial points – they’re all super important to practice early on!
In my view, having tough conversations with both our family and our bosses about ambitions, timings, support on child care, etc. is always better than living a life of regret in wistful longing. The second factor on women being more critical about their own work can be addressed by simply being more cognizant of this each time we’re judging our own work.
Apart from this, having a dependable community of women at the workplace who freely communicate and voice out the need for change can go a long way in making a better work environment. These actions can lead to a big impact overall.
What would be the advice you’d give to young women in the space of management/finance who are just starting out?
- Work hard. Work smart. Repeat! This mantra never goes out of fashion
- Share your dreams with your family & bring them along for the ride! As women, We’ve been conditioned to believe that child care and home care is largely for the women to do. Family is important, but having them understand that your career is very important to you is essential, whether it’s the family you’re born into or the family you’re marrying into. The earlier you have those tough conversations, the better.
- Be the master of your craft – spend your initial years mastering what you do while also learning other critical skillsets – networking, leadership, marketing, digital, etc.
- Among other things, focus on building your personal brand and be confident while sharing your story.
From my experience, you don’t have to sacrifice work to live your life or live a life that sacrifices work. It’s mutually inclusive!
What are some of the things you practice when the going gets tough?
As individuals and more so as entrepreneurs, we are constantly tested and faced with innumerable challenges. There have been many instances in the past where I’ve questioned everything around me, including my decision to walk away from large salary packages to embark on an unknown path, especially when things got overwhelming!
However, during such times, I take solace and warmth in the fact that I pursued something that I believed in. I know that no matter how many times I’m given the same choice, I will choose my dream over a glamorous career. I also find strength when I replay the years since I started and see the notable difference which I have made to numerous other businesses through my company. Also, in my view, it’s a balance between maintaining a degree of consistency in what I do irrespective of the external situation and reinventing myself and my business. If something isn’t working, understanding what the market needs and redefining what we offer – we’ve gone through this cycle so many times.
Entrepreneurship can be incredibly lonely at times. Talk to us about your support system – the people who help you maintain your sanity, encourage you everyday and empathise with your venting. How important is it for other women entrepreneurs to have a support system in place?
Entrepreneurship is indeed a lonesome journey, and I can’t empathize enough with others doing the same. At times the madness is so consuming that I wish I had superpowers to be present at multiple places requiring my attention. Thankfully, I’m blessed with encouraging and supportive people around me who help me during the lows – my husband, my parents, my in-laws and my long-time friends.
Each person’s journey is theirs alone to walk but the charm of having people who radiate the right vibes is something else altogether. For me, my husband Prashant is an incredible human being and my biggest cheerleader. He rescues me from the “what will people say?” syndrome and “the guilt” that comes along with it and continues to remind me that I’m doing more than enough. In fact, he’s proud that I prioritize my dreams and everything we’ve achieved through this.
Having said this, I would love to become a part of a community where women entrepreneurs share, learn and have profound conversations. This is something I miss and haven’t been able to figure out.
Finally, let’s talk about what it means to be a working mom. How do you balance your time with your fast paced career and your baby?
Being a working mom has by far been one of the most fulfilling experiences.
It bothers me when I see how working moms are portrayed in general – unkempt hair, baggy eyes, always exhausted and unable to make time for themselves. This is, however, just one side of the story and the side that scares other women when they decide to have a child. My experience has been quite different and I truly hope that people, other women, in particular, would be just as supportive to their women friends who are considering children.
Raising a child, no doubt takes a village! Hence, even before I conceived, I set my expectations and came to an understanding with my family regarding their support in raising the baby. So, together, we initiated our own little “Baby Project” where we defined every family member’s roles and responsibilities. I know it’s geeky but it’s also fun and it works! So when the newest member of the family arrived, all of us made small changes in our routine along with the bonus of being able to spend quality time with her and showering her with lots of love. For instance, mornings were solely dedicated to an uninterrupted mother-daughter duo time. And then the rest of the family and support system takes over. The point is – take help! You shouldn’t have to do this alone.
For me, as a mother, to ask for help without the fear of being judged came through practice. To have my child grow in such a positive environment is a joyous feeling and I never fail to show my gratitude to my family for making this happen.
Thank you so much, Swetha for all the wisdom & insight on what it takes to be an entrepreneur in this space! We’re truly grateful. If you’d like to know more about the work Swetha is doing, check out www.pkcindia.com.