20 Jan 2021 20:26 IST

‘Learning does not end with your articleship’

Vidya Lakshmi, Former MD, Goldman Sachs

Take risks and say yes to opportunities without over-thinking the pros and cons

Vidya Lakshmi is Former Managing Director, Head of HR, Goldman Sachs, Bengaluru. She completed her bachelor’s in economics from Meenakshi College for Women, Chennai. Post her graduation, she joined Price Waterhouse for articleship and successfully completed CA in 2003 in her first attempt.

On your articleship?

Working in a Big 4 audit firm gave me tremendous exposure to a broad set of companies, the opportunity to learn from the best, and laid a foundation for my entry into the corporate world. After my stint with Price Waterhouse, I spent the next 15 years in Goldman Sachs working across multiple businesses and geographies.

What have been the key learnings from your CA studies? 

The three key lessons I have learned from my CA studies are:

First, strong attention to detail and respect for the process was ingrained into me from my early days of articleship.

Second, the criticality of working together as a team when conducting an audit. In the corporate world, very rarely is success the result of a single individual — it is usually the result of a strong, diverse, and supportive team.

Last, effective time management to balance studies, work, travel, and exams!

How has your CA preparation helped you in your corporate life, if at all? 

It provided a strong set of technical skills across accounting, audit, costing, and finance that has helped me take up a variety of roles in investment banking confidently. With the strong technical foundation, it was much easier to seamlessly work across different businesses, building on my existing knowledge.

It also helped me get comfortable working with numbers, which has been an invaluable skill in each of my roles. An ability to interpret, analyse, and present data in a meaningful way, has been critical to me as a leader in making good decisions.

If you had to re-visit your CA coaching, what would you have liked to have been part of your course? 

A greater focus on communication and influencing skills. So much of our ability to make an impact and be successful in the corporate world is dependent on our ability to communicate with impact, express our opinions with clarity and conviction, and influence decision making.

What have been the chief ingredients in your success/road to the top? 

Taking risks and saying yes to opportunities without over-thinking the pros and cons. You will either succeed or you will learn, but either way, you will grow. While I started off my career in audit, I went on to work in investment banking and eventually landed up as head of HR. It is important that we don’t draw boundaries around our career based on our education or our experience

Courage to say ‘I don’t know’ and a willingness to learn. Many of the roles I took up required me to learn the business or division from scratch which meant showing my vulnerability and putting in the effort to learn the ropes. Learning does not stop once we complete our CA; it is just the beginning. Building a strong team to support me who have deep expertise and act as my sounding board is crucial; I can’t do it alone!

What have been your best and worst moments in corporate life? 

The opportunity to work on Wall Street and being promoted to Managing Director have been the best moments in my corporate life. I am a glass-half-full person, so any situation or moment that didn’t go well has been a learning for me. An important learning moment was working on Wall Street during the financial crisis of 2008 which taught me never to take my job for granted and to continuously focus on becoming a better version of myself.

What would be your advice to young CAs who join the corporate sector? 

Be curious, ask plenty of questions, and make an effort to understand the bigger picture, the people you work with, and the purpose of the organisation. While you may not understand everything in the beginning, over time, the pieces of the puzzle will fall in place and the knowledge will make you more effective. Be intentional in staying connected with your batch mates. Time flies, people grow, and you never know the endless possibilities that this network could provide for you.

What would you advise young CAs to read? 

As per the quote — if youth knew; if age could — read about the journeys of other CAs and non-CAs, and learn from their successes and experiences. Most of what you will experience in your journey has already been experienced by someone else. Hopefully, you will not repeat the same mistakes but make new mistakes with new lessons.