Story of a Woman CFO-CA. Sangeeta Shankaran

My evolution

Success has various connotations and each person views success differently. To me, success means:-
• Striking the right balance between professional, personal and spiritual life.
• Overcoming challenges and
• Being grateful
It is on these three counts that I have shaped my career and so sharing my story. During the course, I’vegone the extra mile,pushed myself and have had a willingness to keep learning in my professional life.
Currently I work with Dun & Bradstreet Technologies and Data Services (formerly D&B Transunion) as the Vice President and CFO since 2011. Apart from Finance, I also head the Legal, Administration & Project management Office. A good blend of exposure to newer learnings in addition to growing in my core competency is what makes it intriguing. The tact of managing multiple stakeholders, risk mitigation, corporate governance, negotiation skills etc. have been some of the wisdom that I have gained in this journey which in turn helped in reducing the high overheads, thus contributing to higher margins. Under the guidance of my boss, support from team and Divine grace, the shareholders’returns maximized and the net worth multiplied. The company declared dividend for the first time since inception.
As I rewind my life twenty years ago, I recall being an above average student and a fun-loving girl who had nurtured an ambition to attain a professional degree, to become a Chartered Accountant. With this objective, I pursued my internship with PricewaterhouseCooperswhich lay a strong foundation for my career. Alongside CA I also completed my ICWA.

After completing my CA, jobs with MNCs came my way. First with Alstom and then with Tupperware. In 1999, I had to make bigger changes to my life. Marriage to Sumesh, a fellow CA whom I had met during my student days, and moving with him to ‘Africa’s well-kept secret’Botswana.

The stint of eight years in Botswana, again with PwC, not only exposed me to various industries and managing different portfolios, but also groomed me professionally. I was in a new country, getting used to a new life, and in the initial phase, there were times I had to handle professional situations that seemed overwhelming. But I immersed myself in the challenges, and emerged victoriously.

I learnt to overcome the cultural barrier as my job involved working with people of different nationalities and ethnicities. My client handling skills improved. A moment of pride was when I transformed my self-tutored knowledge on software packages into new revenue generation stream. Like most corporate organizations, the men out numbered the women and I learnt to ‘lean in’before the term was coined! And all these factors shaped me and paved the way for my future.

My career and family grew at the same pace. For the first time I considered quitting my career, dealing with a difficult pregnancy. Nausea through the term meant I was constantly rushing out of meetings and discussions! I was extremely bloated andswollen feet made it difficult to move around yet I had to visit various clients during this period. Food aversion, nausea & improper sleep drained me. Being away from home and my parents made it even more difficult. But I did not want a break in my career, so I decided to brave the situation and deliver my baby in Botswana itself.
I had decided to continue working as long as I could so that I could utilise all my maternity after the baby arrived. My due date was 10th April & the morning of 9th April 2003, I was actually getting ready to get to work despite uneasiness (which later I got to know was the onset of labour pain!). My son was born later that evening.
While I was enjoying the first-time motherhood, it also dawned on me that I wanted to pursue my career. The exciting challenges, new learnings, a sense of satisfaction, financial independence, finding solace in juggling work and home was the ground to continue working. I was blessed with the support of my family, dependable domestic help and co-operative bosses.
Two and a half years later, my daughter was born. This pregnancy too was similar to the first, the only change being I went to my office that morning despite my labour pain due to some important client deliverables, which had to be handed over to a colleague. I was rushed for my delivery straight from my office. The joke at work was that had I delayed further, my boss would have had to be my doctor!
Crazily enough, I got back to work a month after my daughter was born due to some client delivery emergencies. However I had the advantage of living very close to office and had the flexibility to take breaks to nurse her. Throughout I had the support system I could rely on.
Raising two small kids, sleepless nights clubbed with handling multiple clients and teams, meeting deadlines at work was indeed challenging; but being a stay-at-home mum was not my cup of tea. Being an only child, my parents’wish for me to have a successful career also had an impact on me.
We relocated to Chennai in 2007 to be closer to our ageing parents. Being ambitious on my career growth, I was scouting for my dream job, unwilling to settle for anything less than the best. And I did it get the opportunity with a top international company of repute. However my instinct did not permit me to proceed with it despite an attractive package because it involved not only frequent long term international travel but was also a high pressure job. I had the insight not to settle for this job as my kids were still young. Hence I took a conscious call that I shall proceed with another opening in the industry. That decision I had to take between what potentially could be a dream job helped me fine-tune my priorities, as a professional and a parent.
So I joined the French multinational Thales to head the Finance division. The company was still setting up operations locally, and so I had to deal with the challenges that came with a startup. I had to set up internal controls, processes and procedures and streamline the company’s finances, apart from demonstrating business acumen. Here I learnt to apply reasoning and logic and involved myself in the operations.
An important lesson learnt from my bosses was to respond and not react in difficult situations and not to make impulsive decisions. I was also trained in the International Finance Controllers’Conference held in Paris and London.
With the unwavering support of my family I managed my short term business travel. As my kids grew, they taught me the art of being patient and their inquisitiveness taught me the art of questioning, both of which helped me professionally too!
As seamless as it sounds –to manage home and career, and a social life that I enjoy –I had to seek spiritual grounding, to help me tide over the toughest phases. This is where my practice of Art of Living, learnt a decade ago, helps not onlyto de-stress but also energises me and helps me in my spiritual journey.
As my children are older now, they demand more of my time and attention. So I do pack in more into the time I have with them, motivate them and teach them to be independent. I plan my holidays to coincide with their school break and we go on vacations as family.I have the luxury of my mother’s immense support, who was a working woman herself and now retired, who makes parenting in absentia easier.
Due to the demands of my career, I may not be the mother available 24×7, but I think even in that is an important lesson for my children, especially my young daughter. To see a mother who pursues her dreams and interests, and balances all the different responsibilities.
In fact, in the latest challenge I have undertaken, my children are my partners, and you would often see them with me, chasing a common goal post.As a youngster I had never played any sport! A thirst arose to explore this. Inspired by my husband’s long distance running, I took it up too. Now I am a half marathoner (21 kilometres). I also had an urge to complete a triathlon and so completed 1.5 kilometres of swimming in open waters, 40 kilometres of cycling & 10 kilometres of running at a stretch, which was a gift I gave myself for my 40th birthday!
To sum up, the key takeaways till now have been:-
• Right attitude is important
• Essential to have good rapport with bosses, colleagues and team
• Shouldering responsibilities with enthusiasm
• Openness to continuous learning and
• Remembering that “We reap what we sow”
Going with the ebb and flow of life, and taking its many twists and turns, I continue to stay open to new experiences. Parenting, career, spirituality, fitness, learning are all an integral part of life.

With gratitude
Sangeeta Shankaran Sumesh

Awards and Recognition :-
• “Leading Women Chief Financial Officer”at the women leaders in India awards
• Ranked as one of “India’s most influential women in Finance”by rediff.com
• “Innovator in Finance”award by International Women Leaders Forum
• “Jewel in the crown”by Punjab Association
• Also invited as a chief guest and speaker in various forums and professional bodies (including ICAI).

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Posted in Success Stories/Articles.