Sangeeta Shankaran Sumesh

PwC – Play. Win. Create

It is with great pride I can say that PwC is where my career was moulded. On the pitch of PwC is where I got a head start and it is here that I learnt to win and then went on to creating my persona.

In a corporate career spanning 25 years, most of it has been with PwC (in India and in Botswana, Southern Africa). Subsequently, the other corporates I worked with also had professional connections with PwC.

Now, in my new avatar as a CFO-turned-business and leadership coach, I look forward to working with senior PwC leaders.

Once the connection with PwC starts, the journey goes on and gets better.

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Reflecting on your time at PwC India, what makes you feel most proud?

One instance stands out. 

The was tremendous pressure to meet a certain deadline which warranted working over the weekend. On a hot and humid summer Sunday afternoon in Chennai, the team was working diligently on closing the project.

The team was so engrossed in completing the work at the client’s place and only when we were about to leave at around 9pm, we realised that the city was battered with unexpected torrential rains which had caused a lot of flooding, including the subway which was in front of the clients’ office.

This experience taught me the importance of support, team spirit and culture without compromising on values, principles, and deliverables. This learning has stayed with me, and it is something that I instil in my coaching clients.

We were stuck. We thought the rains would subside and hence went back to doing more work till 11pm. But the downpour coupled with water levels were rising and only worsened.

This was the era when there were no mobile phones and because of the heavy rains, the landline was not working either. I knew my parents would be worried about my safety. Just as I was wondering what to do, the senior manager in-charge, Mohan, asked two of the seniors from the team to make sure I reached home safely.

With great difficulty, we found an autorickshaw that took us through a much longer route. However, the auto could not go beyond a particular point as there was too much water. The two seniors braved their way through the hip deep water and ensured that I reached home safe. It was past 1am and my parents heaved a sigh of relief.

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Is there a trend or movement in your industry that you see as a game changer?

If top notch sports professionals can work with a coach, then why should it be any different in the corporate world, is the realisation that has dawned.

As a business and leadership coach, I observe that many corporates are now receptive to understanding the need for and the importance of working with leadership coaches. This is a game changer not only for a business leader but also for the corporate.

What’s been your biggest career challenge and how have you overcome it?  

After working as an executive director and CFO, I wanted to be on my own as a business and leadership coach, author and speaker. While this thought was a strong one, I must admit, I did not have the courage to quit a plush corporate career. I was procrastinating. Finally, I mustered the courage when I realised that this inner calling aligns with my purpose.

I took the plunge.

What helped was a lot of contemplation, self-talk and weighing the pros and cons. In hindsight, I am glad I made the move with courage and conviction. Further as an independent director on corporate boards, I preferred being conservative, extra cautious and doing due diligence before accepting such positions.

What are the top three challenges you’re seeing businesses face in the race to become agile, and how can they effectively respond?

In my opinion, the top three challenges businesses face to become agile are, not -

  1. Building a high-performance culture
  2. Handling resistance to change
  3. Investing in leadership development

To overcome these challenges, here are some action points.

  • To build a high-performance culture, what needs to be induced are high levels of trust and psychological safety among team members. There must be a culture of continuous learning, one that harnesses the team’s energy, and which has enhanced levels of emotional intelligence. All of this should be implemented with clear purpose and intent.
  • Resistance to change is a common challenge. To overcome it, a leadership team needs to be committed to the change, educate the team on the benefits of the change and take small incremental steps in bringing about the required outcome.
  • Leaders need to lead by example. Leadership behaviour in the form of appreciation, resilience, empowerment and effective communication has to be inbuilt in the system. To implement such best practices, getting leaders to work with a leadership coach can be highly effective in maximising potential and improve levels of performance.
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What inspired you to become a Business and Leadership Coach?

The thought that inspired was - if I can contribute to the success of one organisation, how can I scale myself? That has led me to working with corporate leaders and teams to maximise potential, performance and profits.

I further realised that if I could combine my finance background, leadership experience and coaching skills, I will be able to create the required magic with my clients and enable them to be on their growth path.

What does being, ‘The Gain Enabler’ mean? 

The Gain Enabler is my brand moniker, which I live by. It is a reminder that I enable gains for my clients. The gains are not limited just to financial gains but also non-financial gains such as heightened awareness, maximised potential, better clarity, effective leadership skills, partnering in achieving their desired goals, overcoming challenges, etc.

Any message for PwC India Alums reading this?

PwC has played a significant role in my life, and I am sure in the lives of other alums too. Happy to connect with PwC Alums and cherish the good times. My social media handle is ‘The Gain Enabler’ – I look forward to connecting.

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