Leading Women_ Stories of Entrepreneurship

Leading Women: Stories of Entrepreneurship – Akta Sehgal

Akta got her first doctor playset on her 5th birthday, and that is when she set her heart on becoming a doctor. Now 35 years later, with an MBA and 20 years of work experience in the financial sector she still describes herself as a doctor – a money doctor; working hard to fix people’s financial ailments!

With her focus on making individuals – especially women – financially stable she comes across as an Indian Suze Orman – straight talking, honest and passionate about her work! A chat with her even got me booking an appointment!

Find out more below:

Q: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me a bit about why you started your venture and how it all came about?

Akta: All through school I was really keen to get into the medical stream, but by the time I finished 12th the whole excitement had waned. I fell ill during my boards, and that affected my results, and I think that was the final straw; I just didn’t want to study so much anymore.

One thing led to another, and I enrolled in a BBA course where it just so happened that HR – my first choice – was scraped, so I ended up opting for finance. To my (and my faculty’s) utter surprise I did really well and just continued from there. Did an MBA with marketing and finance and started off at a small brokerage firm in Mumbai.

I accidentally started my career in Wealth Management and began to enjoy it as I mastered the nuances of the business. But over time one thing always perturbed me – the constant need to compromise my values to meet sales targets. Every time I advised someone, I would think, “would I do the same if It was my family member.” And when the answers started becoming more and more negative, I knew it was time to leave.

I changed 6 jobs in 10 years, and the reasons for leaving were all the same – not wanting to compromise on my convictions! Finally, in my 6th job, I decided if I quit this time, I would quit the regular 9 to 6 job and do my own work, and do it the way it’s to be done. That’s how it all began.

3 other colleagues and I started our own business in 2011 Dec. We worked together for a few years, but frankly, it was a struggle and my father’s death in 2013 after a long illness jolted me and I decided just to reboot my life.

We merged the assets and clients of the existing company and I relaunched the brand under the name Manas Management Advisors, and I haven’t looked back since!

Q: So tell us a bit about Manas Management Advisors. What has that been like?

Akta: When I started Manas, I was not in very good shape personally, a broken relationship, the grief of losing my father and above all, seeing my entrepreneurial journey almost coming to an end. It could not have been worse than this. However, I was kept motivated by a few internal and external factors. My biggest motivator was the guidance given by my mother and in addition to that, a friend guide and mentor, who always stood by me and believed in me; he was my boss in 3 out of my 6 jobs.

Manas launched in 2014 and the first couple of years were tough; every time I picked up the reins, something or the other came up to pull me back. These were more of personal hurdles than professional, however even professionally one was a victim to changing market environment and you know things like clients wanting to be associated with bigger brands.

So, the beginning was slow, but in the last two years, things have started clicking into place.

Q: Along with handling your client’s money you are also heavily involved in mentoring and financial training. What’s that all about?

Akta: Women in India are so used to letting their fathers or husbands manage all things financial – and I am not just talking about women in small towns or villages – scores of highly educated women in corporate careers have no investment plan at all.

I was doing a corporate training session for financial planning for women employees, and I asked the ones who are investing regularly to raise their hands – there wasn’t even one! When I asked the senior most HR person (an old MBA batchmate), she said her father handled it for her! We all laughed then, but I have witnessed what happens when things go wrong, sudden death or divorce can result in women struggling to make sense of all the financial stuff.

Also, I have seen how hard it is for a person with a Rs 5000-10000 cheque to get sound financial advice; going to bigger agencies or banks is not an option as they are not interested in small amounts and many small advisors are not trustworthy!

While I deal both with individuals and business clients, the satisfaction of positively impacting someone’s life is just indescribable.

One of my most gratifying moments was when a 26-year-old girl I had counselled 2 years ago called out of the blue to thank me! She had substantial credit card and other debts because of her mother’s ill health and I had advised her at a training seminar. She had told me that I will call you when I clear my debts and she did! It’s moments like these that make it all so worthwhile!

I really feel individuals, especially women, need to become more hands-on regarding their financial planning – they need to invest, but more importantly, they need to start understanding money matters.

Q: What would you say are your learnings from your professional journey so far?

Akta: You know growing my business has proved my convictions right – to others that is! I always knew you had to careful with people’s money, and deal with them honestly and in a straightforward manner, but with my company, I have actually proved it to others that it’s possible to run a profitable business while being truthful. I am now getting the 4th level of referrals, and I cannot describe how satisfying that is on both the personal and professional level!

The last 7-8 years have taught me some very important lessons – the importance of acknowledging your mistakes, being honest and standing by your values; to have the resilience to bounce back every time you fall; to be a good strategist as well as an aggressive executor of your ideas and finally small is beautiful! You don’t need big bucks to make a difference. I tell all my clients – start small but start somewhere. You don’t need to put a lot of money to make more. Just start investing even if you can only spare tiny amounts.

Q: Of course, there must have been challenges along the way. No entrepreneurial journey is complete without its fair share of problems!

Akta: Personal stuff aside, running a show alone is quite a task because you not only have to do everything yourself but also you don’t have a think board with you.

The major changes to my company came in after my marriage and when my husband took a sabbatical. He became my think tank along with my brother and a dear friend. And through everything, my father’s teachings always provided a foundation for my work (he always said a spade is a spade and situations are what they are; you have to stick to your convictions and values no matter what).

These 4 men played an important role in my life and business.

My clients also played a very important role, who kept their confidence in me when I started out, they not only trusted me with their money to manage but also entrusted me with their close friends and family as references. That’s where I felt motivated and encouraged to keep moving further and keep progressing.

Q: Any regrets? Something you wished you had done differently?

Akta: I just wish I had started Manas earlier; I wasted a few years along the way before starting off on my own. I knew it was the right thing to do, but sometimes one just gets bogged down by playing it safe!

Q: Any advice for other women starting their business journeys?

Akta: Women go through so many changes in their life, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially. The most significant change is when she gets married and eventually has kids. These phases of life should encourage you more and more, rather than being a deterrent. We women should empower ourselves so that we are prepared to take things head-on and not on defense.

Whenever you want to take the plunge to join the entrepreneurial bandwagon keep in mind the following –

1. Emotional and Mental Stability
2. Financial Stability
3. Passion
4. Focus
5. A balance between work and life

 

We wish Akta all the success in her endeavours. Keep chasing your dreams and empowering others. 

If you would like to share your own entrepreneurial journey or that of someone inspiring you know, then drop us a quick note or a comment below. We would love to hear from you.