Host Nicky Acuna Ocana’s guest on this episode of Leaders with Ambition epitomises resilience, both personal and professional. Sheetal Sanghvi, a Partner specialising in Innovation Reliefs at RSM UK, has risen through the ranks over the past two decades through a combination of adaptability, hard work and openness to support.
Her story of perseverance, which starts with the loss of her father at a very young age, will inspire you to meet challenges with optimism, knowing that “you can only achieve if you have experienced failure” When her lack of technical expertise was an impediment, she sought education.
When her career in corporate tax seemed hindered, she pivoted. And when a broken ankle (suffered during the RSM company football tournament!) side-lined her in recovery, she used it as an opportunity to reassess and re-orient her career path.
“I know that whatever comes my way I can deal with, personally or professionally,” she says. That’s self-evident in the super-sized confidence that Sheetal brings with her into any situation. She shares career achievements as well as challenges and wraps up with valuable advice.
By her example Sheetal is showing younger women – especially Asian woman – that they, too, can bring their authentic selves to work and find a niche that they love. “And if you do that,” she says, “you never have to work a day in your life.” Sheetal is certainly a testament to that!
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Sheetal walks us through her career history, starting with how she uncovered an affinity for auditing and fought for her first role with RSM – a firm she identified early on as a good fit for her values and goals.
There are no coincidences
Falling short on her A levels may have been a temporary roadblock to her interest in law, but also afforded Sheetal a chance to go down a different path better suited to her innate strengths.
Having lost her father at a very early age, Sheetal found ways to re-sell chocolates and sweets for pocket money to support her family and interests.
She touches on how the loss of her father impacted both Sheetal and her whole family unit, including her mother’s life trajectory and the priority on providing opportunities for her sister. The ultimate outcome? An incredibly tightknit trio!
How Sheetal progressed her career at RSM and what defined her path
She was thrust immediately into working in the field with clients.
After completing her chartered accountancy qualification, she transferred permanently to the corporate tax team.
In 2010, a Senior Manager offered an opportunity to specialise in Innovation Reliefs – which would become a niche which she is passionate about.
Innovation Reliefs played a key role in Sheetal’s progression at RSM, offering her an opportunity to deploy her strengths in client relationship management and driving business development.
Turning Challenges into Opportunity
Sheetal’s efforts to compensate for a lack of wider tax technical expertise became a chance for her to demonstrate other strengths.
An unfortunate ankle break in 2017 afforded Sheetal time at home in recovery to reflect on – and reassess – her career in corporate taxes.
She discusses the pivotal role a mentor played in guiding Sheetal’s transition away from corporate taxes into a new Innovation Reliefs role that leveraged her real strengths and interests.
Paying It Forward
Sheetal honours all those who have helped shape her career and enabled her to play to her strengths by bringing her authentic self and fostering the same in others coming up behind her.
Sheetal is passionate about cultivating diversity, ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity and providing the support they need to succeed and reach their full potential – regardless of background, culture or religion.
Sheetal talks about the responsibility she feels as a role model for Asian women pursuing their dreams and seeking support as well as encouragement from people around them.
Words of Wisdom
'Find a job that you love.'
'Grab opportunities with both hands!'
'Work hard – and the results will follow.'
'If you do the right things, things will work out.'
How Sheetal defines success
Being happy with what you do.
Feeling supported by colleagues up and down the ranks.
Pulling together is a key ingredient for Sheetal, who models her team on family and that level of commitment to one another.
How carving out her own niche within Innovations Relief set the stage for sky-high confidence and job satisfaction.
Sheetal’s Career Highlights
Her ability to compensate her mum for at least a fraction of the sacrifices made to ensure her daughters’ success.
Navigating a non-traditional career path unique to her.
How Sheetal has found her comfort level, in part by asking for guidance when it comes to combating Impostor Syndrome.
Sheetal’s Career Challenges
Being easily mistaken as a junior team member because of her youthful presentation.
Overcoming cultural norms that instilled in her a deference to elders and those in authority.
Managing through a toxic marriage because divorce wasn’t a culturally sanctioned option.
Tending to keep things inside and resist seeking help with personal issues.
What Sheetal Sees on the Horizon
Advancing her regional role in Innovation Reliefs.
Building out her team and developing their careers.
Most immediately: All-important holiday downtime to recharge!
Sheetal’s advice for young people who want to break into professional services
Be yourself and bring your whole self to work!
Find a job you enjoy and you’ll never need to work a day in your life!
Take whatever opportunities are in front of you – even those that are unconventional or unanticipated.
Don’t shy away from failure. It’s instructive!
A shout-out to the many top-notch colleagues at RSM that Sheetal credits for her longevity and advancement at the firm.
“My father was my world and my hero … Looking back (on losing him), I don’t think I grieved properly and felt that I needed to be strong for my Mum and my sister so I kept a lot of what I was feeling to myself, which I know now was the wrong thing to do, but was a bit of a coping mechanism.”
“My sister is my pillar of strength, my go-to person for everything. Growing up we always protected each other. We keep each other grounded and I hope it always stays that way.”
“(My mentor) put her neck on the line for me and very soon after … I finally got what deep down inside I wanted all along – a focused specialist role that played on my key strengths.”
“You really can’t progress on your own. You need that internal support network, mentors or sponsors around you, so that you can learn from their experiences.”
“Leaders have a responsibility to bring out the best in others and that certainly is what has happened in my career. An army of individuals brought out the best in me.”
“It’s equally important to know people professionally as well as personally to get the best out of them.”
“Unfortunately lots of firms have got great policies, but they haven’t actually got role models in place or in situ to enable people to really view it through a proper lens and say, yes, (diversity and inclusion) is living and breathing.” (Nicky)
“I’m really lucky that I’m in a job that I genuinely love. I don’t feel like I come to work and I’m supported by a great team, below and upward.”
“I’ve often sat back, not spoken enough or challenged enough when I needed to. I just lacked that confidence. It’s an area that I work really hard on with support from individuals at RSM and an area I’ll always have to work on in the years to come because of my upbringing.”
“Reap those opportunities! That’s how my career has taken that unconventional, untraditional path – taking the opportunities in front of me, grabbing them with both hands. Until you do that, you aren’t going to know what you enjoy, what you don’t like.”
Sheetal Sanghvi is a Partner at RSM UK who leads the Central Region Innovation Reliefs (IR) business and is part of the firm's National IR Senior Leadership team.
Having specialised in this niche area since 2010, she has extensive experience in advising businesses (from start-ups to large corporates) across a range of sectors in making significant research and development (R&D) and patent box claims.
This enables her to have practical discussions with all levels within a business to ensure that claims are fully maximised, whilst also being robust and able to withstand scrutiny from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
Nicky Acuna Ocana has led high performing recruitment teams for over 20 years. As the Regional Managing Director of Ambition UK, Europe and USA, she leads a team of highly-skilled recruitment consultants who are experts in their niche specialist areas.
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