Profile: Making It In Management
Despite misfortunes in her formative years, Monika Sood not only made it as a respected professional but made a name in an area dominated by men
What was once a man’s world is today going through a revolution, gradually opening up to women even in tough areas like management consulting.
Take Monika Sood for example: a self-made professional-turned-entrepreneur who co-founded Arete Advisors in 2013, to offer management consulting and new business incubation services. “Management consulting is a difficult sector for women and less than 10 per cent of partners at leading consulting firms are women,” says Monika, a management graduate from IIM Ahmedabad, who also holds a post-graduate degree in Physics from Delhi university. Before launching Arete, Monika served as the CEO of the Corporate Advisory Division of Feedback Infra, a management consulting firm focused on the infrastructure sector. This apart, she has also had stints at System Tek, an electronics firm and multinational firm Procter and Gamble.
Having been one of the few women in the one of the premier management institutes in the country, Monika says: “The two years at IIM-A changed the trajectory of my professional career and personal life. I learnt a lot across diverse subjects, interacted with and learnt from the best and made friends for life.”
Management consulting is demanding, even more so when it comes to women. It has its own set of challenges — it involves the need to spend time a lot of time away from home, which more often than not, results in difficulty in balancing work and home life.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that even as women are joining the industry in unprecedentedly high numbers at the entry level, those who carry on are rare.
“Consulting requires extensive travel and long hours at work — both of which often become difficult for women,” Monika says, adding that the situation is gradually changing with more women taking up senior roles in consulting. “I believe women are very good and can be very successful in a consulting career especially since they have the ability to multi-task, build strong relationships with clients and teams, bring in a human perspective to work, in addition to good problem solving skills.” In fact, in more ways than one, women have a bouquet of skills that fit consulting roles rather seamlessly. In a career spanning over 15 years, of which 10 years have been in healthcare alone, Monika has advised a gamut of healthcare groups in the country including Apollo Hospitals, Care Hospitals, DM Healthcare, Dr Lal Path Labs, Wockhardt, and others. Today, in a rather short span of time, Arete has been able to build a strong brand having advised leading industry players across sectors. “We have advised private equity players in most of the large transactions in the healthcare delivery space,” Monika says.
The turning point in her life, Monika explains, has been the transition from a professional to an entrepreneur besides getting admission in the most premier management institute in the country. “The past three years as an entrepreneur have been fascinating and a great learning experience. We have gone through ups and downs — more ups thankfully, and survived difficult economic times.” Entrepreneurship is a continuous journey. “While starting up, the concern is typically about being able to build enough business and later the challenge lies in attracting and retaining talented individuals” she says.
So, all in all, one definitely needs to have the entrepreneurial instincts within to make it big in the startup ecosystem. Also, combined with starting up with the right business partners is key to success. “Always start with a bunch of like-minded people and friends: you will need them in this journey, work hard with them, be ethical, and build strong relationships with everyone,” advises Monika. “After all, in any business, it is important that one demonstrates ‘soft’ skills, such as good communication and team management and this is particularly important in a consulting environment.
On the personal front, Monika says her father has been her role model and her biggest supporter. Having lost her mother when Monika was at the tender age of six, the journey was particularly difficult for her. “My father encouraged me to take on new and different things in life,” she reminisces, adding, “By giving us freedom to pursue our passions and supporting us, he helped my siblings and I become strong, independent, confident individuals.”
Unfortunately, Monika lost her father too early in life as well. But even today, she lives by his ideals and the values — hard work, ethics, resilience, living in the present — some of the key things she learnt from him. “I believe that from ‘up there’ he is guiding me and supporting my growth and development. I also believe in God and see him as a great friend who has always been there when I needed him the most,” she says.
Even though Monika is a thorough professional, she believes in a balanced life, a healthy mix of professional and personal. “My family, my brother and sister, their extended families, my niece and circle of close friends keep me going. Of course, not to mention passions such as travelling, reading and making friends outside my cabin.”