Profile: Planning for Success
Satyavati Berera, COO of PwC-India, became a powerhouse by making herself indispensable professionally
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Right at the beginning of my career there were certain clients who specifically said that they did not want women on their team because they had never had any working in their accounts departments,” recalls Satyavati Berera. Fast forward 35 years and today, not only is Satyavati the COO of PwC-India, but also the first woman to hold that position in any of the Big Four firms which, like most traditional businesses, are notorious for their male populated leadership rungs.
Coming from an army background, Satyavati moved around the country as a child and finally completed her schooling from boarding school St Mary’s in Pune, after which she shifted to New Delhi to go to college. Equipped with a degree in Economics from Lady Shri Ram College for Women and an aspiration to become a chartered accountant, she joined PricewaterhouseCoopers as an Article Trainee in 1980 and has worked there ever since, becoming a partner in 2005.
“I’ve done a vast variety of things during my time at PwC. I started with the audit department, moved on to consultancy, became a part of the advisory practice and was the leader of the consulting practice in the country before assuming my current position,” she says.
Her extensive experience across diversified sectors in the areas of Assurance, Consulting and Governance, Risk and Compliance Services allowed her to hone a sort of unique versatility and an all-roundedness that is essential to wielding the reigns of a behemoth like PwC.
Initially, even though some clients didn’t want women, there were plenty who did, and Satyavati found herself in an organisation which was progressive enough to support her and invest in her growth. “The tone starts from the top,” she explains.
But the most important belief that bolstered Satyavati’s profession and became core to her work ethic was that one needed to consistently bring to the table a body of high-quality work that speaks for itself.
“I believe that the key thing is that you have to create a business case for yourself. You have to be good at what you’re doing and people will want to support you. It really depends on what you are giving to the organisation,” she says. “The content of what one contributes is really the most important. They can look you over once or twice, but they will not be able to gloss over your work for too long,” she says, explaining her success mantra.
And this is exactly what she did. Proving to be a powerhouse in her own right, she was actively involved in designing and implementing control strengthening and process improvement solutions for a variety of Indian and multinational companies—work which made her indispensable to the organisation.
With an obvious meticulousness and realism about her, it is easy to see ingredients of what propped her up to eventually shatter the glass ceiling. The right mix of passion, dedication, organisational support, and the foresight to plan ahead based on acute self-awareness and a quest for balance are what Satyavati thinks brought her to this point.
It’s all about planning, Satyavati says. Right from identifying what you want and building a support system to keep you propped up. Creating yourself in such way that bolsters your professional indispensability.
“Be so focused, passionate and committed that the organisation feels the pinch of you leaving,” she says, “Right from the start, I was aware that it is a long journey and the chances of getting burnt out are high. That’s why I looked at it from a sustainability perspective. I didn’t want to work so hard at the cost of my family. You need to make sure that you plan well. That is how I dealt with the pressure of multitasking that creeps in as responsibilities, both at home and at work grow.”
What makes Satyavati happy is that today organisations are bullish about creating gender diversity and investing in, and nurturing their female employees. “The organisation has to be very supportive, there is no doubt about it. In an emergency, you sometimes find women leaving because they they cannot cope and if there is no organisational support, there is no option but to withdraw. But at that time, if you get the right support, you can lie low for some time and come back when things get better,” she says.
Her advice for other women is to stay resilient. She says, “There are going to be ups and downs in one’s career. Something that woman will probably feel more. But you have to be confident that you want to make it.”
What’s next for Satyavati? Nothing but work and more work and plans to completely immerse herself in her responsibilities as COO. “I’ve been in this position for about two months and believe that my learning curve has just started. My only focus is giving it my best shot,” she says.