Award-winning Kamlesh Rajput shares his remarkable story.
Wednesday 25 September was a memorable night, when Sterling Finance won the Small Firm Graduate and Non-Graduate Programme of The Year category at the British Accountancy Awards 2019.
The feeling was incredible and the emotions overwhelming, especially when one of the judges, Michael Kreeft, CFO of BMW UK, told us that ‘Sterling Finance deserves the award for its remarkable focus on employee education, training and development'.
It was truly a dream come true for a small ACCA accounting practitioner from Ashton under Lyne in Tameside, Greater Manchester to receive national recognition. It was also a surprise for my son Adarsh – also an ACCA member – who joined me on stage to receive the award.
ACCA has taken me on a life-changing journey. I was born in Baroda city, in India’s Gujarat state, to a poor family: my father was an auto rickshaw (‘tuk-tuk’) driver. I completed my master’s degree by streetlight, hoping to one day have my own desk, chair and table lamp. In 1986, I migrated to the UK to marry my fiancée Rashmi with my head full of fantasies about career and life. Despite my master’s degree, I couldn't get a proper job to earn enough to support my family. I struggled for 10 years to get into a finance and accounting career. Like any migrant to the UK, I dreamt about a better life and a good career. After 10 years' hard work, my dream and fantasies were shattered. There was no way forward.
In 1997, my boss, Dr Ian Kennedy of WM Engineering Limited – a visionary individual who believed in education – suggested that I should study for the ACCA qualification. This was the only door open for study as other professional qualifications had several barriers. The course, subjects and style of examination were very robust and undoubtedly demanding; I failed a few times, learning that there is no shortcut to the ACCA qualification. I had to learn, live, preach and practise the ethics and values of being a true accountant with confidence, competence and care.
Dr Kennedy paid my fees and I worked like mad to prove my worth when the only tool I had was the knowledge I gained during my ACCA course. I joined the company as an administrator and by the time I gained the ACCA qualification, I was CFO of this multinational organisation with operations in the UK, US, Germany, Australia and the Middle East. This additional recognition, respect and reward were only possible after gaining the ACCA qualification.
As a board member, I became not only an accountant but also the business and strategic adviser to the organisation, and my CPD kept my knowledge up-to-date and razor sharp. My ACCA status allowed me to express opinions with confidence and objectivity in board meetings, especially when I had to give different views on business, strategic and operational matters. I felt like the boy from the film Slumdog Millionaire, becoming a true professional with the ability to impact business minds.
In 2002 I started my practice, Sterling Finance (UK). My vision is based on ACCA’s ethical values, advising business owners to pay tax fairly but save tax legally by efficient business operations. I believe that tax savings are not a privilege of elite and rich individuals. Every small business can save tax legally through good record-keeping and being honest with their accountant. In my experience, small businesses often become victim of non-qualified accountants because they select services based on price, not values.
To me, ACCA is more than a qualification. It is a process and a belief for making a difference and impact on the entrepreneurial journey. My ACCA qualification cost was a gift from my previous employer and it is my duty to pass this on to my employees. For many years we have been an ACCA Approved Employer at Gold level. We inspire our employees to practise and preach ACCA values. ACCA’s values have inspired me to encourage all my staff to study for the qualification, and we provide full support for their personal and professional development. We invest in emotional wellbeing and care for our staff’s mental health, engaging external business and personal coaches as consultants, and in 2018, Sterling Finance received a Pride of Tameside award for investing in apprentices. Yes, our training budget is disproportionately high and may not make commercial sense but we believe that our employees are our assets and our dream is to grow future partners for the firm.
Thanks to my ACCA qualification, I have also become an external examiner at the universities of Salford and Wales, and a governor at Ashton Sixth Form College, and in 2005 served as president of ACCA Manchester’s Members’ Panel. I am also a non-executive director of a start-up fintech company, which is now one of the fastest growing software firms in the UK.
I truly believe that, as an accountant, I am privileged to earn the trust of my clients, who share their confidential information and seek objective advice in order to make an impact on their business and personal financial position.
When I was 10 years old I was watching a Bollywood movie and saw a Mercedes car. I dreamt that one day I could have this car. I was 40 years old when I passed my ACCA qualification and Dr Kennedy gave me my first brand-new Mercedes. ‘Thank you’ is insufficient to express my gratitude to ACCA for taking me on this miraculous journey.
Kamlesh Rajput FCCA, Sterling Finance
Adarsh and Kamlesh Rajput with comedian Sean Lock, who hosted the event