Ranjana Deopa, COO, Biz Divas Foundation in conversation with Ms Sonali Sinha, Founder & CEO, SoaringEagles Learning Pvt. Ltd.

Sonali Sinha has two decades of experience in investment banking, social sector and entrepreneurship. She is the Founder & CEO of an innovative talent development organisation, SoaringEagles Learning Pvt. Ltd. SoaringEagles offers a range of innovative learner-centric programmes to develop self-awareness, personal effectiveness and professional skills which are highly valued by world class employers today. Prior to setting up SoaringEagles Learning, Sonali was the CEO of Dignity Foundation, an NGO working for senior citizens. She was associated with this cause for three years.

During her sixteen-year investment banking stint, she held senior leadership positions in marquee companies like SBI Capital Markets, Ernst & Young and IDFC Capital. She advised several Indian and multinational companies on joint ventures, acquisitions and equity fund raising. She advised large financial companies on entry into the Indian market.

Sonali is an Independent Director on the Board of STCI Primary Dealer Limited. Sonali is a FICCI Young Leader and was on the Steering Committee for a Knowledge Paper on ‘Organizing for Corporate Social Responsibility in India’. Her articles on skill development and entrepreneurship have been published in prestigious publications like Entrepreneur India, Your Story, SME World, Education Insider, etc.

Sonali Sinha was awarded the Women Leadership Achievement Award at the World Women Leadership Congress & Awards 2016. Sonali is a Professional Member of Association of Talent Development (ATD), the world’s largest talent development association. She is also a Life Member of Indian Society for Training & Development (ISTD).

She has a stellar academic background, having completed her Economics (Hons.) from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University and MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur.

You are a role model and inspiration for many career women. We would like to know more about journey as a Career woman as well as your personal journey.

“My journey over the last 20 years has been very exciting and fulfilling. I started in investment banking as an equity analyst with SBICAP. This gave me a thorough understanding of the sectors I covered and the opportunity to interact with top management, very early in my career. Then I moved into the M&A and Advisory vertical as I wanted to get involved in transactions, first with SBICAP and then with Ernst & Young (EY). I got the opportunity to work on some marquee transactions and even contribute to policy making. EY also gave me an opportunity to work in a different cultural environment and with many multinational clients. During this phase I started getting involved with social causes and started feeling the need for my work to have more social impact. So I left the lucrative Investment banking space and joined an NGO. My experience as the head of an NGO for 3 years made me more rounded in terms of knowledge about all aspects of running an organisation in a challenging scenario. It also widened my perspective about challenges faced by people and helped me build a diverse network of associates.

I realized that my calling was to help people develop and achieve their potential and so I set up SoaringEagles Learning in 2015. We help build confidence to achieve success in one’s career. We are also into corporate training and have worked with some large organisations. We have received tremendously positive feedback from our customers. The entrepreneurial journey has been a great learning experience. On the personal front I have been very lucky to have a life partner who supports me in every way possible. He is my sounding board. My son and I share a wonderful bond and he has always appreciated my choice to work full time. Seeing him grown into a wonderful human being has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”

You are working as an Independent Director on Board STCI Primary Dealer Limited, how has the board experience been so far and what is your advice to aspiring Board members especially on the preparation required for getting on Corporate Boards in the future

I have been an Independent Director for two years now and it has added a lot of value to my repertoire of professional experience. Throughout my investment banking days, I had many opportunities to present to the Boards of companies and handle their challenging questions. During my non-profit days also, I got to manage our Board meetings, so it gave me a perspective on how to anticipate questions that Board members would ask and prepare for it. Given these experiences, joining the Board of STCI Primary Dealer did not really feel like unfamiliar territory, just that my role was reversed. Now I was on the side that asked questions. The company itself was also not new to me. STCI has been a client earlier and I knew the business and the top management. The other Board members were welcoming and encouraging. All this helped me take up the role confidently.

I learnt from one of the very experienced Board members that as a Board member our role is to ask constructive questions and provide broad policy guidance to the management and not interfere in their day-to-day working. The management obviously has a much deeper understanding of the business. The role of the Board members is to bring to the table their own wealth of experience across industries and share best practices.

For aspiring Board members it is important to have an overall perspective of the economy and some industries. The person should have an independent mind. She should be a strategic thinker and be analytical. Good communication and interpersonal skills would really help. Also, knowledge of company laws is an added advantage. Most importantly, women who get invited to join a Board should not see it as a favour. They should see it as an opportunity to grow and contribute to the success of the company.

What have been the key challenges faced by you during your career and how did you overcome them.

Every challenge in life gives us an opportunity to grow. In fact I have always strived to step out of my comfort zone so that I can grow as a professional and as an individual. There have been many challenging assignments that I have worked on but what has been more challenging has been to deal with individuals who don’t see women as equals. Investment banking is a male dominated industry. During my days, there were very few women at senior levels so most of the times, I would be the only woman in the room. I had to learn how not to let others take credit for my work and also how to be heard. From being a soft-spoken young woman to becoming someone who is heard and cannot be ignored, was quite a journey. So I think, I am who I am because of the challenges I had to face. I would not want to change a thing.

Who have been your role models/ mentors/ supporters in your journey and what roles have they played in your success.

There have been many people whose qualities I have admired and tried to emulate. I have learnt a lot in the process. I have picked up qualities like attention to detail, how to conduct oneself in a meeting, how to build rapport with clients and how to create opportunities where there may be none. I have been lucky to have bosses who would rely on me to get things done. Their confidence in my abilities has really prodded me on and given me the confidence to take on challenging assignments. The unwavering support of my husband has made it possible to chase my dreams.