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Five things that made me

How Charindra got to where he is now

Five things that made me’ shares stories of senior leaders at Deloitte. Here we chatted with Charindra Pathiwille (better known as CP) who is the managing partner of our Financial Advisory business in the UK. His energy and constant eye on the future pushes him – and everyone around him – forward.

Meet Charindra

CP is a powerhouse of energy. Since striking out from his Hong Kong home for his first work adventure in Singapore, he’s always pursued his dreams. His every day is driven by a deep desire to build our business, get things done and have fun along the way. Here’s his story.

1. Chasing dreams

“My parents are Sri Lankan but emigrated to Hong Kong, where I grew up. When I was in school, I told anyone who’d listen I was going to be an engineer. My dad is a civil engineer and so was his dad, so it seemed like a done deal. As a result, I studied maths and sciences, but threw in economics as I always had an interest in finance.

But when I had to do work experience, I couldn’t for the life of me find an engineering position. I ended up taking a place with Castrol Asia in their finance team, counting oil barrels in warehouses and stamping ‘paid’ on supplier invoices. What really stayed with me was the CFO talking to me about his role, and what it was like to build a business in Asia. I decided to forget engineering. This was the life I wanted!

It inspired me to study Economics at Cardiff University. But when I returned to Hong Kong just after the handover of sovereignty from the UK to China, I struggled to get a job because I couldn’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese. I convinced my parents to buy me a ticket to Singapore, and just went around handing my CV out to anyone who would let me into their office! This approach eventually bore fruit and I got my first job.

I loved living and working in Singapore. It was all about the life experience. Mum said ‘ You’re having too much fun! You need to build a career.’ So I went back to the UK and joined the graduate programme at Arthur Andersen (which then became Deloitte) and I was hooked.”

“That youthful resilience of going abroad and pursuing my dreams really helped me in my future career.”

2. Twists, turns and pivots

“I started out in audit and worked with some great leaders who gave me room to grow. What I remember most from those early days was scribing meetings with partners, listening to them discuss new accounts and how they were going to grow them. That’s how I’ve introduced my junior team members to business development, and I think every partner has this same responsibility. Right from the beginning, I wanted to be a partner as much as I’d wanted to be an engineer when I was little.

After working in audit for a few years, I decided it was time to leave my comfort zone and I moved into the transactions services team. It was really challenging. I went from an environment where I knew everything to a place where I didn’t know what anyone was talking about. I was a senior manager, so people above looked to me for answers and people below looked to me for guidance.

I felt absolutely out of my depth. It was one of the steepest learning curves I’ve ever been on. And to make it worse, the partner I was working with wasn’t supportive at all. I was made to feel stupid for not knowing things and at times the pressure was so intense I seriously considered not going into work in the morning.

Reflecting now, I’m glad I didn’t give up. It taught me to seek out people who could help me. To be vulnerable and admit that I’d never done it before but was willing to learn. I also learnt that the way you make people feel matters, and I’m glad that in our business, people leadership like that is no longer acceptable.”

“The hardest experiences teach you the most. But those lessons will stay with you the rest of your career.”

3. Building something

“Sometimes, the best opportunities appear out of nowhere. A tap on the shoulder by a partner from Australia asking if I wanted to get involved in this thing called infrastructure took me on an unexpected path. I had done a deal in the space and he wanted to get a team together. Why not?

Five of us started it – and it was the most fun I’ve ever had. We built a whole new part of the business dedicated to advising infrastructure clients. I loved building it and getting people to buy into an idea that didn’t exist yet. The market was coming; the clients were appearing. It was fantastic. We ended up with a multidisciplinary team of over 60 people in the UK and a network across Europe.

But good things take time. You know what they say about an overnight success being years in the making? It took 16 years to set up from nothing. That experience really helped me get to partner. I was famous for something. The business case was there. But the building blocks came from the love of just getting involved in something.

Was it straightforward? No. Something you don’t expect will always happen. The markets move or something you think will be big doesn’t make it. But I was finally doing what I got into this business to do – building something.”

“Have a plan. Have ambition. But above all, love what you do. It will take you far.”

4. Big opportunities

“I recently became the managing partner for our Financial Advisory business in the UK. It was one of those once-in-a-career moments. The opportunity to influence the direction of travel of FA– the place where I’ve forged my career – and make it better was something I just had to throw myself into.

It’s been a whirlwind few months getting my head around my new role. But as with everything, you find your cadence, you work with your team, you find out where you have to go hard. The key thing for me is to stay true to who I am as a leader: I’m high energy, I like to spend time with people, be transparent and open, and not shy away from a difficult conversation as long as it’s fair.

Finding moments to switch off from it all is really important too. For me, wellbeing is all about being active. When I can’t be active, it really impacts my mental health, so I try and make sure I carve out the time to get on my bike first thing in the morning. If I leave it to the evening, something will happen, and my routine disappears. I also love cooking – particularly using my big green egg barbecue on weekends.”

“The busier you are, the better you have to be at prioritising your wellbeing. You’ll be better at your job and showing up for others.”

5. Positive influences

“Looking back at my career, I realise every stage has been about learning something new. And it still is. That excites me. I don’t necessarily feel like I’ve made it. I’ve probably got another ten years until I retire, but as my wife says, I’m unlikely to retire because I can’t do nothing. She’s probably right…

When I think about the idea of success, for me it’s always been about influencing people or situations in a positive way. Have I managed to get the best out of someone? Are we offering the best advice to our clients? Am I building the best business? Beyond work, have I taught my kids something valuable? Have I spent quality time with my wife and parents? That’s what being successful means to me.

My recommendation to anyone developing their careers is to have a loose five-year plan. For me, having an idea of the clients and people I want to work with, and the roles I wanted to experience, has helped guide my focus. I knew where I wanted to go, but I was flexible on how I could get there. As in life, there are always twists and pivots – and those will teach you the most.

One thing I’d do differently is to find time to enjoy things as I was going through them. I don’t think I really have sometimes – I was too busy looking at the next project, the next milestone, the next challenge. So my final piece of advice to anyone reading – make sure you remember to stop and appreciate the moment.”

“Don’t rush to the next thing or get so busy that you forget to appreciate the moment.”

Five things we learnt from Charindra

1. If you really believe in something, you have to go after it.

2. The hardest experiences teach you the most. Keep getting up.

3. An overnight success is years in the making.

4. Prioritise you. It’ll help you show up for others.

5. Don’t forget to enjoy the moment. The time is now.

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