Successful leaders never set out to be leaders; they set out to make a difference. Leaders also never start at the top! Their focus is on the goal, not the role. Excellence in what they do elevates them to the leadership role. The leadership journey of Manju Mastakar exactly defines the above statement. Starting a career as an intern with a CA in Dalal street in early 2000, and working for multiple broking firms built Manju’s resilience and vast financial knowledge that is her core strength today. Manju says, “Moving steadily up the corporate ladder from Assistant Accountant to Dealer to Account manager, Portfolio manager, and finally, Regional Manager was an exceptional journey rooted in learning. I got to deal with complex derivatives, commodities, currency hedging, structured products, and every financial product.”
Life has a way of surprising you. Her career in Mumbai, the financial capital of India, was abruptly curbed when she had to move to Bangalore, the IT capital of India in 2007. Bangalore was a city with a conservative financial approach and people were very risk-averse, lacking the interest or time to focus on financial complexities.
The tipping point to explore entrepreneurship for Manju was job loss in the crisis of 2008. Possessing good multitasking skills with extensive financial subject experience, she decided to strike out on her own with freelancing. Working with low capital, out of home, Manju used her financial capabilities and advisory skillset. She asserts, “Every skill you possess and accrue in your starting years is useful as an entrepreneur. Advising over 500 clients in different geographies on managing investment, capital markets, and investing surplus wealth correctly to smoothen the retirement period became the core knowledge and building block for my advisory firm.” She grew her capabilities by handling every aspect of the business, from sourcing clients, customer services, managing accounts, and public relations. Luckily for Manju, she came across an angel investor who funded her initiative, allowing her to take the entrepreneurial venture to a professional and larger scale. In 2010 she launched Bangalore-based Armstrong Capital & Financial Services Pvt. Ltd. Initially, the advisory services covered Equities, Derivatives, and PMS, but from 2013, they specialized in Financial Planning.
Taking care of your financial health for life
Armstrong Capital as a financial planning and wealth management firm creates comprehensive financial plans to help clients find their financial freedom. The goal is to bridge the gap between where the clients are now financially, and where they want to be. “For us, every relationship starts with a Financial Plan. We work closely with our clients. We explore and create a different strategy for every client. We add value through active asset allocation, fund selection, performance evaluation matrix, and diversification of the portfolio across geographies,” shares Manju. “Till today Armstrong does not sell products. We identify requirements and sell solutions. We set up review meetings at every interval and touchback on the plan. We have one plan and one perspective throughout the wealth creation journey. Our core competency is that we work with a lot of integrity and keep in mind that we need to build a long-term relationship.” Since its inception, Armstrong Capital has competed with big brands, building market credibility. Today her company boasts of the strength of 800 clients and over 30 advisors who work with her to deliver quality advice and grow its customer base.
Armstrong Capital has a strong brand philosophy based on principles of equality, diversity, and corporate social responsibility. Their recruitment policy focuses on gender equality, hiring freshers with raw skills and determination. Training them to align with Armstrong’s business goals is preferred. Employees are appreciated for good performance, and promotions are based solely on their skills and achievements.
Investing in people
Manju shares that building wealth is the need of all, but the wealth management industry faces a lack of people to give sage advice that is specific and curated to the client’s long and short-term life goals. Armstrong fills this void by developing comprehensive financial plans that are backed up by an extremely effective advisory team. Manju states, “We have an evidence-based learning approach where senior advisors share real-life and on job experiences with the entry-level advisors. Thus, mentoring them to ask the right questions and arrive at client-centric solutions. The biggest differentiator is the quality of advice, and knowledge levels of our advisors at Armstrong.”
Knowledge is power that multiples its value by sharing. Financial literacy is an essential life skill that is not included in school curriculums. As an act of giving back to society, Manju lectures in universities about financial planning and the importance of starting saving from an early stage in life. Armstrong Capital also offers internships that give young minds a chance to understand how the corporate world works.
Knowledge is power that multiples its value by sharing. Financial literacy is an essential life skill that is not included in school curriculums.
Mentoring employees and young minds, towards positivity, and teaching them important life skills is one of Manju’s other passions. She regularly writes articles and gives interviews, hoping to inspire young women with strong potential to come forward and explore new opportunities.
A strong advocate of female leadership
Manju’s role models are a few women in her industry who made a mark in the man’s world. She trusts and believes in women’s capabilities. She says, “Most women entrepreneurs are driven by a need to fulfill a dream or passion, with gaining independence. Women bring determination and focus to the table that fuels the fight for survival and innovation in the long run. Starting from small seed capital, that quickly became zero; I worked tirelessly to turn it around into cash flows. The world can benefit from the advantages of this level of perseverance!”
She is concerned about the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles, due to cultural constraints and gender biases; despite existing proof that women rank higher than men on key skills necessary for a leader, like empathy, social perception, and managerial effectiveness. Young minds of both genders need to be trained at a cultural level, to shoulder professional and personal roles competently, alongside, to enable each other’s career growth.
She states the biggest challenge for female entrepreneurship is the constant juggling of responsibilities between motherhood and entrepreneurship. She adds, “Since both responsibilities come around the same time in life and require plenty of dedication and energy, it’s hard to balance the two.” Fortunately, the digital era, further enabled by COVID, has opened up opportunities for women to work online, making it easier to fulfill home and work responsibilities equally. Today’s thriving e-commerce businesses have made women’s lives easier by delivering daily necessities, ordering food, online doctor consultations, hiring hourly cooks and caregivers, taxi on-demand, and many other services. Manju is thankful to all the male CEOs especially, for having thoughtfully worked behind the scenes and built businesses that are making women’s life easier.
Manju encourages women to dedicate their time and energies towards their passion, accepting that it is impossible to be a superwoman and do everything alone. Setting up a reliable support system at home and using delegation at work to train and empower juniors will free up time for higher responsibilities. Women need to participate in larger organizational initiatives like company vision, broadening customer base, and employee growth.
Without the privilege of higher education, Manju has adopted a process of continuous learning by listening to biographies on Audible, YouTube, and reading books. One can learn from the success and failures of others in the same industry or outside. They have mentored and guided her to steer her business through some tough times. Manju’s sustaining advice for everyone is that “Work is one facet of life. Life has to be lived and enjoyed too. Make time for yourself and your interests. I love to listen to music, traveling and exploring new places is a passion, and I also dabble in fashion designing. It creates quality time for me with my family, rejuvenating me to deal with everyday work stressors.”