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Aug 20, 2008, 04.29 PM | Source: CNBC-TV18

India faces skills gap issue: Vandana Saxena Poria

Vandana Saxena Poria is an entrepreneur who started with Ernst & Young and moved to a listed company BPP before starting her own venture ‘Get Through Guides’. She said, " If you look at the Deloitte’s, BRIC reports, there are issues about skills in India. We have to make the education system more practical."

India faces skills gap issue: Vandana Saxena Poria
Vandana Saxena Poria is an entrepreneur who started with Ernst & Young and moved to a listed company BPP before starting her own venture ‘Get Through Guides’ .  She didn’t spend all her time crunching numbers in fact she was spinning the mouse on a local radio station. When the station had cash flow problem, she switched to Chartered Accountancy. After three years of training in the UK; two years with Ernst & Young in Romania, Vandana found her true colleague ‘training’.  She began with franchise for UK largest listed professional training company BPP Holdings. She then took over as the CEO of BPP’s International division.

Poria said, “I was with BPP for over seven years. One of the craziest moments was when they rang me up and said “Poland” and I said, “When do you want me to move” and they said “how about a month”. I remember turning up in Poland at the airport, not understanding a word they were saying because it’s a Slavic language as oppose to Latin. I wondered how am I going to open a business here and that’s when I realised the value of Chartered Accountancy because I sat down and said I need a business plan. I remember sitting in my hotel room the first night, crying and thinking how am I going to do? What have I done? But then I went to the British High Commission, British Embassy and they said, “These are good places to start, here are some contacts for you.”

After ten years in central Europe, Vandana made her entry to India. She set up ‘Get Through Gudies’ a content, research and creation company that develops and publishes materials for would be accountants, managers and professionals specialising in finance. Get Through Guides generates a lion share of its revenues from the UK but now she plans to expand to India, Africa, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Australia and even America.

Poria said, “We have about 40 people ranging from people who are B.Coms to Chartered Accountants and MBAs. We get the syllabus; major qualifications like ACCA - The Association of Chartered Certified Accountant and buy material for them. We spend a lot of time putting in lots of examples so that it becomes easy for somebody who just picks up a book to understand what’s going on and that was a key for us.”

Now that Vandana is cashing in on India’s entrepreneurial strengths, the next high note she is hitting is with an organisation that the Indian Diaspora can share their skills and talent with India’s generation next. She is just been awarded the Order of the British Empire or the OBE for her contribution to enhance trade between India and the UK.

Poria said, “I am an ardent supporter of the relationship between UK and India. I am an absolute product of the two and proud of it. I setup the British Business Group in Pune along with other some great business people. I have been trying to support bilateral trade encouraging Pune based companies to go to the UK and vice versa.

Excerpts from CNBC-TV18’s exclusive interview with Vandana Saxena Poria:

Q: Now the life has come full circle here. The India connection has actually become a preferred destination. Has it become a choice for you now?

A: It was difficult for us growing up in England; we grew up in the 70s and 80s. There weren’t any role models like Shah Rukh Khan, we had Amitabh Bachchan. We had VCR (video cassette recorder) and didn’t have anything what the mainstream of England understood. It was tough for us to be Indian or to be part of being an Indian. I didn’t want my kids to go through that and wanted to be able to give something back and so we said “why not we move to India and why not we do something similar to what we are doing now.” The most important thing for me was being able to produce material that we could give cheaply to help people succeed.

Q: It’s a social effort but is still profit making. So give us a sense of the kind of numbers because if you want this business to be sustainable you have to make money?

A: Text books in this particular field retail at 30 pound sterling, which is Rs 2,500. We are retailing our books in the UK at 18 (not sure about the currency here) almost half of that. So our book retail between Rs 500-600.

Q: Is it a volume game?

A: It’s a volume game, the lower we sell, prices will come down. Our idea is we would love to give away for free but we got to cover the cost, pay the salaries and that what we are trying to do.                

Q: What’s the biggest thing that you have discovered about India now that you have started and setup a business there?

A: The biggest thing is the skills gap. If you look at the Deloitte’s report even the BRIC reports, there are issues about skills. Part of the issue is that the education system is very theoretical at the moment. If we can make it more practical, these professional qualifications will do. We have got a billion entrepreneurs waiting for that to happen.

Q: We have seen numbers in terms of bilateral trade between India and the UK going up significantly since 2004? But to your mind what are the problems or the challenges that still needs to be addressed? I am not talking about the big companies because they can get through but the SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) people like yourself?

A: The biggest issue is that there is a culture shock and it is very different. When I came to India and called up the electrician because we needed something done. He said “I will come in 15 minutes” I believed that he will be there in 15 minutes. He would show up the next day and nobody would say it’s right or wrong. It’s just a different way of doing business.  So that’s how the things are. The opportunities in India are phenomenal but they have to understand that we have our own culture, our own way of doing things and you have to adapt to that.

Q: For you as a woman entrepreneur; was the journey harder or has the glass ceiling really and truly been broken?

A: For me there is no glass ceiling; it’s just the sky. There were more issues for me when I went to Switzerland. When I was in Switzerland, we got a meeting with a very big company, and I came in as the International Managing Director of the International Division for BPP. I walked in the room and they said, “Who let you in?” and I said “I am Vandana Saxena Poria” and they said, “you are a young woman, where is your boss.” I have had that in Europe and but to be honest I haven’t had it in India.  India has changed incredibly.


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