With a female-led workforce at his firm, Akash Ladha is working to address the skills gap in the financial services industry in Rwanda.
In the ever-evolving landscape of global business, tales of success often shine brightest when they originate from humble beginnings. Such is the narrative of Akash Ladha, an entrepreneur who charted a journey from his hometown in India to the heart of Rwanda, transforming not only his own life but also contributing to the growing financial landscape of the country.
In 2016, and as a newly-qualified chartered accounting professional, Ladha arrived in the land of a thousand hills to work for a Rwandan accounting firm. In seven years, he established a company of 30 employees, with an office overlooking the city of Kigali, just one floor above KPMG’s main branch in Rwanda.
While his entrepreneurial journey may have found its foothold in the East African country, Ladha says that he owes his passion for the art of business to Surat, located in west-central India. “I grew up in the city of Surat where I was exposed to a unique blend of traditions and modernity. Deeply influenced by its businessmen and tycoons of textile and diamond industries, [it] shaped my perspective and enriched my understanding of the world around me,” he says.
Originally keen on studying medicine, Surat’s influence steered Ladha away from the sciences and towards a bachelor’s degree in commerce. But he lost interest in the degree very quickly and dropped out of university to pursue chartered accounting (CA), calling it a strategic move.
“My long-term goals – having a work-life balance; being a good son and taking care of my parents; and becoming a globe-trotter (he has been to 23 countries so far). I had realized that CA in India is probably the only course in the world that allows you education and respect to the highest accord in your industry, but also the payback period is so unreal that you pay off your entire CA education fees with the first salary you make (should you qualify with a first attempt),” adds Ladha.
He did indeed qualify on his first attempt, and secured a job in Mumbai. But instead of continuing on in India, he decided to move to Rwanda. “I wanted to move to Africa – adventure and new experiences, and get out of my comfort zone.”
Between 2016 and 2018, Ladha worked for an oil company, but the appeal fizzled out as he grew in his career and as a person.
“It was a great learning experience since the subsidiary of this oil MNC (multinational corporation) had only commenced operations in Rwanda a couple of years back and, as such, there were a lot of things to fix and achieve. But, in 2019, I started experiencing a sense of stagnation, coupled with a growing feeling of guilt over its environmental impact. I was eager to align my professional journey with my values,” says Ladha as he glances at the wall in his office showcasing his finance and accounting certificates.
This change of heart marked the beginning of a promising chapter in Ladha’s story. After serving as a financial consultant throughout 2019 for different business groups to foster sustainable financial practices, in 2020, he launched his own accounting and financial advisory firm called ALCPA.
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ladha turned a global economic disrupter on its head and into an opportunity.
“Recognizing the unmet need for affordable and quality accounting services in Rwanda, I took a bold step to disrupt the market. Establishing my own company, I positioned it strategically, just a floor above the esteemed KPMG offices. This innovative move allowed us to provide top-notch financial services at significantly lower fees, making quality accounting accessible to a wider range of businesses,” he says with a grin.
Determined to transform the local business landscape from an accounting standpoint, Ladha’s company, ALCPA, kept its focus on empowering startups and NGOs with its expertise. In turn, this helped it to establish credibility and a name for itself in the market, and the results of this initial strategy continue to be beneficial as his company grows every few months, acquiring a fresh list of high-value clients as it does.
“Our actions spoke volumes about the importance of making quality accounting accessible to entities that contribute to the betterment of society,” adds Ladha.
However his aspirations for himself and his company go beyond business. “It’s not just a business endeavor; it’s an endeavor to rekindle the torch of knowledge and forge a cadre of professionals that can illuminate this domain,” says Ladha.
With a workforce made up of 90% women in a field traditionally occupied by men, Ladha’s ALCPA has achieved these numbers through a conscious decision. And, while he’s pleased with this narrative, he appears more proud of the growth trajectory of his employees. “These women are the rocks of our work, coming from humble beginnings to now helming managerial roles.”
This approach to create a female-led workforce also encompasses his desire to create a company where a relationship is kindled with every employee from the time they are hired. He refers to this bond as the foundation of what he is attempting to create.
“For each individual we onboard, a commitment is kindled, to cultivate, to empower, to nurture. When one abruptly departs, it’s akin to removing a foundational brick from an edifice, painstakingly assembled,” Ladha adds, appearing slightly moved by the notion of the departure of an employee.
His description of what he is trying to build far exceeds the goals of his younger self. Rather than seeing the skills gap in Rwanda as a mere opportunity, he takes issue with it, and is working towards doing his fair share to improve the situation. “We’ve embarked on a journey to address the prevalent skills gap by fostering a culture of nurturing expertise through our bespoke training programs.”
While emulating the values and business models he picked up working as an employee, he has also innovated them to suit his stride. He calls it a ripple that spreads like a symphony of solutions, resonating across the economic spectrum.
“The destination is not just success, but a legacy of wisdom, an imprint that transforms, uplifts, and propels us all toward a future teeming with possibilities.”
It’s these possibilities that led Ladha to narrating his story from a conference room atop a high-rise building with wall-to-ceiling glass windows, flooding the space with sunlight, as the city traffic streams steadily in the background.
He has achieved a remarkable feat in just over two years, with the company progressing enough to support 30 employees, an effective office and his globetrotting lifestyle. To put numbers to his success story, he states, “We did $300,000 last year and now $500,000+ for this year.”
This success has not derailed Ladha’s original life goals. A year ago, he gifted his parents with an apartment in his hometown and seems to be hitting a perfect work-life balance. “I have found inner peace in Kigali, my days end with a perfect cup of coffee with my pups and my cat watching the sun go down,” Ladha says.
And, when asked what’s next, he answers, beaming, “This is only the beginning”.