CFO Suloshini Singh is redefining resilience: The significance of flexibility

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Optimi Group CFO Suloshini Singh shares her family’s resilient journey through life and how they were able to make it through the toughest ordeals because of the flexibility her work and studies were able to afford her.

When Suloshini Singh, CFO of Optimi Group, embarked on her MBA degree through Edinburgh University, little did she know how much of her tenacity and resourcefulness she’d have to use to complete the gruelling course.

“I chose Edinburgh’s remote learning option because I needed the flexibility. I couldn’t go the traditional route where attending in-person lectures is required. I simply didn’t have the time already trying to balance work and family,” she said.

It turns out that this choice was a gift and a revelation.

Suloshini signed up for the MBA in June 2020, in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic. During that time, it seemed a smart idea to further her skills in an uncertain world. She didn’t see the MBA as yet another title to add at the end of her name - with CA (SA) and CIA already there. She wanted to enhance her strategic thinking and deepen her grasp of organisational culture and behavioural dynamics. “We were given 200 hours for each component of the course. Of course, I didn’t have 200 hours to spare, but I made it work.”

To put it lightly, the journey to the degree was bumpy. In July 2020, one month after she embarked on the MBA, her father passed away – their first tragic experience of Covid-19.

“I had to focus on my remaining parent, while processing my grief and carrying the responsibility of my work. Thankfully, the benefit of remote learning is that this is possible."

Fast forward one year later to July 2021, when Suloshini contracted the Delta variant of Covid-19 and ended up with an oxygen tank and physiotherapist to aid her recovery. To compound the matter, her son developed Covid-related multi-inflammatory syndrome, which caused critical health issues for him.

Suloshini worked from her son’s hospital room throughout his lengthy stay. She relentlessly persevered to make sure that she could be there for her family and the obligations of her work.

Suloshini needed to focus on the priorities at hand, and unfortunately her studies were not among those. “There are 24 hours in a day, and one can do a lot in 24 hours. But, I also quickly realised that there are only 24 hours in a day and, while I needed to finish my studies, I needed to pick my battles at the time.”

So, the battle to complete the mighty MBA had to be deferred, yet again.

Luckily, she had flexibility at work. “Only my then CEO [Mike Hoffman] knew what was going on, and he was understanding and sympathetic to our family.”

“After the dust settled, I let the wider group of people know why I may have seemed a little on edge. It was met with surprise and sympathy, and I was humbled by the level of care shown by so many people,” Suloshini said.

“It was a difficult time and I can honestly say that I still think our entire family has PTSD whenever we see a hospital."

In 2022, when she decided to dust off the books and resume her studies, luck was once again not on her side, and Suloshini contracted Covid-19 again. Thankfully, it was a milder version, so recovery was quicker this time round.

Looking back now, Suloshini says it’s amazing how people were forced to use remote working due to Covid-19, but it was the remote working that provided the flexibility people needed to successfully balance everything during such difficult times.

An optimistic outlook

Suloshini acknowledges that despite the difficult time, it has brought their family even closer together. “The relationship between my children has strengthened, with my daughter, who is older, developing a natural maternal instinct toward her little brother and having a sense of maturity that is unique for a 17-year-old,” Suloshini said.

She sees how her son has flourished since he almost lost his life. “While he couldn’t play sports for some time, he set out to learn new skills and pivoted toward playing piano, reading, and even preparing Korean cuisine.”

She believes he would never have opened up these parts of himself if he wasn’t forced to explore new hobbies. “I’m proud of the resilience he showed at such a young age, and although he used to call me John Wick because of my focus and determination, I do believe he’s usurped the title.”

Those trying years were not in vain, however, she says. “Most people say that what they learn as a C-suite executive teaches them how to react in life, but for me, it was the other way around.”

She explains that the chaos of that time prepared her to be much calmer in everyday situations. “Life has prepared me better. I have so much patience and perspective now. I tell everyone that we have chosen careers where no one is actually going to die. We need to always see the bigger picture.”

“What this shows me is that we can’t change our circumstances, but we can choose how we react to them, and how we can approach each day with cautious optimism.”

If she comes across negativity she simply focuses on the crisis at hand, having proven this method works during difficult times already. “Always know that it won’t last forever. You’ll get past it. See the end and don’t stop reaching for the finish line.”
Finally, in 2023, in much calmer waters, Suloshini was able to complete her studies.

Maintaining a marriage and a career

Despite having demanding C-suite careers, Suloshini and her husband, Yasvanth, have managed to make time for themselves and their children. When their daughter was born, Suloshini had to write the second part of her CA qualifying exam. She managed to pass while sleep-deprived and managing the total onslaught of those early baby days.

“For me, between the ages of 25 and 30, you’re setting yourself up as a CFO. You’re working hard to make these the formative years of your career. But I was raising small children at the time too. Fortunately, I made the most out of every day and had a relentless attitude toward personal growth and development,” she explained.

Both Suloshini and Yasvanth worked long hours as their careers demanded it. “We aligned with what we wanted to achieve though and agreed to be present for our children and our pets,” Yasvanth, who is the CTO of Discovery Digital, added.

Learning from each other’s leadership styles

Yasvanth appreciates Suloshini’s rational and calm approach to challenges at work and home. “She tends to look at things in a balanced way and without emotion, which I think makes her a great CFO. She has been a pivotal influence on me and our children,” he noted.

Suloshini leads through influence. She gets the best results from her team by understanding them and appreciating different ways of thinking and working. “It’s critical to know what makes people tick. Yes, you can try and make people want what you want, and have your outlook, but people are who they are. We need to deeply respect that people are different and lead based on circumstances and understanding.”

Yasvanth considers himself a situational leader. “The best interests of the people in your team come first. This seems to be a transformational and ethical way to lead.”

Suloshini finds working with other CIOs much simpler thanks to her husband being one. “They have an engineering mindset and don’t typically see grey areas.” She jokes that the CIO perception of a CFO is usually clouded by images of a Gollum-type character in Lord of the Rings, but she appreciates a CIO’s vision and tries to make their projects a reality without completely decimating budgets.

Yasvanth has also been on a learning path. “Sometimes, I never quite understood the financial impact. I thought that the CIO’s vision would translate into an investment. But, you always have to sell your plans to the company. Luckily, before I engage with the CFO, I run my proposal past Suloshini. She steers my work in the right direction with her financial acumen.”

Happy family, happy life

While the Singhs admit that a work-life balance is not a daily achievable goal, they agree that family comes first. They love eating out as a family, particularly at Indian and Italian restaurants.

Their children are teenagers, which brings its own complexities, but quality time together is still important to everyone.

“We spend most of our spare time with our children, which is important before they’re too grown up to enjoy our company. We like cooking, and we try to travel to interesting places,” said Yasvanth.

Marriage is not easy, but the Singhs have combined their strengths towards a shared vision and support each other in their areas of growth and development.

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