Women in Business Q&A: Sharada Bhansali, Co-founder, AccountantsWorld

Women in Business Q&A: Sharada Bhansali, Co-founder, AccountantsWorld
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As co-founder of AccountantsWorld, Sharada has been recognized as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in accounting by CPA Practice Advisor, and has led the development of a new class of accountant-centric solutions, making a long-lasting, significant contribution to the accounting profession. As an entrepreneur, Sharada has been serving the accounting profession for over 32 years. In 1984, she founded AccountantsWorld's predecessor, Micro Vision Software, a leading producer of desktop solutions for accounting professionals. Micro Vision's Tax Relief system, was one of the most highly acclaimed professional tax software packages and the first to take full advantage of the Microsoft Windows platform.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
While I was an undergraduate student in college, my father passed away. I had no siblings, and so I had to immediately take the lead in coordinating with physicians and hospitals and dealing with all sorts of bureaucracies. Finding a way to handle those circumstances gave me the strength to stand up on my feet and face challenges with confidence and prove myself.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at AccountantsWorld?
After I completed two Masters Degrees - one in Mathematics and another in engineering - from University of Buffalo in 1979, my husband and I moved to Long Island, NY. Just a year later, IBM introduced its first personal computer. I bought an IBM PC with the idea of doing some programming from home, and created Micro Vision Software in 1983. I started developing software for optimization, but in 1984 changed direction and went on to develop professional software for CPAs and accountants. Since then I have been serving the accounting profession and during this period we've made many significant contributions to the profession:

1984- Released our initial version of professional tax software, called Tax Relief.
1993- Released the first Windows version of Tax Relief, with a team of only five developers and a couple of accountants.
2004- Created the first online payroll software for accounting professionals, Payroll Relief, and won a prestigious industry technology and innovation award for this product the same year.
2010- Won the technology and innovation award for the first cloud-based professional accounting software - Accounting Power - which lets accountants work collaboratively with their clients while they remain in control.

As a co-founder of AccountantsWorld, I've been recognized as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Accounting by CPA Practice Advisor and I have been named as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting.

My fundamental belief is to be passionate about whatever I am doing. In getting started, do your market research and create a niche market. Find out who your competition is. Decide what is special about the products and services that you're about to provide. While general trend in tax and accounting is to provide solutions for small businesses, we chose a niche, to create professional solutions for accountants. I believe our strategy to focus on a niche market worked very well. Finding your niche is related to connecting with your passion. Do you want to try to make your service or product work pretty well for everybody, or do you want to attract and serve the customers you think you can relate to best? When I say "relate to," I mean that you are confident that you understand and can really solve their problems. Unless you understand their problems very well, it will be hard to solve the problems.

In our example, we took the angle that we were technical people. Technology was our strength and our passion. Based on our strength, we knew that we could do a lot of good even though we weren't that familiar with accounting itself in the beginning. We picked that niche market, and we said that we can apply what we have, which is technology, in all directions. It didn't matter if it was taxes or accounting or payroll. The passion I had was to create something - to actually apply the technology to something practical. Most businesses need those accounting applications.

I continue to invent, re-invent and offer new methods and ideas to the accounting industry. My focus has been on developing new idea, creating a team, driving the performance of the team and holding people accountable.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I think women have a great opportunity to succeed in the accounting industry. Cloud computing, and the ongoing trend of remodeling the accounting profession, now provides a lot more flexibility in women's careers. They can work from anywhere and have more flexible hours. My advice to new female accountants would be to try to do what you want, when you want and in a manner you want. Women are often perceived to be very detail-oriented, and so historically they have been given mostly compliance work in accounting firms. They have to take a more creative approach. Female accountants can deliver more value to their clients by taking advisory roles.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
It is very important that one stays focused and not fluctuate from your decisions and your plan. Every business will have ups and downs. If you stay consistent with your focus instead of jumping at every new thing that comes along, you increase your chances of success.

One of our biggest challenges is to hire the right people. Having empathy and compassion for your employees is the most important thing. Sometimes one great team player may be many times more valuable than even your best customer, because they can produce and serve lots of customers. Develop an operating culture that suits your style, and then find the team members who want to operate within that culture.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
In the beginning of my career, it was a little rough, but I have achieved a very good work/life balance that I feel good about. I believe having the discipline to give equal importance to your work and home is critical for achieving work-life balance. Another attribute that helps is your own efficiency and the efficiency of those working with you. I brought up two kids who are now adults, and my mother lives with me and my husband.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women are highly underrepresented in technology. Only 18 percent of Computer Science graduates are female. I believe women in employment do face a glass ceiling.

One of the most important things we can do to promote diversity in the workplace is to correct for the unconscious bias that prevails in workplace. There are lots of well-paid and exciting careers in computer science and engineering that can be filled by women if more women majored in technical fields.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. She had contributed tremendously in technology through her work at Google and Facebook. She lives by the principals that she preaches. Her career achievements and the success of her book Lean In are testaments to the impact of her insight and perspective on business leadership. She is very innovative and strong proponent of equality between men and women at workplace. She believes that equality between men and women is necessary for our industry and economy.

What do you want to accomplish in the next year?
The cloud environment has introduced an entirely new dimension to the accounting profession, and it has the potential to reshape the professional landscape. I would like to help as many accounting firms as possible to take full advantage of opportunities to revitalize their firms. Many firms have embraced these new opportunities, while others feel lost. In the next few years virtually all accounting firms will need to migrate to the cloud, and I hope to help firms make that transition successfully.

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