I recently had an opportunity to chat with Shalini Sathya, a lawyer based in Scarborough, about her candidacy for the position of President at the Canadian Tamil’s Chamber of Commerce (CTCC). Prior to starting her own practice, Sathya Law, in 2012, she had worked with law firms both in the U.K and Canada and has been a board member of the CTCC for the past three years. Shalini is one of two contenders for the role, both of whom are women, where the winner will become the first female president in the organization's decades long history.
Tell me about yourself.
Designing solutions and problem solving is my speciality. As a lawyer practising in business, tax and real estate law, on a day-to- day basis I advise and represent clients who are either negotiating a business or property investment or are dealing with tax planning or compliance related matters. I am very passionate about business and enjoy the opportunity to find lasting solutions to business problems. Apart from my day job, I am a member of a steering committee which leads tax discussion amongst our peers who are also tax practitioners. This forum provides me an opportunity to provide input and stakeholder views based on real world experience on Government policies being formulated during the consultation period. I am also a Board of Director involved with the management and operation of a condominium corporation and its facilities, again a role which constantly demands immediate solutions.
Why did you decide to run for the position President for the CTCC upcoming board election?
The business eco space has changed globally. We are now in a connected world and a sharing economy where the rules of business engagement have not just changed but are being rewritten on a continuing basis. The way we do business has significantly changed since the CTCC was founded in 1991. Today, we have many more Tamil entrepreneurs innovating and leading growth in many non-traditional fields. The demographics and the types of businesses and
entrepreneurs show diversity that does challenge the ‘business as usual’ approach. In order to survive within this environment, the CTCC needs innovation driven growth. It needs strategic and facilitative leadership that can connect and service the business needs of the veterans as well as that of the new age business ideas and technologies. I believe that my understanding of the new business world is, second to none. My consistent contributions to and experience with the CTCC, provides me with a clear understanding of the emerging demands that are being placed on governance. My insights will help in establishing an evolving approach to governance at CTCC. This will not just meet but exceed the needs and aspirations of the members. I am running for the position of President because I find it hard to remain a mute spectator as the winds of change threaten to make CTCC irrelevant unless it is well positioned to serve its members needs as dictated by the new business world.
You’re relatively young compared to other members of the Board, how do you see that being a positive factor in your leadership?
It is the unique diversity of possessing experience in designing innovative real-time solutions at a relatively young age that would be the most positive factor in my leadership. I have the knowledge and insights gained by my years of interaction with the emerging Tamil business world’s entrepreneurs and an age proximity to design solutions that would meet their aspirations. Also, my professional experience in the business world has given me a good handle on understanding as well as solving non-age- related business challenges that keep evolving and emerging based on the changing business environment. That being said, I do have the humility and experience to engage in a two-way communication with all stakeholders that will foster a consensus decision making process.
If you get elected, you will become the first female president for what many consider the old boy’s club, how do you see yourself working to change that perception?
The CTCC is one of the oldest organizations within the Tamil community and the “old boy’s club” is an unfortunate and easy stereotype that is simply not true. The reality is very different all most every where. In fairness, I don’t believe the vast majority share any such view. The reality is that if you profile the management of extremely successful and established Tamil businesses, it is generally always a husband and wife team. While the husband may be the public spokesperson for the business, internally the wife may be the individual who creates the enabling provisions for the success. With the emerging trend towards gender equality, I think it is important that women move out of the shadows to portray healthy and quality role models for our future generations. During the last two years, I made a significant push through designing programs that would encourage more women leaders to get out from the shadows and vocalize their presence and achievements. Many of these projects are still a work in progress and if elected I intend to dedicate more resources to these projects. My approach is aimed at ensuring that true recognition for business success is given according to contributions and not merely by gender. Call it a level playing field to be seen as fair.
What do you see for the future of CTCC and how do you plan on implementing that growth under your leadership?
Growth in membership base will be one of my teams’ main priorities. Growth will be driven by increased value-added services and advocacy on issues that matter to the Tamil business community. Some of the value-added services we are considering will be the ability to provide meaningful savings to business owners, establishing a business helpline which will connect members to members as well as external service providers and such other services. I will also be looking into strategic partnerships with other likeminded community and national organizations.
Your opposition has more years on you, in terms of age and seniority, what sets you apart from her?
With all due to respect to age and seniority, in business I believe that its not the longevity of one’s tenure that is relevant when choosing a leader but the relevant knowledge and experience that truly matters. If seniority was a prerequisite to innovative growth, we would not have had the delightful music of AR Rahman; we would not have had Facebook or even Tamilculture. I strongly believe that what is important is, one’s capability to deliver verifiable solutions to the current complex needs of the community and the organization that emerge on a day to day basis. In line with the rest of the world in all most all walks of life, a candidate’s personality and capability, not his/her age or seniority should be the focus of a debate for any decision in an election process.
You have been on the board for three years now, what have you accomplished so far and what more would you like to do?
I am particularly proud of the small business forum which I facilitated this year to deliberate on the governments tax changes proposed for small businesses. I had the opportunity to facilitate a panel with Elliot Hughes, who is the Senior Tax Policy advisor to the Federal Finance Minister. I have also advocated for the CTCC directly with Daniel Kelly, the President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB). We were able to present the Tamil business communities’ views directly to the government and advocate to mitigate radical tax changes. Similarly, I introduced the women in business initiative for the CTCC and it has successfully completed two years and is still going strong. This initiative has been embraced by the membership and it needs to be steered in the right direction to provide more positive and sustainable programs. This year for the first time in 26 years, the current CTCC Board sat down with an external management advisory group to introspect into the past and look to future strategic plans, which if implemented will sustain growth for the CTCC for the next five years. I hope to implement these plans and set out roadmaps for the future. I am also involved with the first ever members appointed governance committee, which is currently drafting policies and operational manuals that will allow future Boards of the organization to govern the organization seamlessly.
A lot of the members of CTCC are generally much older than you, how do you plan on using your youth to build a bridge to connect the younger and older generation?
To a true businessman or woman, it is the passion of operating their business that would really count, not age. I believe most of the Tamil entrepreneurs are very passionate about their business and willing to do whatever it takes to keep it a continuing success story. Likewise, we have a younger emerging generation with substantive ideas and aspirations of becoming successful entrepreneurs with minimal business experience. The needs of the CTCC members are significantly divergent, for example, adoption to emerging business practices could be a challenge to an established business and finding the right resources for legal compliance could be the need for a young entrepreneur. I think if these divergent ambitions and requirements are harnessed and presented in a user-friendly manner it would be mutually beneficial for the younger and older generation. This is precisely where my professional knowledge, real time interaction with the challenges faced by entrepreneurs in the business world and my skills in finding a solution to any situation, substantially differentiates me from others.