“If you have ideas but don’t act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.” As Shilpi Chowdhary, founder of Lighthouse Canton, points out, there has never been a lack of great ideas in the world. Most people lack the courage to step out and take the plunge to make them a reality.
After spending over 20 years in the finance industry, working for corporations such as Citibank and Credit Suisse, Chowdhary decided to make a change in his career. In 2014, he launched Lighthouse Canton, a Singapore headquartered employee-owned Asset & Wealth management firm.
Oasis recently sat down with Chowdhary to discuss how he implemented local practices with a global mindset across various markets. He also shared his favorite books of all time.
The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Oasis (OS): Having had a long career in the finance industry, what was the motivation to start an entrepreneurial venture?
Shilpi Chowdhary (SC): I think deep down, I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug in me. It was never a question about whether I should start venturing out, but when I would do it. Back in 2013, I saw some gaps in the financial market, and after doing market research, I eventually started Lighthouse Canton a year later.
OS: Lighthouse Canton has offices in Singapore, Dubai, and India. What are some of the key differences you see in these countries?
SC: I think that, when it comes to trends, Singapore is far more global in its approach out of the three countries. India, on the other hand, still focuses more on its domestic market. As a result, when you talk to people, you can see the difference in their adoption of a global mindset and their openness to diversity and inclusion. When we look at markets in India, by their nature of domestic-focused markets, inclusion is only limited to that pool of available people.
While you have to be local in your approach, you need to think globally. There is a need to respect cultures, diversity, and the local level of people’s sentiments. This is important when you’re conducting business. However, some things are not just limited to local practices. For example, when we talk about implementing best practices, how do you make sure these are shared with people on the ground? Implementing ideas with a global mindset while being aware of local cultural nuances helps people learn more.
OS: You’ve mentioned implementing best practices. I’d like to follow up on how you would describe your leadership style and if you think it has evolved over the years?
SC: It has definitely changed. Prior to Lighthouse Canton, my responsibilities were much more towards my performance, the team I had, and towards my own goals. However, these goals have changed.
With the whole impact of leadership being more people-centric, one’s leadership style now has to be garnered towards trying to understand your people, knowing what motivates them, and being able to effectively delegate responsibilities. At the same time, you have to watch over them yet, give them the space to grow while empowering them.
I would say that I’m still learning. Whenever I make a mistake, there’s enough to ponder over and think about how I could have dealt with the situation better. There is always a learning curve, and it’s not going to stop, but at least the effort will always be there.
OS: What are the three most important values that you hold most true in life?
SC: Curiosity is a critical value because it keeps us hungry for knowledge on our search for answers. I always encourage people to be curious and ask questions because questions need answers, and there is no such thing as a bad question.
Another important value is having courage. There are so many times where I’ve seen people not expressing themselves or stopping short of exploring things because they don’t dare to ask. Sometimes, it’s their self-doubt or societal pressure that holds them back. Having the courage to do what you want to do is essential.
Lastly, I value education a lot. It’s a continuous goal I have in life because when you’re older, the skills you need to embody change. There are new ways of thinking and new sources of delivery methods that will keep coming. If we don’t keep up the pace or learn to implement new ideas, we will fall behind at some stage.
OS: Especially for entrepreneurs, I think it’s also about having the courage to take risks. Do you consider yourself to be less risk-averse?
SC: I would say that I categorize risks in different ways. I think all of us do risk management in our lives, though we tend to underestimate the role of risk management. It’s much more of a subconscious reaction than a conscious one. We will always try to maximize our situation and minimize our risk, even if we don’t think about it.
It’s also about understanding the impact of the risk. I can take risks, but the most important thing is to isolate them and make sure they don’t impact the entire organization. If something is risky, then we may want to fail and fail fast, but we cannot afford to fail in everything. This is where you’ve got to isolate that area and make sure that there is room for experimentation. Similarly, with investments, there will be pockets where I don’t touch anything at all, and I’ll be conservative. It’s all about assessing the situation.
OS: Is this the same approach for risks that you take in life too? For example, when you’re teaching your children about managing personal finances?
SC: I think for my children, the most important thing is to teach them the value of money and how money is earned. I think the value of hard work is significant and how it translates to success. I wouldn’t put this solution in one box and say that there is no other way to approach this because it depends on an individual’s value systems. But generally, I think it will be good for them to understand the value of money and the empowerment that comes with it. The next step would then be to teach them about what investing really is. If you can help them understand and make them a little more curious about the cause and effect of money and investing, then that’s good enough. I’ll then leave them to figure out the rest of the journey on how they want to make better use of that knowledge.
OS: Moving on, what was something you learned throughout your professional career that served you well?
SC: I think one of the things that has really served me well is to never fall for short-term gains. The devil is always in the details, so never be too quick to jump into a decision-making process that involves external parties or contractual decisions. You need to be able to invest time in that.
OS: What is one piece of advice that you’ve received and still keep to heart?
SC: I would say one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is to go out and learn from other people. The best way to do that would be by reading because you can read and learn from the author’s experiences, and there’s no limit to it. Books are learnings that are compacted into a couple of days of reading, and you would leave with more insights. This is why reading is important to me. When I have doubts, I try to look at the reading materials I have and find some key takeaways that I can learn from.
OS: What is one book you’d recommend?
SC: This is a difficult question, but I would say one of my favorite books is “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck. It is a good book for both entrepreneurs and parents because it shares insights into a growth mindset and how having a different perspective can impact people. Another book that I often read is “Poor Charlie’s Almanac” by Charles T. Munger. It is incredibly insightful.