Ujwal Management: Building Success on the Foundation of Integrity and Expertise

CIO Vendor 'Integrity is binary. You either have it or you do not’. This is what Muralikrishnan A G (aka Murali), Founder & CEO, Ujwal Management (Ujwal), a leading provider of accounting, finance and compliance functions believes in. Having founded the company on this very principle, Murali, a Chartered Accountant is a rather happy entrepreneur. A venture that he started in 1995 has today tasted the epitomes of success by assisting several large multinational corporations set up in India and run their finance and compliance functions. This concept of the finance function outsourcing has helped Ujwal to help companies from their nascent stage to that of fully established, profit generating entities of international standing.

A happy entrepreneur he may be, yet he does not believe in following the beaten track of doing things. Be it pioneering/early adopting the concept of outsourced accounting, finance and compliance functions or setting the bar high in regard to ethical fabric within which business would function or aversion to setting specific goals for the organization’s future, everything that Ujwal does is unique in itself. And that has made a significant difference to Ujwal. The company has been working with some of the big names in the technology and venture capital verticals and has built strong levels of comfort and confidence with its clients; so much so that Ujwal prides itself in not having a sales team. Murali strongly believes that client referrals would be the best way to acquire new clients to grow Ujwal.

As I walk into the Ujwal’s office in Koramangala, a pleasant aura welcomes me. The calm and serene office is also a beehive of innovative activity as the team works on finding new ways to simplify accounting, finance and compliance functions. Through my conversation with Murali, it is apparent that the organization is heading towards a bright future. Let us first dissect the company’s founding journey and what makes Ujwal the unique entity that it is.

The Odyssey
The early 90’s was an exciting time for the Indian economy. As the Indian markets opened up, several large multinational organizations turned towards India to set up their operations. However, it was an uphill task for any organization to navigate through the complexities of the Indian taxation, compliance and finance requirements. Hence, there was a big need for professional expertise in handholding the operations for the MNCs especially in the areas of finance, accounting, and compliances. Around the same time Murali(at that time was a partner in a CA firm) was contemplating to begin a venture of his own. Murali was convinced that the tax & attestation space that was the focus area for local CA firms would soon be consolidated in the hands of the Big 5 (now Big 4) firms. Those days the opportunities available to Chartered Accountants were largely limited – join the industry as an employee or establish your own practice. Murali having experienced the latter decided to take a route that was hitherto untested – ‘Rent a CFO/Controller Service’. He fondly recalls that the unconventional path he took those days meant less competition but more challenge in convincing clients to entrust the critical business functions to a third-party service provider. The founding team had realized that a multinational while stepping foot into the Indian market was akin to a small company and often did not have the time and resources to hire a good CFO. Murali says that it was easier convincing a multinational company to partner with Ujwalcompared to home grown companies in India. Having identified the space, Ujwal decided to test the waters and eventually found lot of traction. “For our clients finance/compliance are non-core activities while it is core to Ujwal, a perfect win-win for both parties” explains Murali.

During the late 90s when there was an IT boom in India, especially in Bangalore, Ujwal had opportunities to work with several home-grown and foreign companies. Many of them became successful and got acquired, merged or grew big on their own. One of the home-grown start-up that Murali served as an external CFO - AztecSoft- grew at a rapid pace which warranted Murali to become its full-time CFO to lead an IPO in 2000. As most of his time was being consumed by AztecSoft, he had to keep his Ujwal idea on the backburner.However, when he was done with his duties for AztecSoftin 2003, he formally launched Ujwal along with his co-founder.
Harboring Integrity; Building Differentiators
Plato once famously said, “All the gold which is under or upon the earth is not enough to give in exchange for virtue”. From the very beginning Murali, his co-founder, S K Kantharaj and the core management team stood by the saying and created a set of ethical guidelines which are never to be crossed. The team committed to fully focus on running business functions and shunned things that would distract their focus. For starters, the duo surrendered their Certificate of Practice as CA so as to focus only on rendering their distinctive services.

The duo steered clear of anything that could be deemed unethical. “Our clients entrusted to us critical responsibilities like finance, taxation, company law et al and we were clear that everything that we do on behalf of our clients are strictly above board and in conformity with the laws of the land” says a proud Murali.

The founders then agreed to not have a business plan for Ujwal which in their opinion would have defocused them from servicing client needs. “We decided to keep moving along with time with complete focus only on serving clients” says Murali. Ujwal provides to its clients only those services that are actually required and refrains from suggesting services just to increase their own revenues. “We never induce any want in our clients’ mind,” he further explains.

Innovative and Expert Services
When a foreign entity enters the Indian market, they first face the looming challenge of ensuring accurate accounting in the constantly changing business environment. Additionally keeping pace with ever-evolving disclosure and reporting norms can be a tough thing to crack. Ujwal helps companies simplify these challenges with élan. In 2004, a leading thin computing company ventured into India to set-up an R&D center in Bangalore with about 100 engineers. Ujwal worked with the company for 10 years owning up the responsibilities for its accounting, finance and compliance functions. In 2014, the business was acquired by a technology giant in the US. The due diligence of Indian operations for the 10 years of its existence would have been a mammoth task in the ordinary course. “The all-round hygiene maintained in the critical finance and compliance function ensured that the due diligence exercise was a breeze that left the acquirer company pleasantly surprised” says Murali. This is not an isolated example and Ujwal prides in keeping things simple and clean for its clients.

One of the core strength for Ujwal is its team of dedicated experts who are working on creating success stories for its clients

Building Towards a Bright Future
One might wonder that Ujwal is not solving any new problem for their clients and their services are simple and straight forward. However, it is important to understand that the differentiation lies not in the problem being solved, but in the manner in which it is being addressed. The expertise that Ujwal brings to the table can help even smaller organization the opportunity to expand at a fast pace. “The way we helped AztecSoft reach an IPO in a relatively short period, we can do the same for other organizations as well,” explains Murali.
What had started with a meagre capital has today catapulted into a force to be reckoned with. The company is 125 people strong, services around 75 clients and operates out of a sprawling office in a prime location in Bangalore. Yet, the biggest measure of success for the organization is the satisfaction that it imparts to its clients and employees alike. Employee attrition at senior & middle management level being zero for several years speaks loudly about Ujwal doing things right. One of the core strength for the organization is its team of dedicated experts who are working on creating success stories for its clients. Having been in the field for a reasonable amount of time Ujwal has created a set of efficiency parameters which enable it to deliver services at a faster and efficient manner. The team has also developed several proprietary tools to boost efficiency and optimize the cost of delivery. Another factor that earns Ujwal a feather in its cap is the way they treat their vendors. Even the smallest of vendors is considered as a partner leading to long fruitful association.

Ujwal thrives on ideation. Murali’s drive to do things differently has been imbibed into the very DNA of the organization and the entire team works towards achieving that. The forward-looking company is now working on obtaining the coveted SSAE 16 certification as well. Given the way the company has been functioning throughout these years, the future for Ujwal looks very promising and bright. When the foundation of an organization is built on integrity& ethics, the organization is destined to achieve success. And for Ujwal, that day is not very far.