Nesha Pai on ambition and breaking barriers through her CPA business and networking group
Updated: Jan 22, 2019
Nesha Pai started her career in Charlotte by bucking a lot of tradition. She was a first generation Indian woman in a white male dominated field. She’d left her family home in Raleigh to pursue a career, when traditionally unmarried women lived with their parents.
Through some major trials and because of an incredible work ethic, Nesha truly broke the mold in her chosen profession and her position in the community. Here’s her story…
What brought you to CLT? And better yet, what made you stay?
I moved here right out of school. I graduated from NC State and passed my CPA exam the first round. I came here to work with Arthur Andersen – which at that time was the number one public accounting firm in the world.
Charlotte felt like the next big city of the south to me. When I came here, the Hornets were big and the NFL franchise had just gotten announced. I wanted to be a part of the growth and still be close to my family.
I stayed in Charlotte because of the friendships I had made here. When I left my first job, I contemplated moving to Atlanta, but for me, my relationships here were important. I got a job with Sea-Land, which had moved its headquarters here from New Jersey. This is when I moved out of public accounting and into industry. It was perfect for me at the time. I got to spend a lot of time in NYC and got to meet people all over the world.
I continued to see Charlotte becoming a global city (this is around 1995). I was also learning the reality of being a minority female in a good ole boy network.
Yikes. How did you feel about that reality?
I learned early that I was going to need to fight my way through my career. Thankfully, I learned my work ethic from my father. He left wealth in India and moved to the “land of the free.” He wanted more than the wealth of his family. So, with a dollar in his pocket, he took a ship to the States. He put himself through school and became an engineer.
This was my legacy. So, I knew I was never going to be a quitter. I was at Sea-Land for about five years. Then, I had my son and took time off from my career (six years) to raise my him. Those six years were critical to me. I would not trade them for the world. My son is my life. And once he got into school, I decided I wanted to move back into the working world at a local firm.
You know, Nesha, that’s a great point you make. A lot of women take off time to raise their children. I appreciate you sharing that so pointedly.
What was it like going back into the working world?
Not easy, but I did it. Again, I’m not a quitter. After five years of working for this firm, I went to my boss and asked for more hours and more money.
My boss looked at me and said, “You’re never going to make that kind of money because you aren’t where your peers are. You chose to take a six year break.”
The way he phrased that, his attitude toward me, ignited a fire in me to do more. To earn more. To work even harder for myself and the other mothers out there trying to raise their children and contribute to their household. Then one day, I walked into his office, quit my job, and took my biggest client with me.
I started my own firm that day.
What does it look like to start Pai CPA, PLLC?
Hard. Seven years ago, I didn’t have any peer groups, a business plan, or anything. But, I had a peace about it. I remember thinking, “What colors are my logo going to be?”
I was in survival mode. I bought a laptop. A printer. And a scanner. I said, “Alright. I’ve gotta get clients.”
What was your approach to getting clients?
I networked everywhere: talked about my firm on social media; built a website; got some business cards. At this point, my son was 11 when I started my business on the kitchen table.
Was there a moment when you wanted to stop?
Yes. Many times. There were cash flow situations. I kept asking the same questions: How am I going to grow? How am I going to get clients? But, I loved having my own business. I was going do it different and better.
What does different and better look like?
Pai CPA, PLLC does not have a billable model. I have a fixed fee model based on value. I offer a niche that Charlotte doesn’t really have. That niche is client accounting services; I’m an outsourced accounting department for small businesses and I give personal attention.
I come with a holistic approach to accounting. If you’re missing an area, then I come with a partner for that area.
Why this approach?
When I was at my old firm, it was a niche being neglected; and also a niche that had low-hanging fruit. I had to create the model and now have 15 established businesses working with me, plus two part-time staff and getting ready to hire a third.
"I’ve lost and gained. I’ve always had a viewpoint of abundance and not scarcity."
So, you do all this. Why start your Pai Networking Group?
When I came out in the business-ownership world, I didn’t have anyone. There were all-female groups that I joined, but all of the accounting spots were taken in other co-ed groups.
I wanted a co-ed group for several reasons:
1. To honor my son. When he gets out in the workforce, I want him to know there will be groups for both.
2. I wanted male entrepreneurs to have a place of support and relationship building. There were a ton of all female groups, but there were hardly any male groups. I wanted men to have support too.
My son was graduating. I was feeling empty nest-ish. What can I do to prepare for that? It gave me something to nurture.
My group is built on relationship building and divided into 3 parts – social, workshop, and speaker series. The premise is more about building relationships; not trading cards.
I build all of these things because I want to be a role model for minority women who want to break the mold, who think they can’t be an entrepreneur, and who will break barriers and limitations when their bosses tell them can’t be more.
I love that. What a grand goal! So, what’s next for you?
I have a podcast. I started it a year ago called Piece of Pai and I interview successful entrepreneurs in Charlotte. You can hear this on iTunes or pieceofthepai.com.
What’s next for me: growing my firm and hiring more stay-at-home moms, while reaching more people to empower them with my podcast. I will continue to do more work through my networking group that will allow me to serve bigger parts of the community.
"If you’re reading this and need some advice: Go take chances. Go do it. Don’t let fear hold you back. If I can start on my kitchen table with an 11-year-old and one client, anyone can do it."
I have a bigger calling in my life. I knew I could not reach the kind of people I needed to working a corporate job. I told myself when I went out on my platform, I wanted to impact education, children, and women.
I love to close all of my articles with rapid fire questions.
So, what’s your favorite…?
Restaurant: Ilios Noche (my Jerry Maguire client)
Coffee: Rush Espresso
Sports team: Panthers
TV show: Sex In the City (with Total Bellas being my current)
Movie: Wonder Woman
Place to work out: Lifetime
New thing in CLT: SouthEnd (it’s new to me)
Old thing in CLT: Freedom Park