Indy Singh Hothi CA shares his career journey and vision for the year ahead
New ICAS President Indy Singh Hothi CA is one of the youngest to be elected to the role and the first person of colour. He tells Lysanne Currie about his career path, the experiences that have shaped him, and his vision for the year ahead
When Indy Singh Hothi CA heard he was to be the new ICAS President, he took to LinkedIn to express his joy and to contrast his new position with his upbringing. “Spending most of my childhood up and down market stalls in the country, the corporate world and the [accounting] profession was an absolutely alien world to me,” he wrote.
We meet the same week on the Millennium Bridge – an apt site as it carries people from London’s iconic constant St Paul’s Cathedral to the exciting, innovative Tate Modern. Old to new, heritage to disruptive; the fluid connection between two worlds is something Hothi lives and breathes – as a tech entrepreneur, competitive sportsman, humanitarian worker and, now, as ICAS President.
Growing up around west London market stalls, with a street-trader dad, Hothi got the entrepreneurial bug early on. But there was something else, too. “I’ve always been very values-driven,” says Hothi, who takes pride in his Sikh faith. “The idea of selfless service has been ingrained in my family and faith. It means serving your community and striving towards the positive welfare of all of society. That’s a great concept to have from a young age.”
He read economics at London’s School of African and Oriental Studies, the first in his family to go to university. “I had a strong interest in maths and a keen interest in how the world worked around me,” he says. Hothi worked several jobs to support himself, including a stint in private security, where his martial arts training came in handy.
Hothi has a few strings to his bow. Prior to joining EY in 2010, he was competing in Muay Thai (aka Thai boxing) and mixed martial arts at semi and pro level around the world, where he witnessed real global inequality. By studying economics, he says, “I began to see these issues were manmade, and could be solved. So I hung up the boxing gloves and picked up a pen and started my CA training.”
At EY, Hothi worked on a “large number of transactions” in a fast-paced corporate finance environment, before moving into the economic advisory space. As a student of economic theory, he “enjoyed understanding how the world works, the drivers and the cogs, so to speak, and looking at it on a macro and micro level”. If clients such as the Premier League and Rugby World Cup initially wanted to understand their economic impact, there was something of a sudden sea change, too. “Very, very quickly, we also started to look at the social impact of businesses,” he says.
Taken almost for granted now, this was pioneering stuff a decade ago. Hothi was an early adopter in believing that purpose and profit could go hand in hand. “When I first moved into the corporate world, it was all about the numbers, about profitability, about accountability to shareholders,” he says. “Then, increasingly, the conversation became around climate and society. We started to see an increase in businesses and organisations which wanted to understand how they were contributing to society.”
Currently co-founder of boutique strategy consultancy Upside and creative production company BTN Media, he’s also taken on everything from sustainability and social impact projects to advisory roles supporting community initiatives, NGOs and public institutions. Back in 2016, just 24 hours after the Brexit referendum result, he was seconded to the Department of International Trade as an adviser for a year. “I was thrust into a very different environment, working with leading businesses from Amazon to Lego, helping them navigate the result,” he says. “I saw first-hand how nimble organisations had to be and the contingency planning [they had to do] as a result of the political environment.”
Meanwhile, his humanitarian work has taken him all over the world, from Bosnia to Nepal, the Congo, Zambia, Iraq and the Syrian border, where he supported a Yazidi community persecuted by Islamic State. “It’s really informed my worldview, the importance of humanitarian aid intervention: whether you look at it from a business, individual or community point of view, ultimately, this could happen to anyone. Anybody could be a victim of a natural disaster or civil conflict, no matter where they are in the world.”
This underpins his conviction that CAs are much more than just “number crunchers”. “I have always thought of business as a force for good,” he says. “I had no idea where my career would take me. But I knew that if I was following that north star in terms of my values, and looking for that meaning and purpose, it would be doing things that are valuable, both to society and to me as an individual.”
In 2015, Hothi was named One Young CA, in recognition of his early achievements in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors. He, in turn, extols the power of the CA qualification: “I recognised very quickly it is something that stays and benefits you throughout your life. I wanted to work with an organisation that has given me so much and also to give something back. To show our members and society, more importantly, we are more than just finance professionals.”
Coming from a working-class background, he is keenly aware of the social mobility the qualification brings – and is a huge supporter of the ICAS Foundation. He admits he felt intimidated when he was first invited on to ICAS Council with “all of these really seasoned business leaders”. But he soon realised the value and relevance he could bring, and derive, as part of a diverse team: “Speaking to people from all walks of life, with different ways of working and thinking, has made me a better individual and a better leader.”
The past few years have, of course, presented particular challenges – and opportunities. “Post-pandemic, ICAS has really came into its own,” he says. “We were nimble enough to transition to digital very quickly, to provide advice and support, especially to our small practice members, working with clients going through extremely challenging times. We’ve been sharing as much insight as possible via webinars, our podcast and member engagement activities.”
In the coming year, he says he’s “looking at continuing the great work of the mental health and fitness strategy, and to champion the work being done around diversity within the profession”. At 33, he is one of the youngest, and the first person of colour, to become ICAS President in the institute’s 167 years. He hopes his presence has a positive impact on his fellow CAs. “Being the first is always tough and I take that responsibility to represent to the best of my ability seriously,” says Hothi, who has co-led a number of equality, diversity and inclusion networks, specifically around race and faith, and is a cultural adviser to the Mayor of London.
He’s looking forward to meeting and listening to members at the forthcoming Tower of London event in June, and sees lots of opportunities for CAs to come into their own in the year ahead. “A lot of businesses looked towards their CAs to navigate the pandemic. That’s still the case. We’re not ‘just’ accountants – a lot of us are in leadership positions – and people look to us for business acumen; but, more importantly, for judgement and insight too. Yes, we are rooted in finance – it’s in our DNA. But we can do so much more.”