PEOPLE: Esha Oberoi’s climb from high school dropout to CEO

Today Esha Oberoi sits at the head of a 550+ staff, multi-million dollar business and has been recognised for her achievements as a Winner in the Indian Australian Community Business Award for Small Business and a Finalist in the Telstra Young Business Women of the Year Awards in 2014.

But her journey to success wasn’t without challenges.

Esha’s formative years were tough. Upon arriving in Australia as a young migrant at seven years of age she experienced ostracism and bullying from her peers, due to her inability to communicate. This  created a host of challenges including depression, anxiety, loneliness and isolation culminating in her dropping out of school in Year 11.

In this interview, Esha shares how she started and grew her passion for helping others, and built a successful enterprise by never settling for compromises.

  • After leaving school in Year 11, what decisions and steps did you take to kick off your career? 

I dropped out in Year 11 and didn’t make it to the HSC. That decision and my own mental health challenges left me unemployed for many years until my father insisted and encouraged me to find work in a nursing home. I did exactly that. The decision to remain in the industry was initially because I felt an instant connection with the clients I was working with in aged care and disability services. My clients were often lonely, feeling isolated and vulnerable, which made our relatability factor very high.

  • What were the most challenging aspects of those earlier years in your career, and what’s your advice to others who may also be experiencing these challenges today? 

The most challenging aspects of my work in the sector came because of my age. I was 24 years old when I came into the sector and I feel that I had to work a lot harder to earn trust and credibility because I didn’t have experience as a credential.

In terms of advice, what I did to overcome this was deliver very high-quality service and make no compromises. So, I would go above and beyond in my delivery and we became known for our reliability and responsiveness very quickly as we earnt this reputation.

It is important to have strengths outshine any shortcomings that we have in our professional lives. I am not suggesting that age is a shortcoming. In my early days, my lack of experience was where there was a gap I needed to fill. 

  • How have your personal experiences as a woman of a migrant background without a university degree impacted how you were treated in the corporate world? 

I didn’t remain in employment long enough to experience the impact it could have had in my treatment. Having my own business and being in the community services industry I have never felt discounted due to my migrant background or not having formal education.

  • At any point, did you feel like giving up on your career goals? Why or why not?

The sector is challenging because sometimes you really want to be able to help someone and for multiple reasons, we are limited by what we can offer. There is enormous emotional pressure at times so there have been times where I felt like I needed a change of industry. Having said that, the joy that comes from helping people always outweighed the emotional stress in the role.

  • Today, as you lead a 550+ team and multi-million-dollar business, how have your personal experiences shaped how you hire, train and support your staff? 

When it comes to hiring, I am mindful not to place people in roles that don’t complement their inherent characteristics and skills. I am highly supportive of a person’s aspirations and I would work with them to develop a clear learning pathway so they can develop the skills required for the role or share any guidance so they can eventually reach that point.

I really believe in training and skills development. As I had no professional qualifications and experiences that could back my move into entrepreneurship, I started investing very early on in my own training around leadership.

About the expert

Esha Oberoi is the compassionate, inspiring and dynamic CEO and Founder of AFEA Care Services, Australia’s most successful private in-home aged and disability care service. She is also an award winning entrepreneur and self-love advocate who credits much of her success as a heart-centred leader and business owner to her transformative ideology that, ‘mental health begins in the heart’.

Image description: Headshot of a woman from the waist up wearing a colourful dress and holding her hands in front of her. She is looking at the camera, has brown eyes and brown hair, and her hair is tied in a high ponytail. She is standing in front of a rock wall.


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