Julian Palliam CA(SA), 2017 Top 35 finalist, worked his way rapidly through the ranks of multinational companies, fearlessly taking on various responsibilities including managing over R1-billion divisions.
Post articles at Deloitte, Julian joined the Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, a multinational and FTSE 100 company that was expanding into Africa. He joined as employee number 006 (he says he tried to get them to give him 007, but no luck) and describes building an Africa group of companies from next to nothing as an eye-opening experience.
He started out as an exploration accountant and moved roles almost every few months as the company’s needs required. He says he was not shy to volunteer to take on a new role with more work but no additional pay, just to gain experience.
‘Probably a highlight − apart from flying in a private jet across Africa − was being able to acquire mines for the company and spending over USD1,25 billion on an acquisition,’ says Julian.
He then moved on to Swiss multinational ABB, starting as a financial controller in process automation.
He found it inspiring to work for a company that is writing the future of power and automation.
After 18 months, at age 30, Julian was promoted to senior vice-president: process automation. Overnight he had transitioned into having full profit and loss responsibility of a R1-billion division and was longer just the finance guy. He was soon asked to join a global team that would reshape finance across the ABB group. He enthusiastically joined the team and flew to Switzerland where he was trained how to be a lean champion in finance using Six Sigma (one of the foremost methodological practices for improving business processes) techniques to redesign finance and other functions.
Julian describes his team as looking like a ‘mini-UN’ with members from all over the globe. He enjoyed jet-setting across the world and experiencing new cultures and understanding different ways of thinking, but when his wife had complications post the birth of their second daughter, he knew he needed to be with his family more.
He left to join Metso, a Finnish multinational, as administrative managing director. ‘The title confused me, but I soon figured out it stood for CFO and CEO combined. I was the youngest AMD at the time worldwide, and it was an amazing experience.’
Today he is group CFO of Foskor, the only vertically integrated phosphate producer in South Africa. Foskor has been a perennial loss-maker over the last decade, but in the current financial year is set to return to profitability with the help of Julian’s strategic and tactical approach to business.
On being a Top 35 finalist
Here’s more about Julian and his experience as a Top 35-under-35 finalist …
What was your experience as a Top 35 finalist?
As CAs(SA) we sometimes paint a box that we play in, but there is so much more we can do. The accreditation is a door opener, or rather an enabler, of countless possibilities. In the competition I saw brilliant young people forge their own path and forget the box.
I learnt there are so many different things and ways that can make you an impactful CA. My fellow finalists are truly remarkable people, and I am grateful to have crossed paths with them.
How did the experience change your career perspective?
It definitively impacted on me that I needed to give back a lot more to the country and to young CAs(SA). For many years I helped multinationals improve profitability and better manage cashflow and NWC without really making a meaningful impact on a personal level. I must add that during that time I was invited to the South African Investment Conference and the concept of ‘Thuma Mina’ (Send Me) resonated with me. I knew that if given the opportunity to give back, I should.
What is the importance of having a mentor as a trainee and/or CA(SA)?
Honestly, I never really had anyone as a mentor but rather drew inspiration from people I admired. While never having conversations with them, just watching, learning, and understanding their thought processes and philosophy helped me. I believe it is important to share your thoughts, fears and dreams with someone − that can be a partner, a friend, a loved one, or all of the above. In the end, I guess, we all need that support or reassurance. Trust yourself and believe in yourself.
What is your advice to someone who is about to give up on their CA(SA) dream?
Before going down another path, have an open honest conversation with yourself as to what is passion, what gives you joy, and what is your dream. Too often we try to live out other people’s dreams or expectations of what we should do or how we should be. If the answer is still that your dream and passion is to be a CA(SA), then you should fight with all your being. It will hurt and you will have to sacrifice a lot, but if this is your passion and your calling, don’t stop: push through the pain and doubt. You need to see yourself as CA(SA), believe it is possible and finally, just go out and achieve it.
Julian’s tips for positioning yourself for success
- Don’t be rigid in what you think is your path: be open to jobs with strange titles and look at the work if it will add value to build your skill set.
- Always assume you are the dumbest person in the room and try to learn as much as possible from others.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions and try new things − you never know what you are capable of unless you try.