Privileged to welcome (again) our next group of business leaders into the fold

On April 18th, I had the honour of delivering the Occasional Address for Commerce and Marketing students at Macquarie Uni’s graduation ceremony. It was the second time I had the great privilege to do so, and it is just as humbling second time around.

Under the video is a full transcript of my speech, as it is actually a little bit of a checklist on how to set yourself up for success in whatever you do and the principles I have followed

Here is the recording of the address

Occasional Address – April 18th 2016

Chancellor, members of the Faculty, staff, distinguished guests, graduands and their families and friends.

Firstly I would like to begin by thanking the university for inviting me here today to deliver the occasional address and also thank you to all of you for allowing me to be part of such an awesome event in your lives. It really is an honour and a privilege.

Today is a day to look back at the hard work and sacrifices you have made as you completed your studies here at Macquarie and to celebrate your achievement. Make sure that when you come up on stage that you steal a few seconds to look out upon your fellow classmates and take in the significance of the day.

Now, you have all undertaken many tests in your lives up to today so the only tests for today are to remember to, in this order,

  • tip your academic cap after your name is called,
  • walk directly to the chancellor with your very valuable piece of paper showing outwards, especially if you have a difficult name to pronounce
  • and then after you shake hands with the Chancellor that you look forward and smile for the camera.
  • Then walk past the chancellor to the other side of the stage, down the stairs and then back to your seat.

Seems simple doesn’t it, but under the spotlight it is easy for someone to get it all wrong. So no pressure, don’t be that guy or girl who provides the light entertainment for the day.

Now today is actually the second time I have had the honour to deliver the occasional address and let me tell you, I am more nervous today than when I was 12 months ago. Why?

Well my challenge is to entertain and motivate you today and speaking about 15 years of preparing tax returns and counting beans isn’t that interesting for marketing & media graduates, and maybe not even for the commerce graduates…..but I love a challenge and it probably helps that I’m not really just an accountant, I happen to be a bit of an entrepreneur & innovator as well. And in actual fact I was thinking of the last time I wore a suit and tie…and it was at this same lecturn 12 months ago. !

Alright, enough of my attempts at light hearted humour.

But I am going go to ask anyone here in the front row to help me out and if I am getting boring please do a fake yawn so I know to liven it up a bit.

Now I graduated from this very hall 12 years ago but the difference between now and then is huge.  Personally I have never been one to talk about specific events in my life so what I am going to do today is share with you my learnings from my career to date and the principles I have followed and let you apply them to your own situations.

Probably, actually certainly, the most important tip that I can give to you is to always think about the user experience

People don’t remember what you did for them and quite often they do not remember what you charged them, but they most certainly remember how you made them feel.

Customers, suppliers, bosses, employees, colleagues, its makes no difference. When you deal with somebody, if you ensure that their experience with dealing with you is top notch, they will always seek the opportunity to work with you again.

Even as I prepared this talk, I tried to put myself in your shoes. Thinking about your experience of listening to me talk to you today. Questioning myself, writing & re-writing sections. Will it be boring, will they find me funny, will they come away confused or will they walk away pumped for the future. Will they like me, because one day, one of them could be my boss !

You have to have passion for what you do. Sounds really simple, but if you love what you do, putting in the hard yards is so easy. If you are passionate you can get into the office early, work those extra hours at night and pull out the laptop on a weekend to get that task completed. Without passion, you will not be able to deliver a great experience to your clients

Through out my career I have always worked hard and over the past 18 months I have never worked harder in my life, not because I have to, not because I want to, but because I love what I do. I get out of bed every morning thinking about who I can help today, and it’s a pretty powerful motivation knowing that I have an ability to help make a difference. Try explaining that to my wife who is constantly challenging me as to why I work so much and I simply reply, “because I love it”….I’m sure she thinks I am a weirdo. But I’m sure many thought Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs were weird because they wear the same clothes everyday, but there is method to their madness. See, I have a plan…. (smirk)

Don’t be afraid to dream big. And more importantly don’t let others say you can’t achieve something if you believe that you can. If you want something, go and get it. You alone can be your biggest enemy or your greatest ally.

Make sure you get out your pen and paper and write these big dreams down. And then write down all the little goals and objectives that you need to tick off on your way to the big ones.

When you write them down and join the dots they remain in your subconscious and whilst you may not think of them everyday, they are there, in the back of your mind, keeping you on track. I have been writing down my goals since I started my career and update them all the time because goal setting is a very powerful process to keep yourself on track

You need to constantly re-evaluate yourself and challenge your own status quo. If you start to feel comfortable in your role then you may be getting lazy. This means you need to embrace continuous learning. And it is not just about obtaining a certain amount of hours needed each year to keep a qualification, it is about constantly improving your skills so that you can exceed expectations every time.

Over the past 18 months, since I made some big changes in my professional career I have learned so much from taking myself out of my comfort zone. My latest idea & role is going to challenge me yet again, but I already know that the skills I will develop will be great for the future.

Now, don’t be afraid to chase an opportunity

A famous business person that you may have heard of, his name is Richard Branson, has a great saying…. If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.

I guess you could say I live my life like that but I am definitely not a thrill seeker or risky person… remember I am a trained chartered accountant, but I will always grab an opportunity if it presents itself

Putting that into context means you have to trust your instincts. If you know deep down you can do that job, but it will just require some extra effort learning a new skill then say yes and make it happen.

Unfortunately we can’t wait for hindsight when making decisions so remember, some opportunities may only come once in a lifetime so you need to have the courage to chase your dreams. Recent experiences for me continue to prove that is the case.

Now technology is my passion, but I do not know how to write one line of code. I just love finding awesome ways to use technology to improve stuff and make life better

There is no doubt that technology is touching almost every part of our lives. Many try to fight it, but the best advice I can give is don’t fight the inevitable. Embrace technology and understand where it can add significant value to you and to your working life and be in control of its impact.

Gone are the big fat corporate budgets of the past. The rules of business today demands efficiency with no reduction in quality. Or in simple terms, get stuff done faster with a better result.

In the marketing world I know that for a fact that budgets are being slashed yet expectations are increasing. Businesses want their brands out in front in the market yet are not willing to spend more and they are demanding better returns on their marketing investments.

In accounting & finance its no different. Businesses are demanding real time intelligence across their financial information so that they can make informed decisions, yet they are not willing to spend more on human capital to build this data set

Technology is the key to achieving these desired outcomes and so your challenge as the next generation of graduates is to use your youthful advantage, that is, having grown up with technology to help businesses leverage it to their benefit. Answer that call and you will fast become a sought after professional.

People often ask me how I manage to fit in all my current roles, both business and personal and the answer is quite simply, I let technology do the heavy lifting. I let it tell me who I need to speak to today and for what reason. Then I let my personal skills do the rest.

And that is the important part of the technology equation. Understanding where the personal relationship is still a required part of the transaction. Because as we begin to use technology more and more, the human interaction component of the equation will become increasingly important to meet the desired outcome. Again, this comes back to the importance of the user experience.

Our greatest learnings come from working with and observing others. Surrounding yourself with awesome people can add so much value to you as an individual. As I said before I have learned so much in the last 18 months and most of it has come from working with some true leaders, although many of them do not hold any sort of official title. And my latest opportunity and decision to pursue it has primarily come down to being able to work with some really great people who are building something very cool that I would love to be part of.

Also never forgot the importance of family and friends, especially when you need to make big decisions. It is this support network of family, friends and colleagues that is a key component of a successful career and whenever you listen to any successful individual talk about their own critical success factors this is repeated time and time again as one of their top 5.

In closing I want to share with you my beliefs on the importance of giving back. As you focus on building your career don’t fall into the trap many do of waiting till you have “made it” before you start. Part of your career development must be about doing something where there is no expectation of return on your behalf.

I can tell you that worthy charities just in Sydney alone crave expertise in two key areas. How to manage their finances and how to tell the world of the great work that they do. Imagine, if every single one of you here today, contacted a local charity and gave them 2 hours of your time every month for the next 5 years to help them in those areas……what is that, 2 x 12 x 5, equals…anyone have a calculator….120 something hours x say 200 grads…that 24,000 hours…multiply that by every graduating student in Sydney this coming year…that is a lot of hours. What a difference it could make not only to the charity itself, but also the people who need those charities and also to society as a whole. As an individual we can have a big impact, but as a collective we can move mountains.

And don’t forget our great university. As you become alumni of Macquarie today the students & graduates of tomorrow can benefit so much from you getting involved. For me, being involved in the PACE program has been so rewarding and I am always happy to assist the next generation, because as I said before, one day, one of them will probably be my boss!

Thank you again to the University for giving me this humbling opportunity to address you today. It has been a real privilege I hope that you have been able to take away even just one piece of advice that I have shared that will help you on your own journeys.

Congratulations to all of you on your achievement & I wish each & every one of you success in your future careers and lives as proud alumni of Macquarie University. Enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you



Published by James Solomons

FCA, GAICD. Innovative Business Leader. Global CFO @Xref (ASX:XF1). Director at @business_Depot (formerly Aptus Accounting & Advisory @AptusAA). Former Head of Accounting @Xero Australia. Advocate, Entrepreneur & Educator #Family #Football #Fastcars!

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