Looking Back and Moving Forward: An Interview with Keynote Speaker Pim Thukral
Interviewer: Rayan El Amine
Pim Thukral, works as a financial leader at Northwestern University in Qatar, overseeing all operational controls, reporting of procedures, and financial features, ensuring that all systems are set that ensure and facilitate growth at NU-Q. Prior to her work at NU-Q, she was Vice President for Financial Accounting and Systems at Georgetown University, making sure that all the central accounting functions and audits of pieces from the student billing services to the university’s financial systems were in place and working. As the keynote speaker this year, she will be presenting her own personal stories, and how they helped shape her and advance her growth. In this conversation, she presented some background on her story, as well as what she enjoys in a conference like QLC.
Could you tell us a little bit as to how you reached your place at Northwestern?
I spent most of my career at Georgetown University in Washington DC in various financial-related positions. In 2008, I left Georgetown to work for Weill Cornell in Qatar as the Director of Finance and also as interim Director of Human Resources. I really enjoyed my time in Doha and had planned to stay for several years. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how one looked at it, in 2010, I was offered one of those opportunities I could not turn down back at Georgetown. I left Doha in June 2010 to go back to Washington DC and spent six and a half years working on the implementation of the new financial and human capital management systems and improving the internal control processes at Georgetown University. In July 2016, I was contacted about an opportunity to come back to Education City and Doha to work for another prestigious University, Northwestern, in the capacity of Chief Operations Officer. It was an exciting assignment, not only because it would bring me back to Doha, but to expand my portfolio of responsibilities and offer new challenges.
As an individual in a significant administrative position, what do you think is the value of a strong administration group?
I am a true believer in teamwork and strong and cohesive team. No matter how good and intelligent a person is, s/he cannot know everything or do everything. You need a team in which members trust one another and have one another’s back. The success of the team depends on each member doing his/her part and working together for the good of the team and not for the individual’s personal goal. The success and failure of one team member is the success and failure of the entire team.
I have been very fortunate that I have been a part of as well as led strong teams where team members have mutual respect, trust, and care about one another. I can confidently say that all the success throughout my career can be attributable to strong and unified teams.
What are some of the differences working in the States versus in Qatar?
Since I work in an American institution which follows the same policies and procedures as the home campus in the United States, I do not notice many differences between working in Qatar and the U.S. However, there are some differences, one of which is the better work-life balance in Qatar. I find that most people in Qatar do not work the long hours as those in the States. They leave work at work and, unless required, they do not read or respond to emails until the next working day.
Another difference is the career progression. Unlike in the States where one can easily find the next job which offers promotion or career advancement, the opportunity for such progression is limited and sometimes impossible. Therefore, many people feel they are “stuck” doing what they have been doing, not challenged professionally, and getting bored.
Since most of the people employed in Qatar are expatriates, the turnover rate is much higher than in the U.S., especially for those who are sponsored by their spouses. When the employee’s spouse has to leave Qatar due to job reassignment, transfer, or termination, the employee also has to leave his/her job. This could cause disruption to the operation of the organization or, at a minimum, an inconvenience of having to recruit and onboard a new employee.
How do you think your early experiences in New Orleans brought you to this moment?
Moving to and living in New Orleans certainly taught me many lessons, most of which have helped me throughout my life. I came to New Orleans from Hong Kong to attend college. It was the first time I left my parents and being so far away from home, family, friends, and familiar places. I was petrified to be living in a foreign country with no one to help me navigate through life as before. I learned to become independent, self-confident, and self-reliant; to be curious, think on my feet, be flexible, and not be afraid to ask questions. All of those experiences have shaped me to become the person that I am today.
Where do you think is the value in a conference like QLC? Why does NU-Q support it?
I believe a conference like QLC is so valuable to students who are at one of the most important milestones in their lives when they are trying to decide what they may want to do for the rest of their lives or, at the very least, for the next several years. It is also the time when they are getting ready to spread their wings and experience the real world outside the nurturing, forgiving, and predictable environment they have known for the first 16-18 years of their lives. QLC offers variety of informational, inspirational, and helpful sessions, workshops, and networking opportunities to these youngsters with the goals of preparing and motivating them to become successful and productive members of the society and future leaders.
NU-Q recognizes the values QLC brings to the pre-college students and views the event as an opportunity to promote the importance of pursuing higher education and exploring the many career options available to these young adults who represent the future of the country and the region.
Why should an aspiring business person come to see your Keynote? What would be their take away?
My keynote will be about my personal experience, lessons learned, and advice that I wish someone had told me when I was at this age and stage of my life. I will talk about what I believe have contributed to my success professionally and also in some areas of my personal life. My talk is relevant to any audience and the concepts applicable to anyone, not just a business person. I hope that my stories and advice would provide some of the audience with ideas, motivation, guidance, or, at the very least, some pitfalls to avoid.