Member profile: Rashpal Singh Hullait
Rashpal Singh Hullait has never ducked a challenge. From facing down racism and competing in martial arts, to never giving up on his beloved Arsenal, he tells Xenia Taliotis where he gets his tenacity from.
My most prized possession is the battered metal suitcase that my father brought with him when he came to England from India in 1953,” says Rashpal Singh Hullait, managing director and head of finance and enterprise performance at Accenture UKI. “He arrived with £2 in his pocket and with everything he owned in that one case – no more than a couple of shirts, a suit, some books. It lives in my study, a constant symbol and reminder of what he achieved, and of why I’ve achieved. He died last year but his influence will remain with me always.”
Hullait is quick to acknowledge other debts, too. To his mother, who insisted he learn Punjabi. “I resented having to speak it when I was growing up, but now I thank her every time I contact clients in India.” He is also grateful to ICAEW.
“Aside from the invaluable discipline and rigour you have to develop to gain the qualification, once you have it, you can knock on any door. It’s the global gold standard in our profession and for people like me, the child of an immigrant with no connections to call on, getting to the door was more than half the battle.”
Doors have been flying open for him since he qualified with Grant Thornton – first those at Alcan, which he joined in 1991 as finance manager; then at KPMG (consulting principal); Kurt Salmon (managing partner); Hackett Group (regional managing director); and then, in February 2016, at Accenture. “I’ve been very lucky,” he says. “I speak from the heart when I say that I have loved every job I’ve done. I’ve never left any company through dissatisfaction, but simply because it was the right time to go – either because I had taken the role as far as I could, or because a new opportunity presented itself.”
Hullait is a Sikh, and though he does not practise he still adheres closely to the basic tenets of the faith, including to live honestly, work hard, serve others and be generous to those less fortunate than yourself. “My faith is hugely important to me,” he says. “It has given me a foundation, a set of values to live by that I believe help me act for good. Sikhism is about tolerance, about standing up for injustice, and these are among my defining principles; but I have also brought teachings from other faiths and from philosophy into how I approach life, and like us all, I am a work in progress. The most important lesson is to keep learning and growing and that is why I am in a continual state of up-skilling.”
He is able to find positives and opportunities for growth in every situation. His first job, as a 14-year-old working at Littlewoods, taught him how to engage with customers, while casual racism encountered when he was a student living in London in the 1980s toughened his resolve to battle inequality and prejudice. Then there is his life-long love for martial arts – wing chun in particular. “I view it as another philosophy that contributes to my personal development. I did it competitively until I was 30, but have accepted that my trophy-winning days are over. Again, I do it for the rigour – for the training and fitness of mind, body and spirit.”
Hullait sees work and life as a continuum and applies the same rules to both. He chose accountancy, he says, because he followed his father’s advice: “I was due to read pure and applied maths, but decided against that at the last minute. My father was furious: he took me to see a careers officer who recommended that I do accountancy and finance and that was that – a lifetime career sorted.”
His path has been varied, with each new job presenting him with different challenges and satisfactions. At Alcan he worked with physicists, chemists and engineers, getting to grips with how a chemical plant functions so he could make greater efficiencies; at KPMG, as a founding member, he helped set up the firm’s shared services practice, first in consumer and products, which became the market leader, then establishing a shared service practice in its information, communications and entertainment (ICE) sector.
The death of his father last year propelled him to make radical changes. “I’d been MD of Hackett Group, the global strategic business advisory specialist, for nearly four years when my father was taken ill. After his death, I needed a reboot and some time out. As soon as I was ready to go full tilt again I joined Accenture, as MD, finance and enterprise performance for the UK and Ireland.” He admits it’s a big job, but he is clearly enjoying the considerable challenges.
“My job is fascinating. I’m working with some of the best people in the world to develop solutions for clients using advanced technologies, including AI, machine consciousness and other cognitive learning systems. My team is made up of computer programmers, of anthropologists, of scientists, all working together to shape the future. We’re in the middle of a fourth industrial revolution – one that is being driven by digital innovation and one that will ensure greater efficiencies and transformative systems. It is extremely exciting to be working in this area.”
Hullait says the projects go beyond creating new solutions: “We’re building radical new ways of working. Rather than using the traditional waterfall approach to implementing systems, we use agile methodologies utilising AI and robotic process automation alongside traditional ERP [enterprise resource planning] to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the finance function. The new technologies are developing at an unprecedented and exponential rate and we will see a seismic shift in their application in our everyday lives.”
Away from work and study and his martial arts, does he find time to relax? “Yes, of course. I am a passionate Arsenal fan. Arsenal is going through a renaissance – we had a few bad years as we dined at the top table, but are coming through that. Arsène Wenger has come in for heavy criticism, but it’s not easy to build and create – it’s always easier to tear down. I am not in the business of giving up on talented people. I will support him and my team through good times and bad.”
I like being an ACA because... it’s infinite.
I’m happiest when… blessed.
My favourite book is… The Maharajah’s Box.
The hardest lesson to learn has been… attachment.
I’d like to be remembered as… unique.
My worst habit is… intensity.
The love of my life is… eternal.
Originally published in Economia, September 2017.