Graham Russell CA's career across borders
Graham Russell CA, Business Processing Operations Director at WPP Group, tells Andrea Murad about his career journey, spanning four decades and 70 countries.
The memorable experiences of Jamaica in the 70s
It was 1979, and Jamaica sounded exciting. I was 23, single, newly qualified and open to new challenges, but to be honest, this was a little more challenging than I expected initially. I arrived in Jamaica in the middle of a civil disturbance period with political violence.
In my first year, there were 800 murders in the capital and then Prime Minister, Michael Manley, was leading the country down a path of communism with Fidel Castro as his partner in crime. Before Google, it was not easy to learn this!
A quick return to Scotland was not an option so I knuckled down and grabbed the opportunity. These years turned out to be very rewarding both professionally and personally.
I had been a member of Junior Chamber of Commerce in Aberdeen before going overseas and took the opportunity to join the sister organization in Jamaica, where I soon became Fund Raising Chairman.
I then joined the Caledonian Society and became Treasurer. I met many local people through these social outlets and created a non-expat life through which I developed a network, which eventually led me into consulting.
I arrived in Jamaica in the middle of a civil disturbance period with political violence... A quick return to Scotland was not an option so I knuckled down and grabbed the opportunity.
The interesting people I met included Florizel Glasspole, the Governor General, Forbes Burnham, President of Guyana, and ‘Miss World’ Cindy Breakspeare with her child to Bob Marley, Damian Marley. I also met many political and business leaders, and most importantly, my wife of 34 years, who was visiting Jamaica.
The opportunity, combined with hard work, saw me move quickly through the KPMG ranks to the point where I was offered a partnership in the Consulting business at age 27, but I declined because I would have had to commit for another five years, which I was not ready to do.
Instead, I entered the commercial world and joined NCR Corporation as the Finance Director for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands with a promise of further moves if successful.
Eventually, I had an 18-year career there. Initial promotions included Finance Director to the Caribbean, based in Puerto Rico, then CFO for Latin America, based initially at company HQ in Dayton, Ohio.
Taking in 70 countries as a CA
When AT&T bought NCR, I moved to Miami, Florida to become part of their Regional Management. Two years later, they spun off NCR along with Lucent and my next role was to help rebuild NCR Customer Services Division in Europe as CFO Europe/Middle East/Africa, based in Amsterdam.
After rebuilding the finance function, I then became the Area Managing Director of the businesses for France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, and then the number two for Europe.
During my NCR years, I realized that I enjoyed Organizational Change and Business Transformation, so after leaving NCR, I joined Orange Business Services where I was VP of Financial Systems and led the transformation of the finance function, before becoming the VP of Shared Services and Outsourcing, in total for six years.
I recommend choosing the assignments that will give you enriching experiences - if you’re with a large firm, there will be opportunities for career growth and mobility to draw upon.
I was then recruited to Astra Zeneca to perform the same role for four years, before taking up my current assignment in 2011 as BPO Director for WPP Group, based in the New York HQ.
On reflection, I started out with this two-year assignment to Jamaica and ended up living in five different countries and eight different cities, as well as travelling to 70 other countries, which has provided a wonderful life experience for my family and me.
From a career perspective, when I went to Jamaica at KPMG, I had been given opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if I had been in London. I recommend choosing the assignments that will give you enriching experiences - if you’re with a large firm, there will be opportunities for career growth and mobility to draw upon.
Since I worked in so many different places, I am in the unusual situation of having a wife and three children all born in different countries. At one point, we travelled with five different passports, which usually created some stir at the Immigration point!
About the author
Andrea Murad is a New York–based writer. Having worked on both Wall Street and Main Street, she now pursues her passion for words. She covers business and finance, and her work can be found on BBC Capital, Consumers Digest, Entrepreneur.com, FOXBusiness.com, Global Finance and InstitutionalInvestor.com.