From sports stars to indigenous councils: it's about work ethic and culture

Atma Maharaj CPA.

Atma Maharaj CPA knows about doing his best and a little bit more. His business and finance skills have taken Fiji’s sports stars to the Olympics and saved East Arnhem Regional Council millions.

Atma Maharaj CPA admits that, a little over two decades ago, he had little inclination to relocate to Australia from Fiji. 

“I never had any desire to move overseas. That was not the plan,” says Maharaj, who is now CEO of Latitude 12, a business services provider in Darwin. His career, however, would see Maharaj eventually call both nations his home.

Back in the early 1990s, Maharaj was working as a group information systems manager for Toyota/Burns Philp in Fiji’s capital, Suva. Life was good. Outside of work, he had family, friends, and a passion for sport that saw him managing some of Fiji’s top sporting teams and individuals.

In 1993, when Maharaj was suggested as the first group manager of management information systems for Toyota Tsusho South Pacific Holdings, a position based in Brisbane, it took his boss three months to convince Maharaj to take the job. Toyota even floated the idea that he could do the role from Fiji. 

“I thought about it and realised if the head office was in Brisbane I could not do the job properly in Fiji,” Maharaj says. “If I didn’t take up the position, my career might have stalled.”

With his mind made up, Maharaj dived in. 

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The 110 per cent

“I was responsible for systems in eight different countries. It was a real challenge, and also rewarding working with multiple teams in different locations.”

After five years in Brisbane, Maharaj yearned to be close to family once more. In 1998, he returned to Fiji as regional manager and director of Toyota Tsusho South Sea, which as Asco Motors sells Toyota, Yamaha, Mercedes-Benz and Bridgestone products in Fiji, Samoa and American Samoa, and Tonga. He oversaw 11 dealerships and 400 employees. 

However, he stepped away from Toyota in 2002 to set up his own executive consultancy, PrimeVision. Two years later, he sold the consultancy to become CEO at the Fiji Investment Corporation, a venture capital firm to fuel growth in selected industry sectors in Fiji. 

It was also in 2004 that Maharaj went as Fiji’s chef de mission to the Olympic Games in Athens. He had first managed sports teams while still a student at the University of the South Pacific in Suva. He went on to manage or coach Fijian teams in nine Olympics and four Commonwealth Games, working in disciplines such as athletics, weight lifting and sailing. (Even when he is in Australia, he continues to help advise Fiji’s sports groups.) 

Eighteen months after Fiji’s 2006 military coup, Maharaj moved back to Brisbane. There, he started his Soul Ventures consultancy, covering business advice and also sports management and marketing. 

"It's not just your 8-to-5 job, but striving to take everything that you do to the next level."

In 2010, however, another challenge beckoned, and he started as chief executive at Darwin-based Latitude 12. There, he heads a team of 25 that handles everything from finance to human resources, risks to audits for local government, government departments, private enterprises and Indigenous service organisations. 

Maharaj sees the role as an opportunity to develop best practice processes to benefit Indigenous communities. It has also seen him expand his own skill set by completing the CPA Program. It seemed a logical progression, he says, “given we provide accounting and finance services to clients”.  

His business acumen helped Latitude 12 reach 200 per cent of its budgets in its first two years, and A$3 million in direct savings for its foundation client, East Arnhem Regional Council. Yet, it’s not all about the numbers, says Maharaj.  

“It’s not just your 8-5 job, but striving to take everything that you do to the next level, continuously. My exposure to business has helped the sport side by bringing in my commercial nous and professional standards, in terms of knowledge of finance and team building. From sports, I bring in a high-performance work ethic and culture – doing your best, and a little bit more, in a work environment.” 

One piece of career advice

“Whatever you do, do it with passion. In all my work, it has been about doing it passionately or just don’t bother.”

Read next: 5 hiring trends in the accounting and finance profession.

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March 2018
March 2018

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