UH Bauer alumnus joins TOMS as senior accountant
After previously working for a public accounting firm, Bauer alumnus Ralph Degala has become a senior accountant at TOMS.
Degala spoke to The Cougar about the transition from school life to work life, how to maintain a balanced lifestyle and how University of Houston students can develop important professional skills.
The Cougar: Can you tell me what you do at TOMS?
Ralph Degala: My title is senior accountant. I help out with financial statements on a monthly basis and my responsibilities are around fixed assets, debt, pre-payment and GL (general ledger) accounting.
TC: At UH, what kind of experiences equipped you to get this position and how was the transition between being a college student and going into the working life?
RD: I had experience in public accounting and through my last job at Transocean. That’s one half of it. The other half is a lot of skill sets I got from co-founding the Asian Business Student Association at UH. We started in 2011. These included learning how to talk in front of a lot of people, meeting people from different backgrounds, sharing stories and professional development. Learning how to network also played a role in me getting the job at TOMS.
TC: Can you explain more about what ABSA does?
RD: The best way to describe it is that it enables students to have the resources that they need to become active leaders in their community. When I say community, it’s not just the Bauer College of Business. Community is also the city that we reside in, the workplace and also the groups that we become a part of like sports, philanthropic groups, musical groups and social circles.
TC: What are some skills that people learn through ABSA?
RD: We narrowed it down to the 3 Ps. The 3 Ps are professional development, public service and peer networking. They stand for a well-rounded experience for a college student, especially for professional development. Everyone is thinking that they will get a degree, they will get a job, and so we help share experiences, set up resumes, how to interview and how to adjust for the job. The 2nd P, public service, is a really important aspect of the organization. We emphasized giving back wherever you end up. It’s really important to give back.
It’s not just monetary donations, but also your time, being involved in different groups and getting your presence out there. The last one is peer networking. This not only includes the social aspect of college, but also networking with the great students that enter the University of Houston and alums. Being able to talk to other people and seeing different cultures at UH was a very important experience.
TC: Where are you located right now and how was the transition from Houston?
RD: I’m currently in Los Angeles, California, and the TOMS headquarters are in a small city called Playa Pinto, which is still Los Angeles. They dubbed it Silicon Beach. The area has a lot of startups. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone. I was born in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), and lived there for about 10 years. I migrated to Houston and have been there since 1998 until the end of 2015. I spent a long time in Houston. You fall in love with the city, the people, the culture, the food. Whenever you go to a new city, you learn a lot about yourself. Having grown up in Houston and gone to UH, you can relate to so many different people from all sorts of walks of life. People from different countries, different backgrounds, different interests.
The best analogy for it is that it is almost like I started as a freshman in a new city. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone. You can’t just go to class and then go home. Similarly, you can’t just go to work and not talk to your coworkers. You can also explore the city. It’s about improving yourself on a daily basis.
TC: What advice do you have for students who are about to enter the workforce?
RD: Success it not a destination, it’s a journey. The fear of going into the workforce is actually exciting. It’s something new for a lot of people and it’s all the doors that are going to lead to more opportunities down the road. You learn different things and meet new people. Definitely launch yourself into the experience. Piggyback on what you’ve learned in college. At one time, I tried to be what a lot of people already were in corporate America.
Overtime, what made me stand out over others was being myself. The skills of being able to assimilate and to continue developing over time are very important. That’s what I would suggest to people entering the workforce. It is scary, but grab it by the horns and know that it will open up opportunities. They’re going to develop so much as an individual.
TC: When you look back at Bauer or UH, what experience or lesson stands out to you the most?
RD: I think it’s going to be balancing. When you’re in school, you have to balance school life with a part time job, friends, social aspects of college and also other things that go on. Take that and (apply) it to wherever you start working. (Work) five days a week and (balance) that (with) weekend time, family and friends. Balancing my life at UH was really helpful in balancing my life while working. Also, never stop pursuing the things that you want to do in life.
When I was at UH, I still played basketball. While I was interning at a public accounting firm, I was playing intramural with my buddies. I participated in ABSA and went to football games. When you start working, you go through the motions. Go to work and then go home. But, a lot of the things that you actually want to do in life, find opportunities to work on them at night and on the weekends and any time you get a break from work. So, finding the school-life balance was a good transition into the work-life balance.
TC: There is a tendency for people to think that their job defines who they are. What would you say to someone who has that perspective?
RD: When I first started working, I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’ How do people work for 80 hours per week? I’ve had work weeks where it’s that crazy. Here at TOMS, there truly is a work-life balance. For a lot of people that like to work, whenever you see you’re in that environment, you have to know what you want. You’re going to see a lot of your colleagues who like to work. They don’t prioritize friends, family, traveling or any of that. A lot of people do operate that way. You have to know what you will prioritize and what you truly believe in. After a couple of years of working, I knew what my priority was.
My priority was just being happy and being able to experience life in all sorts of ways. Being able to hang out with my family and friends, being able to go out and pursue other things outside of accounting, still volunteering, going to watch football games. A lot of people do like work, but if you truly love traveling or you have a business outside of what you majored in, definitely prioritize those, too.