The pathway to professional achievement

31 May 2024
Neil Palagedara, Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) (2009)
Critical thinking skills and the ability to build high performing teams have served Neil Palagedara well in his professional career.
Neil Palagedara in suit

Neil Palagedara 

Neil Palagedara had two convincing reasons for choosing to study a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree at the University of Sydney. The desire to undertake a degree that provides a broad range of professional skills, and because his Dad was an alumnus.

“My Dad completed his bachelor’s and master’s at Sydney, and he really wanted me to have an experience like he had. It was ultimately an easy choice because as soon as I set foot on the Sydney campus, it reminded me of Hogwarts, and I fell in love with it,” says Neil.

Majoring in International Business and Finance, Neil also undertook an additional Honours year where he investigated how small businesses in Australia grow globally.

Neil found that the experience of working on his honours thesis has become professionally important to him. He cites the use of an exploratory qualitative methodology, and the need to interpret participants’ interview responses and understand their context as a valuable learning experience.

The focus of his honours research explored how different operating models evolve over time. It’s a curiosity that has continued to expand over his career where he has been able to evolve and change himself, or as he describes it, “adapt on the fly”.

The power of critical thinking 

One of Neil’s clearest memories of his time at the University of Sydney Business School was that he was taught how to think, not what to think. He has a very strong recollection of his honours supervisor giving him two academic papers on the same topic with a different view on each of them and asking, “What do you think?”.

Critical thinking is an incredibly important skill. Being able to understand the argument from two different views and evaluate each is something that has continued to help me in my professional life.
Neil Palagedara

Neil currently works for the City of Sydney where he has held several senior roles during his tenure, and in which he relies on his ability to think critically as part of his daily skill set.

“With the rapid growth of artificial intelligence, getting an answer to a problem has become easy. This emphasises critical thinking more because we must learn to apply the right answer to the right context,” says Neil.

Neil is passionate about sustainability, and he has been able to tie-in his critical thinking skills to achieve professional goals in this space. He recalls a recent example that involved balancing the social impact, emission reduction and financial aspects of implementing 100% renewable electricity for the City of Sydney’s operations, “Critical thinking was key to adjusting different options, considering what could go wrong, and planning to deal with risks. By critically thinking things through, we found a good way to switch to renewable energy that worked for everyone,” reflects Neil.

Leveraging his ability to adapt and evolve, Neil has been able steer his team to respond to circumstances, such as the the rising cost of electricity. In this way, he has led change and promoted sustainability though a ground-breaking initiative with an energy company that ultimately led to the construction of a solar plant in the NSW Shoalhaven area. It was an initiative that also helped support investment in rural, Southern New South Wales.

How to achieve success

Neil’s position as Executive Manager of Property Services at the City of Sydney is one which he describes as typically held by an engineer who knows the mechanics of how a building is set up. However, he credits his studies at the University of Sydney with helping him to achieve success in this role.

I’ve been able to use the skills I learned from my commerce degree to build a team around me so that we can determine the best direction forward and drive towards ultimate success.
Neil Palagedara

The Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) degree was the key to teaching Neil how to express information in an easily digestible way – or as he would aptly put it, to explain content in layman’s terms. 

In contemplating what advice he would give future University of Sydney students, Neil is adamant that while getting good marks are important, gaining softer, interpersonal skills are also professionally and personally beneficial. 

Neil also believes in taking the time to foster relationships with fellow students that challenge and motivate you, “I was fortunate to become friends with a very smart but somewhat blunt student who provided me with really honest feedback on my thesis, and he ultimately helped me to make it much better,” reflects Neil. “These are the types of people I have continued to include in professional teams that I build, and I encourage them to question everything,” says Neil. 

Related articles