SPOTLIGHT ON JULIA KAHKY, T’17
Updated: Feb 9, 2022
January 16, 2019 | BY COLE ZAHARRIS & LEIGH MARSHALL
Julia is currently a Strategic Incentive Development Analyst at General Motors completing her third year as part of the selective leadership development program. She started her career at General Motors in the Telematics and Strategic Business Partnerships group in 2017 and was promoted to Senior Corporate Auditor in 2018 and then promoted to Incentives Analyst in 2019. She graduated from Duke University in 2017 with a degree in Economics and a minor in Psychology and is currently working towards her Masters in Finance at the University of Michigan. Although she is technically a Wolverine, she remains loyal to the Blue Devils – conducting alumni interviews and serving as a graduate reader for current students writing their theses. Since October 2013, she has never missed a Duke basketball game and hopes to see the team in Atlanta this spring.
Why did you decide to join BOW?
My interest in Business Oriented Women started before I even accepted my offer to Duke. After I was admitted, a local alum reached out asking why I hadn’t accepted yet – I was nervous that the liberal arts education at Duke would not provide me with the skillset I needed to succeed in a career in the finance. I still have the email response listing the business organizations on campus with a few highlighted which she thought would interest me. BOW was one of the organizations on that list! I remember applying my first semester without a lot of information, just that there was a group of like-minded women at Duke from whom I knew I could gain mentorship, advice, and a strong and lasting network. After attending a number of events my freshmen year, I remember connecting with one of the senior members who helped direct me towards an industry I hadn’t previously considered. She helped me organize my resume and conducted practice interviews with me. I think more important than why I joined, why I stayed in the organization was the networking and mentorship that is so unique and impactful in BOW.
How has mentorship factored into your career path?
I attribute so much of my success at work to mentorship. I am lucky that I am in a selective leadership program that connects managers and directors with analysts to develop their network, but beyond that, I’ve found that reaching out to coworkers who inspire you can shape your career. I’ve found mentors in analysts even who have helped me navigate the waters of a 212,000-person company – deciphering the jargon, explaining each organization’s role in the Fortune 10 company, introducing me to an influential network within finance. I’ve leveraged my mentorship with directors to be promoted to the integral role I’m in today – managing a multibillion-dollar budget which directly impacts consumer behavior.
Can you talk about your opportunity to work in Brazil and how that differed from working in the United States?
Working internationally was an invaluable experience for which I was lucky to be selected. I found out about a week before I left that I was chosen to work with the South America team for a month – after only three weeks in this new job. It’s a funny story actually – I woke up Sunday morning at 5:00am to drive two hours to Kalamazoo to compete in a triathlon, finished the race, and drove immediately to the airport where I showered in the lounge and took a red eye to Sao Paulo where a company chauffeur dropped me off at the offices at 9:00am Monday morning. With only three weeks of job experience under my belt, I was brought to my first meeting with an external client and had to pretend that I 1. understood Portuguese, and 2. had the expertise to comprehend and de-risk their company. What I found to be most interesting about this experience was the work culture. For example, every day the team took a full one-hour lunch break despite impending deadlines. Throughout the day the team would socialize in common areas and take thirty-minute coffee breaks (Brazil has the best coffee). What mattered more than leaving the office at 6:00, 7:00, or even 8:00 was enjoying the workday. The same role in the US stressed over daily deadlines and made sure to leave before 6:00 every day, while the South America team almost savored each moment. And after the team left at 8:00pm they would still grab drinks together. It didn’t matter if it was a Friday or a Tuesday – the team stayed together after the workday. Some of the coworkers went to the gym together, some of us got dinner together – but we always did something together. The team felt more like a family than just a group of coworkers. Of course, translating Excel files from Portuguese to English to Portuguese proved its difficulties, but if given the opportunity, I would work in Brazil again in a heartbeat.
What is your favorite part of your current job?
My current job is fast-paced, exciting, and changes every day. Each day that I walk into work, I have absolutely no idea what I’ll be doing until it’s time to leave. As I mentioned before, I manage a multibillion-dollar budget and have to make decisions within minutes about how we’re going to spend millions of dollars to drive consumer behavior. I love the amount of pressure and trust that my leadership places on me and how I feel like I’m making a direct impact to the bottom line of the largest automotive company in the world. I’ve said this about the entire company, but the people within my organization make the job enjoyable beyond the spreadsheets and number-crunching. We eat lunch together every single day and grab drinks after a crazy work week. Similar to Duke, I really enjoy the work-hard/play-hard mentality of my coworkers – I can’t imagine doing this job without the support and jokes my team provides.
What advice do you have for BOW members trying to navigate what field they want to pursue?
Talk to people. I didn’t know what industry I wanted to work in by my senior year let alone my freshman year. I never thought I would have been interested in the automotive industry because I’d been driving the same car since my 15th birthday, but here I am. Focus more on what skills you have and what excites you – then talk to as many people as you can about their internship experience; talk to visiting analysts. Ask as many questions as you can about what things are important to you. I’ll be in honest in saying that I didn’t think work-life balance mattered my first few years out of college and that I could work 100-hour weeks; but after attempting that for a summer, I knew that having time for myself was important to me. You know yourself better than anyone else, so ask yourself the important questions then find out which field best matches. I can promise you that it might not be what everyone else is doing or what you think you should be doing – and that’s ok. You can gain any experience from any job, so there’s no such thing as a “wrong” or “bad” decision.
What’s something every Duke student should do before graduating?
Attend a basketball game! Not only is it advantageous to be able to discuss sports in the workplace, Duke basketball is iconic. Once you don’t have access to student section, you’ll see that people (may or may not be including myself) pay hundreds, thousands of dollars to see a game in Cameron. You get to do it for free! Go to an exhibition game and leave at half time if you think you’re too busy – whatever you do, make sure you see a game.