Julia Ngai: Making Connections Across Atlanta

She didn’t know it at the time, but Julia Ngai got two clues to her future path in life while helping out with her father’s business as a teenager.

“My dad used to own his own construction business, and my mom’s a banker,” she says. “She would do the finance part of it, gathering all the Home Depot receipts and bills and whatnot, and I would have to calculate and double-check them. I really liked the feeling of accomplishment from making the numbers match up.”

Today Julia is a junior majoring in accounting at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business at Georgia State. And she’s there in part because of Home Depot: She’s one of the first recipients of the Ann-Marie Campbell Scholarship, endowed by the company’s Southern Division president — herself a proud Robinson College graduate.

A Helping Hand Close to Home

Both sides of Julia’s family are originally from Hong Kong; she was born in New York but moved down to Atlanta when she was three years old. Her family lived in a couple of different suburbs in the Atlanta area before settling down in Gwinnett County when Julia started high school.

When it came time to choose a college, “I knew I wanted to be close to my family and take care of my parents as they get older, but I still wanted to go to a big university because I knew I was capable of that. So that’s why I went to Georgia State — I liked how it was in the center of downtown, and I thought it was so different from the suburbs where I lived.”

Originally Julia was considering the nursing field, but after volunteering in a children’s hospital she decided the life-or-death pressure of a medical career wasn’t for her. “Math has always been my strongest subject. I’m the kind of person who loves to be organized in everything,” she says. “I figured accounting was more for me, and I’ve taken the intro to accounting courses and really liked them.”

Julia says she was thrilled to get the call that she had been awarded the Campbell Scholarship — and for the chance to meet Ann-Marie in person at Home Depot corporate headquarters. “I was a little caught off-guard, but I’m very grateful and thankful for the opportunity,” she says. “And what a coincidence, because my dad has been a loyal shopper at Home Depot for many years.”

That meeting was the start of a valuable relationship between Julia and Ann-Marie, who started as a cashier at a Home Depot store and rose through the company while earning her M.B.A. at Georgia State. “After talking to Ann-Marie Campbell, I went to the career placement office and applied for the Home Depot summer internship,” Julia says, “and I also e-mailed her, thanking her and telling her that I’d applied. And she told me to keep her updated with all the internships I was looking at. The way she’s accomplished so much in her life, and has given so much back, is very admirable.”

Opportunities on Campus and Beyond

The potential career boost from an influential alumna just adds to what’s already been a promising experience at Georgia State. “It’s very different from where I’m from,” Julia says. “I like how it’s really busy — there’s a lot of people all the time, there’s a lot of good food downtown, and you can just walk from place to place. I like how they’ve managed to create such an open campus in the heart of Atlanta.”

Julia’s still in her first semester of business courses, so she’s not sure what branch of accounting she wants to go into, though she thinks she’d like to work in the accounting department of a major corporation. She’s already gotten some experience helping with financial reporting for a firm in Buckhead — and some career advice from one of the partners there.

“He said that when I first graduate, the job he would recommend would be a staff accountant for a smaller company,” she says. “A big company will make you only do accounts receivable or accounts payable, and then you won’t really be knowledgeable about all aspects of accounting. At a small business, they’ll put more on your plate, and that’ll add value for you — when you do try to aim for something higher, they’ll see you as having more value because you’re knowledgeable about a lot of different things.” Then she laughs: “But he also said there’s a tradeoff because smaller companies don’t pay that much.”

In her spare time, Julia likes to spend time outdoors — both taking her dog for walks and visiting that most important of networking destinations: the golf course.