At a glance
By Katie Langmore
Ragulan Karunanantham FCPA’s career in the accounting profession began in Sri Lanka’s corporate sector in 2004, as an accounts trainee with KPMG.
From there, Karunanantham moved into management accounting, spending three years at Aviva Insurance as a team leader, then a year with Shell on contract.
Karunanantham’s next dive into the unknown was moving to Australia in 2009. He enrolled in a TAFE Overseas Qualified Professionals (OQP) program, and the course included a four-week internship at Melbourne Health. The internship changed the course of his career.
“The corporate director asked me if I’d like to stay a bit longer. I thought they meant four more weeks of unpaid experience, but they gave me a three-month paid contract,” Karunanantham says.
Karunanantham ultimately spent five more months at Melbourne Health, acquiring an interest in the public sector and consumer‑centred healthcare along the way.
“There is a particular challenge in working in the health sector,” Karunanantham says. “Any CFO will say you’ve got to have a strategy before numbers, but that is particularly true with healthcare because you have to always think of the patients.”
Karunanantham’s next role was with Mercy Health, where he spent two years as a senior analyst in planning and reporting.
“In most organisations, you manage debts as numbers. In the public sector, you’ve got to think of other factors. Debt may stem from someone not being able to pay their bill, but it is essential as a public service that we can help them,” he says.
Karunanantham and his family moved to rural Victoria when he was appointed CFO at Swan Hill District Health in 2012.
Balancing consumer and community needs with maintaining a strong financial position is an ongoing challenge, Karunanantham says, so reserves are a necessity. “These two elements conflict always.
We want to be consumer centred, but we need to ensure a surplus so we can be financially sustainable. We are always answerable to funders, too – there are a lot of accountability and legislative requirements.”
During Karunanantham’s time in Swan Hill, he also became an executive sponsor for a government-led community engagement pilot program.
“The Institute for Healthcare Improvement pilot program was part of Safer Care Victoria, a push by the Victorian Government for improved healthcare.
“It was being trialled at Swan Hill, and I put up my hand to lead it,” Karunanantham says.
He relished the opportunity to engage the community in feedback and distribute the findings back to the centre. “I love looking at the bigger picture.”
In search of a new challenge in 2020, Karunanantham zeroed in on the Kooweerup Regional Health Service, in rural Victoria.
“Looking at their website, I was very impressed by the health service and the region looked perfect for us, but I thought, ‘CFO positions don’t come up in these small centres very often’,” he says.
“The following April a miracle happened – they were advertising for a CFO.”
After gaining the role, Karunanantham moved to a nearby suburb.
Karunanantham completed his MBA while working full-time. “I did it to broaden my way of thinking and my approach to business,” he says. “The better I do my job, the more the community is supported.