Naren Balakrishnan – Established Professional

With over 18 years’ experience in information technology, including the last 14 years in professional services and consulting, Naren Balakrishnan helps companies access Government funding programs and to file maximized and substantiated tax credit claims. His clients represent a number of industries including Telecommunications, Software/IT, Electronics, Financial Services Institutions, Aerospace and Defence, Health-IT and Bio-Technology. He assists clients in a number of areas including: determination of eligible expenditures, preparation of technical reports, review of documentation, incorporating best practices to maximize claim size and handling potential CRA matters including audit defense. Naren is heavily involved in business development initiatives, working with international companies to enter the Canadian market, developing strategic partnerships with technology associations and working closely with start-up companies to help them get to the next level. He also works to mentor, connect and introduce companies to other accounting and business functions at Grant Thornton.

Naren Balakrishnan was awarded the established professional award for his outstanding contribution in the community by a Tamil individual at the Toast to Success conference held September 18th at the Arcadian Court in Toronto. I recently had the opportunity to sit down virtually with Naren, to converse about his professional journey and the advice he wants to give emerging Tamil professionals.

Tell me about yourself and your career.
Going back to university, I started at the University of Toronto and did computer science, software engineering. Though I enjoyed my career, I was looking for a change in career, and felt I needed to do something more. Eventually in 2008 I found a consulting role, where I helped clients tap into government funding programs, part of the tax bracket, and from there moved up and around various companies and am currently a partner at Grant Thornton.

I have been in the space for a long time and have seen an evolution in the funding landscape and what Canada does. I have been fortunate to be in the forefront of technology and working with innovative companies and helping them with their growth trajectories as well. It is a bit of a change in scenery from a tech background to consulting business, the same sector but a different perspective.

What did family and friends have to say about the change in career?
It is a bit of a risk to give up what you have and put yourself out there. One good thing is I was a lot younger. It definitely worked out a lot better for me. But definitely a full gamble at the time. My wife was the biggest supporter at the time and she still is. But I did get the question, what are you doing? You need to take the leap of faith sometimes. I think for the most part people were curious and supportive.

How is your current job more fulfilling than your previous jobs?
It’s the people and the company, especially what I do day to day. What I did before as a software engineer, is you are tasked with one piece in a large puzzle. My current job is very dynamic, with more interactions with different industries across the country. Dealing with interesting people, interesting companies and our team, who are great to work with. The nature of business is changing everyday, and I’m constantly learning, helping companies grow which in turn benefits the Canadian economy. Helping interesting companies do better and progress is very rewarding and valuable and the best part of the job.

What does your average daily work/life balance look like?
I have a young family, and work life balance is significant. There is a program at work, being vital – to ensure you have time for your family and yourself. To make sure you’re being active and perks. Taking care of themselves outside of work, being present for the kids and their activities. Flexible scheduling, work-life balance is a huge thing for me but it’s also promoted by the company.

Looking back, what is one thing you would have done differently?
Just that I would have gotten into this career sooner, but everything happens for a reason. They happen in a certain way, a certain timeline, you have to go through a journey to get to where you need to be.

What inspires you? When do you get most excited?
Being at the forefront of technology and helping companies do well, grow over our time. Seeing others do well, satisfaction of seeing them grow, that motivates me.
Personally, my family is always an inspiration to me. I do everything with them in mind. I see them take steps and collectively we’re stronger.

What is the importance of mentorship according to you?
I have a number of great mentors along the way who have shaped my career. Mentors are important because they have lived that before and had their experience, even a small advice can help you progress. I have had mentors from university to the workplace. At Grant Thornton from day 1 I had a great mentor, who bought me into the team and has guided me for 7+ years.

Personal mission statement
Do something that makes you happy, it’s cliche but it’s something that you do daily but it needs to bring you joy. If you have to take a chance, if it’s something that can bring you happiness and a fulfilling life, do it. I can speak to it first hand and it worked out for me. Might be different and forces you out of your comfort zone, go for it.
If you’re not happy with what you’re doing, it’s going to impact your mental wellness and has a toll physically as well.

Where do you want to see yourself in 10 years?
I learn every day from my clients and colleagues. I see myself in a leadership role and I see ourselves as stronger collectively, building more leaders. Giving others more opportunities and guiding others to become leaders. There are other roles that I can take on in the firm’s leadership role. I’m always researching to see how I can better help companies grow and the benefits that we can bring to the industry. Even being more involved in creating policies and such, and more impact in the innovation aspect. As well as developing more partnerships in the community. In all, strengthening what we can in our role, in our team, and guiding the next set of leaders.

What do you like to do in your downtime?
My wife and I love to travel, haven’t done much of that due to COVID but looking to take our two boys on some trips. I’m not the most athletic person but I’m a huge sports fan. I love to bike, catching up on TV and movies when I find the time. Mostly spending time with my family.

Involvement in the Tamil community?
It’s incredible to see what organizations like CTPA are doing in the community. There wasn’t this type of support when I was in school, it brings people together and forms a mentorship. People who can help along the way in various sectors of the industry and give guidance. It’s amazing to have people supporting your dream and making it reality, with resources and guidance. I love being a part of that journey, and being involved.

Thank you Naren for your time and your engagement in our community, we value your expertise and wish you all the very best in your journey to your next accomplishment. We will definitely be seeing you at our future events and hope future Tamil professionals are inspired by your willingness to take a chance.