Philip Wollen was in his early thirties when he became vice president of Citibank. Not long after, the Financial Press had named him as one of the brightest and best top 40 headhunted executives in Australia.
But just as he was reaching the great heights of all he had worked towards, he gave it all up.
At 40, Mr Wollen walked away from the corporate world, became vegan and gave away his possessions. He then became a full-time philanthropist and social justice advocate.
In front of a gathering of Ballarat leaders on Wednesday afternoon, he said it was the massive scale of animal cruelty he had witnessed when travelling the world that was behind his decision.
“I heard the screams of my dying father as his body was ravaged by the cancers that killed him and I realised I had heard those screams before,” Mr Wollen said. “I discovered that when we suffer, we suffer as equals.”
The provocative and thought-provoking humanitarian was invited to speak to participants and graduates from Leadership Ballarat and Western Region and Committee for Ballarat members at Ballarat Technolgy Park Central.
The talk included photos, statistics and descriptions of animal cruelty happening around the world.
“We’re killing two billion animals every week, if humans were killed at the same rate we would be wiped out in one weekend,” he said. “If any other organism did this a biologist would call it a virus, it is a crime of unimaginable proportions.”
But when speaking of the vegan lifestyle, Mr Wollen was more optimistic.
“Veganism is growing rapidly all around the world and that is a good thing,” he said. “It’s good for our health, it’s good for our economies, it’s good for the animals, it’s good for the water… it’s very hard to find an area in which it doesn’t have a positive impact.”
When it came to philanthropic culture, Mr Wollen told The Courier Australians tended to focus their attentions locally rather than have a global vision, but change was starting to happen.
“We have some advantages because young Australians are prolific travellers and with the internet the world has become a global village,” he said.
He said he could feel the change emerging, where animal agriculture would no longer play an important role, labelling it a new enlightenment or second renaissance.
He urged the leaders to let it begin in Ballarat.
“We’re running out of time and we have a massive task ahead of us,” he said. “The world is crying out for only two things, leadership and the truth, and my role today is simply to tell everyone the truth and leave the leaders here to do the important task of spreading that message.”
Mr Wollen has supported 500 humanitarian projects for children, animals, the arts, the terminally ill and the environment in more than 40 countries, and has received the Medal of the Order of Australia and the Australian of the Year (Victoria) award.
He ended his speech with the plea: “Let’s not relive history, let’s make history because that’s what leaders do.”