Career Path

A brilliant career

by Rodney Jimenez

David Wu
Fellow Member,
Partner, Financial Services Division

David Wu was born into a peasant family in a village near Hangzhou where no one owned a television set until 1981. But where he is now, as an audit partner in one of the world's biggest accounting firms, shows how the right training and education, combined with impeccable integrity and a bit of luck can catapult an individual to the commanding heights of professional achievement.

Mr Wu began his career inauspiciously as a research assistant at the University of International Business & Economics in Beijing with a monthly salary of around 150 yuan. His big break came when The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) arrived in China in 1988, offering to train Chinese accountants in international accounting standards.

At first, the required fee of 200 pound sterling almost discouraged Mr Wu. It was a princely sum that was simply beyond the means of a struggling accountant on the Mainland. "Hardly anyone in China could afford that fee then," says Mr Wu. But he also realized the need to broaden his education. "In the eighties, Chinese bookkeeping standards were patterned after those in the Soviet Union and were simply not on a par with internationally observed practices."

"Accountancy is a very competitive profession. The mentor can provide the necessary emotional and intellectual support that will guide one's career to steady growth"

ACCA eventually addressed the problem concerning the fee. Charles Fung, its Chairman in Hong Kong and a Partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) brought ACCA to the attention of China's Ministry of Finance and arrangements were made to enable those who enrolled in the course to pay through monthly salary deductions. Hundreds applied for the course, but ACCA selected only Mr Wu and two others.

Then June 4, 1989 intervened. The crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in China prompted many foreign entities to cancel plans to enter the Mainland. Fortunately, ACCA decided to go ahead with its plan and Mr Wu arrived in Hong Kong in late December 1989. He still recalls how nervous he was back then. "[When I relocated to Hong Kong] I really had nothing, except my shirt, pants and a pair of white socks."

Even more worrying was his lack of knowledge about international accounting standards. Fortunately, Mr Fung at PwC served as his mentor, untiringly coaching him on the intricacies of international accounting. Three years later Mr Wu became the first mainlander since 1949 to obtain an English accounting qualification from ACCA.

It has been a blur of one achievement after another since then for Mr Wu. He rose through the ranks from junior accountant to senior accountant, to manager and then to senior manager in PwC. He spent three years in each position until July this year when he was promoted to his new post as partner, the first mainland-educated Chinese person to rise to this rank in the firm.

Mr Wu says integrity and hard work are the most important personal qualities accountants must have. After the recent accounting scandals in the US, he says, the need to enhance transparency of corporate reporting is even greater, which requires greater dedication and integrity on the part of auditors and accountants.

Mr Wu says his success came after many trials. "I have had a lot of ups and downs in my career. At one stage, for instance, I really wanted to leave [the profession]." In his early years, he says, he was envious of some of his colleagues who moved on from accountancy to advising on corporate finance deals with respected institutions like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs.

But another senior partner, Silas Yeung, with whom he worked to set up the China office in 1994, provided much needed support in the work place. "Yeung inspired me to look at the bigger picture as to where my career could go."

Mr Wu says he cannot overemphasize just how important it is for one to find a supportive and dedicated mentor. "Accountancy is a very competitive profession. The mentor can provide the necessary emotional and intellectual support that will guide one's career to steady growth."

Mr Wu is highly valued by his company given the depth of his understanding of China's financial market and economic environment and he is perfectly happy where he is now, with his auditing skills highly in demand in banking, capital markets and investment management.

Mr Wu attributes his flexibility and capacity to work in different accounting jurisdictions to his training at ACCA, which honed his skills in international accounting standards. "I would not be here were it not for ACCA," he says.

China Opportunities

Hong Kong accountants enjoy a competitive edge when it comes to finding work in China. They are attractive to mainland employers given their exposure to high professional standards and their wide experience with international companies. With China's entry into the World Trade Organization, demand for HK accountants should increase.

However, demand for Hong Kong-trained accountants in recent years has tapered off with some multinational companies and joint ventures hiring local staff for lower-grade positions. This means Hong Kong accountants need to gain a thorough knowledge of China's tax system and fluency in Putonghua to secure a job.

Expatriates are usually recruited for senior positions. A professional accountant from Hong Kong is likely to receive pay higher or similar to what he gets in Hong Kong plus a housing allowance.

Figures provided by Career Times Research Team   K='000

Taken from Career Times 18 October 2002, p. 28
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