Career Path

Always one step ahead

by Grace Chan

Susanna Chiu
council member
Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants
Photo: Nolly Leung

People should constantly look for the next step up and equip themselves with the necessary skills, advises Ms Chiu, council member of Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA) and senior vice president — operations of Li & Fung (Trading) Ltd.

Upon graduating with an economics degree in the UK, Ms Chiu had a chance to confirm her aspirations almost immediately at a university career day.

"I was reading an audit trainee recruitment brochure which used the idiom 'the world is an oyster' to describe the profession, and I found it pretty fascinating," she says. Believing globalisation would be the future trend, she considered auditing a respected profession with high mobility. "As long as you're a CPA (certified public accountant), you can work in any part of the world," she adds.

With a keen interest in the business field, Ms Chiu embarked on a three-year audit trainee programme, which she considered a foundation to her career.

"I remember thinking that given audit experiences in different business sectors, I could familiarise myself with various models of business operation," she adds. With this in mind, she signed on as an audit trainee with Grant Thornton, one of the biggest audit firms in the UK.

During her tenure, she obtained a CPA qualification and became proficient as a computer auditor. "At that time, personal computers were pretty much unheard of, but I believed automation and globalisation would be the next trends," Ms Chiu recalls.

Then, an opportunity arose and she readily accepted it. She explains, "A conglomerate from China was launching an investment project in the UK, and was looking for a Chinese CPA to help with a business plan." Having connections with the local Chinese community, Ms Chiu was recommended to offer her expertise. She initially took the job on a part-time basis but the scale of the project was so large that she eventually referred it to Grant Thornton with her assigned the project's business manager. When the company extended its client base to Chinese corporations in the UK, Ms Chiu's exposure to the Chinese business community increased.

"As long as you're a CPA, you can work in any part of the world"

Open road

Ms Chiu returned to Hong Kong in 1992 and worked in Grant Thornton's local office until she saw an opportunity to work in Beijing.

"Thanks to my previous audit experience in the UK and my proficiency in Mandarin, I was more than ready for it," she stresses.

Two years later, she obtained the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants (CICPA) qualification, earning her professional recognition on the mainland. Another three years would see her become the greater China senior project manager of Caltex, leading the Hong Kong and Shanghai teams to work on the company's management information system.

At the turn of the century, she made another career move to DVN Holdings, a Hong Kong-listed company specialising in digital TV solutions for the mainland cable TV industry. She worked there for six years as chief operating officer before moving on to her current employer Li & Fung.

In addition to the CPA and CICPA qualifications, Ms Chiu credits her mainland experience and computer audit knowledge for her career advancement.

Today, the bulk of her responsibility lies in change management and business process reengineering where she proudly assumes the role of problem mediator and solution provider.

"My professional training equipped me with the perseverance and creativity that help make my job easier," she notes.

Since her return to Hong Kong, she has registered as an HKICPA member and devotes much time to organising activities to raise members' awareness of IT applications in the accounting profession.

Now a HKICPA council member, she underlines that recognised professional qualifications open up a wide range of career options. "You can either choose the traditional route, that is to work in an audit firm and subsequently become a partner; or you can take the non-traditional one — to join the business field and move up the career ladder," she notes.

Alongside technical competence, Ms Chiu ranks interpersonal skills as the most essential attribute.

"Auditing is people-oriented and ultimately it's the level of service we provide that really sets us apart from competitors," she emphasises.

Ms Chiu values the sense of job security in the accounting profession. "Every business needs accountants. Regardless of the economic outlook, there's always a demand," she says.

At high tide, accounting professionals are needed for such activities as IPOs (initial public offerings) whereas during tougher economic times, they're involved in insolvency, liquidations, financial restructuring and investigations.

"Sizeable companies still have the same appetite for accounting professionals. The only thing is that they now pick only the best," Ms Chiu concludes.


Taken from Career Times 05 December 2008, p. B18
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