There is one aspect of her job that Kelly Chan took a little time to get used to — drinking beer. However, as director and financial controller of Heineken Hong Kong, she realises that downing the occasional glass at a promotional event or as part of a brand building exercise is something which comes with the territory.
Initially, it took some adjusting, as did the need to familiarise herself with working in what is largely a male-dominated environment. Now, though, Ms Chan feels completely at home and has a role in virtually all the major management decisions. "I enjoy the day-to-day vibrancy of the business and the fact that the sales strategy or the business model may be changing," she says. "You really have to be aware of a lot."
Her original decision to take an accountancy course at City University of Hong Kong happened by chance rather than design, but turned out to be a practical way of starting a career. "I was making a natural move and, after graduating, got a job with Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu as an auditor," she recalls. In her time with the firm, Ms Chan also got experience of management consulting and compliance work. She travelled and worked in China and spent about two years on secondment in California but, after nine years, decided it was time to try something new.
Speak up and be clear about what you want to say
The chance to move to Heineken came up and, being interested in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector, she grabbed it with both hands. Her responsibilities now cover legal and financial matters, as well as logistics, human resources and IT. "Half of my time is spent on operational decisions, product quality, supply chain and, most importantly, keeping an eye on daily volumes," she explains. "If there is any shortfall in orders, I have to take immediate action." At least once a week, she will visit customers, taking special note of the retail pricing of beers and other competing products, sizing up the competition, and looking out for any new marketing gimmicks.
Ms Chan says that anyone hoping to break into the industry must be hard working and able to think independently. She admits there are days when it can be quite tough for a woman working in a beer company, but stresses that personality counts for a lot and that it is important to be straightforward.
"I have found that you have to speak up and be clear about what you want to say," she adds. "Though I work mainly with men, they are flexible when I communicate my ideas, and my views are always taken into account."
Her general philosophy in business is to look for win-win situations when dealing with customers or partners. "You have to create mutual benefits in both business and your personal life," she says. "That is one of my principles." Ms Chan also notes that it is important, especially for young graduates, not to be afraid of facing challenges or taking risks, since that is the best way to gain experience and learn.
At present, Ms Chan is also the vice president of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Hong Kong, an international accountancy body that offers widely recognised professional qualifications. She believes that one pressing concern the profession has to study is how Chinese companies are developing and what they will need in future. "Qualified accountants also need to update themselves on subjects such as cross-border tax issues, corporate governance and listing rules," she says.
Besides that, she points out that accountancy professionals in China can now make as much or more than their counterparts in Hong Kong. At middle and senior management level, she notes, there is a particular demand for talent and salaries are roughly on a par.
Ms Chan says there are opportunities for accounting professionals in the mainland and, in the last two years, there have not been enough qualified professionals to cater for demand. Being educated and trained in Hong Kong still offers an advantage because so many Chinese enterprises are looking to adopt international accounting principles, in some cases with a view to going ahead with stock market listings.
"Graduates should be ready to accept the challenge of working in China," she says. "However, you must be prepared to travel a lot and understand Chinese business culture." She adds that attitudes towards women have changed a lot, meaning that it is now easier to play an equal part in all aspects of the profession and that there are fewer unnecessary barriers to career advancement.