Guiding the corporate growth

by Isabella Lee

Chris Tam, director, business risk services
Grant Thornton Hong Kong
Photo: Edde Ngan

Managing business risk demands professionalism and common sense

Developments in logistic and strategic perspectives are transforming the way modern corporations function. The convergence of IT and risk management is one example of how to increase efficiency by interlinking professional procedures.

To succeed in today's business world, leaders must understand how to interpret changing corporate models and adapt swiftly to shifting realities to seize new opportunities.

Chris Tam, director, business risk services (BRS), Grant Thornton Hong Kong, has witnessed the recent rapid transformation of the industry since he embarked on his first job as a fresh accounting graduate from The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in 1994.

"The business atmosphere as I entered the audit field was quite favourable: People enjoyed high income or substantial gains in a robust economy driven by ever escalating stock activities," Mr Tam recalls.

Breaking new ground

Mr Tam's first overseas posting led him to Shanghai at a time when expatriate assignments on the mainland were a rarity for Hong Kong staff. For Mr Tam, who did not speak a word of Putonghua, accepting the offer was a positive learning experience as he had the opportunity to explore a different environment and simultaneously enjoy the roller coaster of his immersion into a new culture.

"Ten years ago in Shanghai, I felt somewhat like a pioneer in the nascent business district, where connection to the more developed world was still quite limited. Local people were genuinely interested in me as an unusual individual from an international financial centre. Despite the challenges in the newly nurtured business environment, the generous pay package I received at the time soon offset any hardship," Mr Tam notes.

He is aware however, that over the past few years as living standards and professionalism in China have improved the perceived "distance" between Shanghai and Hong Kong in terms of competitiveness has diminished at a steady rate.

"If we look at the premiums for hiring a particular professional, the salary difference between a Hong Kong and a mainland recruit is currently not more than 30 percentage points, a huge drop in comparison with the 10-fold discrepancy in the 1990s," Mr Tam points out.

Leveraging on his wide exposure to the fast-growing market, Mr Tam became a member of Grant Thornton's BRS team in 2005. His current responsibilities include helping companies, regardless of size and industry, to minimise business risks arising from a plethora of possible causes such as increased competition, demographic redistribution and changing legislation.

To help clients create processes and systems to support business sustainability, the BRS professionals focus on tailoring solutions that enhance internal controls and establish sound corporate governance. Through constructive internal controls, essential institutional objectives can be achieved. These include operational efficiency and effectiveness, reliable financial information and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations

"If a comprehensive evaluation of the design and execution of such sets of rules is lacking, a company is in a vulnerable position. It is our role as professionals to offer clients recommendations on better business practices from a third party's point of view," Mr Tam explains.

Right attitude

To cope with clients from a diverse range of industries, the BRS professionals are required to carry out an in-depth study before devising practical suggestions.

"We need to critically consider each case we handle as companies from diverse backgrounds are exposed to differing risks. Common sense also plays a significant part," Mr Tam remarks.

In addition to language proficiency and good interpersonal skills, Mr Tam believes that a passion to learn is the key to success in BRS. Since the economic environment and social trends affecting business performance vary at lightning speed, industry players must keep abreast of the latest changes and apply their knowledge to minimise risk.

"One way to learn from successful people is via direct conversation. You can discover distinctive ways of thinking by listening to decision makers such as entrepreneurs, chief executive officers, chief financial officers and sales directors," Mr Tam advises.

Although the possibilities to brush shoulders with corporate executives are manifold for BRS staff, many fresh graduates are reluctant to grasp the opportunities. Mr Tam observes that people are more comfortable seeking opinions from their peers. However, he also points out that talented individuals who want to succeed must take the initiative to stay ahead of the game.

"BRS is a challenging yet prosperous field. Candidates hoping to secure a seat in it should have an open mindset and be prepared for fierce competition," Mr Tam concludes.


Taken from Career Times 18 January 2008
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