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Career Path

Migrant's success story built on accounting skills

by Mary Luk

Byron Chak, assistant general manager and financial controller, Nanyang Brothers Tobacco Co Ltd
Photo: Edde Ngan

For migrants arriving in Hong Kong, taking the first steps to get established and embark on a new career has never been easy. Even the well-educated can expect to work twice as hard as their local counterparts as they battle to overcome language difficulties and cultural differences, and learn how things operate in an unfamiliar business environment.

Byron Chak, who is now assistant general manager and financial controller of Nanyang Brothers Tobacco Co Ltd, which is part of the Shanghai Industrial Group, knows exactly what it takes. He graduated from Shanghai's Fudan University in the 1980s and migrated to Hong Kong in 1994 hoping to establish an accountancy practice.

Knowing that his qualifications were not recognised in Hong Kong, he approached the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) to obtain an internationally recognised qualification. He was told, though, that he had not met the basic requirement of obtaining a certain number of HKCEE and A-level passes locally.

"I was disappointed and thought I would be unable to fulfil my dream," Mr Chak recalls. However, he then learned about ACCA's mature student entry route that caters for applicants over 21. If candidates passed the relevant papers within two years, they could then be admitted to the main student register and prepare for ACCA's professional examinations.

Mr Chak obtained high scores in both papers and didn't stop there. Within the next few years, he continued taking examinations in law, management and information systems, as he worked his way up to the position of financial controller. He is now a fellow ACCA member and has also taken a master's in finance at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Initial ambition
When he first decided to go into the profession, his aim was simply to secure a steady job to make ends meet. "Though you may not earn a fortune, an accountant is probably the last person to be fired if a company has to lay off staff," he explains. However, he soon discovered that the role could lead to something well beyond looking after the figures to being in charge of wide-ranging management issues. In fact, many successful accountants have become CEOs largely because of their in-depth understanding of finance.

Mr Chak says that nowadays accountants are no longer confined to the traditional areas of reporting tax returns and preparing financial statements. They are also expected to get involved in many more strategic management initiatives by advising on revenue projections and planning future investments. Mr Chak's own role has evolved in just this way to the point where he now focuses mainly on aspects of corporate management.

"Apart from professional qualifications, you must have business acumen and a good grasp of what is going on in the business world locally and internationally," he says. "That includes having insights about foreign exchange and stock markets, as well as thoroughly understanding how a company operates and being willing to learn more."


You must have business acumen and a good grasp of what is going on in the business world locally and internationally

Initial ambition
When he first decided to go into the profession, his aim was simply to secure a steady job to make ends meet. "Though you may not earn a fortune, an accountant is probably the last person to be fired if a company has to lay off staff," he explains. However, he soon discovered that the role could lead to something well beyond looking after the figures to being in charge of wide-ranging management issues. In fact, many successful accountants have become CEOs largely because of their in-depth understanding of finance.

Mr Chak says that nowadays accountants are no longer confined to the traditional areas of reporting tax returns and preparing financial statements. They are also expected to get involved in many more strategic management initiatives by advising on revenue projections and planning future investments. Mr Chak's own role has evolved in just this way to the point where he now focuses mainly on aspects of corporate management.

"Apart from professional qualifications, you must have business acumen and a good grasp of what is going on in the business world locally and internationally," he says. "That includes having insights about foreign exchange and stock markets, as well as thoroughly understanding how a company operates and being willing to learn more."

Complex environment
He points out that large foreign investments being ploughed into Hong Kong have made the financial environment more complex. Employees in the sector must therefore be ready to work hard and to confront whatever challenges arise. This can involve dealing with intense job pressure and being ready to adapt to an ever-changing business environment.

"If you don't take the initiative to improve, there is a good chance you will be overtaken," Mr Chak says. "Talent alone is never enough; determination to succeed is also essential. These days, the workplace is very competitive and those who prefer to take things easy can expect to lose out."

In saying this, he is clearly drawing on the personal experience of arriving in Hong Kong with fewer obvious advantages than others, but refusing to let that stand in his way. "If you are determined to pursue your goal, you will run faster than others. God is fair and gives everyone equal opportunities," he says.

Even so, he credits the ACCA qualifications for making it possible to reach his current position. He believes their focus on financial ethics and key management principles set him on the right track and gave him the self-confidence to achieve his goals.

China Opportunities

Since China's accounting regulations are not fully in line with international standards, many multinational corporations prefer to appoint one of the Big Four accountancy firms to audit and prepare financial reports for their mainland operations. As a result, Hong Kong-trained accountants currently have many opportunities to work for these firms.
However, Mr Chak warns that there is a rising generation of accountants in China who will provide increasing competition for the best jobs. In many international examinations, mainland students are now achieving outstanding results and are known to be hardworking and dedicated to doing well in the profession.


 

Taken from Career Times 24 February 2006, p. C11

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