To the manner born

by Martin Williams

Andrew Lam, staff partner
Grant Thornton Hong Kong
Photo: Keith Cheung

Exceptional commercial acumen gives accountancy elite a solid platform

In addition to offering superlative assurance services to major clients and overseeing human resources and brand building in his position as assurance and staff partner at Grant Thornton Hong Kong, Andrew Lam considers maintaining a work-life balance a priority.

Mr Lam initially planned to go into business. At university in the UK, he took a business-related degree, and after graduating stayed on in the country, and joined a reputable international accounting firm as a trainee in the auditing department. "I realised this would give me solid business training," says Mr Lam, who then thought he would spend only three to five years in the audit field.

More than 20 years later, Mr Lam still enjoys his work in the field, albeit now in Hong Kong where he joined another major international accounting firm, moving to Grant Thornton four years ago. "After obtaining my professional accounting qualifications, Asia, and specifically China, were opening up, and I assumed there would be more opportunities for me here," he explains.

The key reason Mr Lam has remained in accountancy is down to the exceptional assignments he has received. Niched in a milieu of perpetual learning, he gains deeper understanding with every new project. "Accounting and auditing are 50 per cent science and 50 per cent art," he reveals. "You must understand a business, for instance, appreciate what's inside a ship to audit a company in the ship building industry. I don't think you can audit efficiently without seeing, understanding and touching what a company does."

International exposure

Over the years, Mr Lam has worked for a great variety of companies. In the UK during the 1980s, he served mainly clients in heavy industries, such as oil refining and oil exploration companies, water and electricity utilities and ship builders. Moving to Hong Kong in the early 1990s, his portfolio was markedly different, dominated by light industry, including original equipment manufacturers. As China boomed, he shifted towards major Chinese enterprises, including a multi-location food processing company with a manufacturing plant so large a golf cart was needed during a site visit.

Though clients change, Mr Lam says the basic principles of accountancy remain constant. Over the years however, he has experienced some major changes in the industry. China's growth for example has been explosive in recent years. "It's like the whole of Europe opening up and developing at the same time," he says.

Mr Lam joined Grant Thornton partly because many of the clients tend to be entrepreneurial, medium-sized companies, either publicly listed or privately held. Grant Thornton also has the resources and support he requires and the firm continues to expand rapidly.

Institutional cohesion

The spirit of togetherness also forms the essential element that binds people at Grant Thornton, and although Mr Lam's responsibilities include human resources and brand building, dealing directly with clients remains an integral part of his professional life.

Considering people and brand, Mr Lam tries to envisage the bigger picture, while leaving the detailed implementation to the human resources and marketing professionals within Grant Thornton's Hong Kong team. His role is mainly that of a communicator between different partners and departments, ensuring their needs are met and ideas passed on. He also addresses wider staff needs, which include tailoring assignments to fit individual preferences, for instance designating the right tasks to people who prefer to work in Hong Kong, as opposed to those who enjoy complex assignments in mainland China.

In light of this, Mr Lam must remain flexible, which means flying to see a client in mainland China with only a few hours' notice if necessary. The job sometimes involves long hours but he does make time for his family, aiming to spend a couple of hours each evening with his two young sons. If he's away on business from Monday to Friday, he might spend Saturday morning clearing paperwork on his desk, then spend the rest of the weekend with his family.

Modern technology also helps Mr Lam maximise time with his family. Later in the evenings he may work at home via email. During a two-week family holiday in the UK last year, Mr Lam woke early to clear emails and phone his office in the late afternoon Hong Kong time, and then headed off for sightseeing with his wife and children.

Mr Lam does not believe in all work and no play. When a new restaurant opens, he might arrange to meet a client for lunch there, so they can talk business and savour a fine meal. "I try to enjoy myself all the time," he remarks.


Taken from Career Times 20 June 2008, p. A4
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