Ada Lam, currently an audit partner at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu could have become an architect if she had not had an epiphany while studying for an architectural degree in Sydney.
"A summer job led me to reassess my aspirations and it was then I found accounting a more interesting discipline. I love architecture and still appreciate structural excellence today," she notes, "However, six years studying for a degree is a long time at university so I switched to accounting and never looked back."
Using her burgeoning mathematical acumen from a tender age, Ms Lam discovered that a career in audit would be rewarding from day one. "In architecture, salaries are relatively low for fresh graduates. It takes several years to gain a foothold in the industry and profit from the associated pay increases," she says.
Upon her return to Hong Kong, Ms Lam set about targeting only top accounting firms and sought interviews with each one. To her, starting an accounting career in practice, in contrast with one in the commercial field, would give her the best industry exposure and training. The career path and professional development possibilities at Deloitte stood out from the rest and Ms Lam accepted a position.
During the early 1990s Ms Lam was given the responsibility of establishing client relationships with several firms in China. At that time professional women educated at a western university to degree level were a rare sight on the mainland. Ms Lam remembers it was a time of incredible learning and recalls business meetings and dinners where every person at the table was male except herself. Respecting the cultural norms prevalent at the time in China, she trod with both sensitivity and caution to ensure the foundations for long-term partnerships were firmly laid.
Today, Ms Lam is enthusiastic about the opportunities for further business exposure in China, both on a personal and professional level. "Some 15 years ago we communicated with clients in China as effectively as possible using the Mandarin we already knew. Today, Deloitte has comprehensive language immersion programmes to ensure our personnel present advice and services as comprehensively and professionally as possible to our mainland clients," she reveals. Leveraging on such support as well as other structured training programmes on technical knowledge and soft skills not only guarantees professional and effective communications and services to clients but also equips staff with the competence to grow and excel in the industry.
One challenge confronting Deloitte's growth into mainland China is the need to ensure the utmost integrity with every client. Ms Lam adds, "Scandals on any scale diminish a company's branding, irrespective of whether one person or an entire institution were complicit in the scandal. Avoiding association with any company which may be functioning with questionable integrity is of paramount importance to the long-term reputation of both our company and our people." To ensure quality clients, Ms Lam explains that Deloitte has a strong client acceptance procedure in place to look into any potential client before confirming engagement.
Outstanding branding and the excellence associated with it are an integral component of the overall corporate networking process according to Ms Lam. "Deloitte organises events which maximise networking opportunities with both peers and clients," she adds. However, individual experience and a solid track record are also key to elevating branding and ensuring key players receive the references and subsequent professional opportunities they deserve. "The value of a strong team and an exceptional individual performance when supporting an IPO for example cannot be underestimated," notes Ms Lam. Clients appreciate knowledgeable and efficient people who get the job done professionally and often request those specific people for future cases.
On a personal level Ms Lam is aware of the constraints associated with an audit career with regards to long hours and tight deadlines. To keep in shape she insists on regularly visiting the gym. Meeting up with friends for a drink is also a favourite pastime. She finds this esprit de corps is a helpful way to relax and unwind, which in turn guarantees she returns to her desk fresh and invigorated. Maintaining this work-life balance is, in her eyes, an integral part of her overall success.
Her advice to younger people considering a career in the field is to apply for an internship while at university to get a taste of what really happens in today's professional services firms. "It is not just about long hours and numbers. We don't all walk round with calculators in our pockets," she remarks. Deloitte now offers multidisciplinary services, which extend far beyond audit and accounting, including enterprise risk services, financial advisory, mergers and acquisitions, tax and consulting services. In essence, Deloitte's people have the opportunity to branch out into any of these sectors to ensure they find the right fit for their unique skills and aspirations.