After working for more than four years as an accountant at a Big Four firm, Jimmy Chan Tsz-kiu decided that it was time to move on. “I’d spent quite a lot of time serving a hotel client and got to learn a little bit about hotel operations. I found it quite fascinating, so the hotel industry became my choice when I decided to move to the commercial sector,” he says.
Chan was offered the role of financial controller trainee at The Langham Hong Kong, a five-star hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. “I thought the job prospects were great. The one-year trainee programme prepared one to become a future financial controller. Hotels are an up-and-coming business in Hong Kong, so I am confident that my switch to the industry was a smart choice,” he says.
During the trainee programme, Chan was assigned to different accounting sections within the hotel. He also got the chance to visit the mainland to help with the opening of a new property. “It was a great learning experience dealing with tax officials and mainland lawyers. After finishing the project, I was promoted to assistant financial controller,” he says.
Having been at The Langham now for more than five years, Chan recently moved up to the role of deputy financial controller, where he oversees the hotel’s finances. “In hotel accounting, there is an income audit section that verifies the transactions that occur every day. This is a special department in accounting that hotels employ because there are so many transactions happening everyday,” he says.
Chan needs to be familiar with the operations of every department in the hotel in order to give them business advice. “Many people think that accountants only deal with calculations, but actually we are business advisers for every department in the hotel. My team and I look closely at the operations of every department to try to help them be more efficient. For example, I will explain to restaurant managers that in order to make profits, they have to fill the restaurant with a certain number of guests,” he says.
In moving from an accounting firm to the commercial sector, Chan’s biggest challenge has been to get colleagues from non-accounting backgrounds to understand him. “For example, when a restaurant chef decides to introduce a new menu, I advise them on how to reduce the cost of purchasing ingredients. Sometimes it is not easy to get colleagues who are not accountants to understand my point of view,” he says.
Chan advises accountants who are interested in joining the commercial sector to stay positive and open-minded, because there is much to learn. “Colleagues and the working environment are different from those in an accounting firm. One has to be prepared for a steep learning curve,” he says.
Chan’s experiences have given him a different perspective of the hotel industry. “Whenever I attend a hotel wedding banquet, I always look at the plates and cutlery and think of their cost. When I read the menu, I am more interested in calculating the cost of the food than finding out what’s for dinner,” he says.