In Hong Kong, droves of young university graduates target accounting as their profession, and it is among the most popular career choices. However, for Susanna Chiu, the first woman to head the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants (HKICPA), her career developed gradually.
"I didn't pick [the accounting profession] out of intent," Chiu says. After graduating from the University of Sheffield with a first-class bachelor's degree in economics, she went on to work at the Grant Thornton accountancy firm in Sheffield "to gain business experience".
She combined her accounting experience with information technology know-how before returning to Hong Kong. "I wanted to contribute to society as I was a chartered accountant; also, those days [in the 1990s], not many accountants were aware of information technology."
Her specialisation includes information systems audit and controls review, software consulting, system implementation and business management experience.
Chiu says she knew IT would eventually become an important element of accounting and audit, and she was proved right several years later.
She says starting out in the accounting profession in Britain was quite challenging. "I was a minority, a Chinese and also a woman in a profession dominated by men."
In the first few jobs, the senior partner was in a quandary over whether or not to send Chiu to meet clients.
However, she leveraged on her ethnic Chinese background and started social talk with clients - Chinese and Western - which broke the ice. The clients wanted to know more about her cultural background and about Hong Kong, where she hailed from. "It was a boon to me and a positive thing," she says.
This personal interaction with clients helped her to establish rapport with them, and eventually she gained the trust of her bosses as well. Chiu admits that as a woman, she had to work extra hard to prove she was good at her job.
"You have to prove [yourself] because you are a woman ... and double your effort."
Of being the first woman president of HKICPA in 2013 - the only statutory licensing body of accountants responsible for the professional training, development and regulation of the accountancy profession in Hong Kong - Chiu says it was not a simple feat. The institute conducts a democratic elections process in which the 37,000-member body votes in two steps. The first step is to get elected by the members every two years to rejoin the council, and the second is to get elected by the council itself.
"They look at what contributions you have made to the institute; you have to exhibit your leadership qualities, gain trust of the council and the members - it's a lengthy process," Chiu says.
"I am fortunate to have gained the trust of the members. I have learned a lot and grown over the years." She also describes herself as a people person, a quality that has helped throughout her career.
Chiu says she worked well with female bosses in her formative years. They allowed her the freedom to do the work she wanted and even offered coaching. This proved to be a great benefit in her career, especially when she transitioned from an accounting firm to a commercial company. She is presently a director and group chief representative for eastern China at Li & Fung Development (China).
When it comes to challenges facing women trying to make a career in Hong Kong, Chiu believes that sometimes they tend to discriminate against other females in the workplace. "This has to stop - we should help each other, support each other."
She praises the city for being a good place for working women, but adds there are certain areas that are lacking, pointing to corporate boardrooms.
The advice she offers women is to be confident and not hesitate to make bold decisions in their lives.
AT A GLANCE
1990s: Graduates from the University of Sheffield and starts work with Grant Thornton.
1997-2000: Works with Caltex Greater China and Orbis International.
2000-2006: Works for DVN (Holdings).
2006-present: Joins Li & Fung Group as director and group chief representative for eastern China.
2013: Is president of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants.