Asia Pacific Leader, Restructuring Services and National Leader, Financial Advisory Services, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu.
I didn’t do well in secondary school so medicine and law weren’t options for me. Instead I made the decision – in 15 minutes – to go into accounting at Hong Kong Shue Yan College.
At the time all I wanted to do was be a professional and work for a Big Four firm. Looking back, it was a very immature decision.
I actually didn’t like figures but I got my Australian degree and went to work for BDO Hong Kong in audit, which I didn’t enjoy very much. People didn’t see the value in it then.
I later moved to the restructuring division. It was far more interesting and I enjoyed working with words and figures. Six months later, I joined Deloitte.
That was over 20 years ago.
Derek Lai at the 2014 INSOL Hong Kong conference
Now, as leader of Financial Advisory Services, I have overall responsibility for restructuring and insolvency, corporate finance advisory, M&A transaction services, project finance advisory, forensic and valuation.
One of the most important challenges I’ve faced is people’s perceptions of me. I have a bone disease called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia or SED. It causes my joints to degenerate as I age, so I can’t keep my limbs straight, and I now walk with a stick.
I often get stares on the street. It’s not that people are looking down at me; they’re concerned. But well-meaning concern can sometimes lead to negative results, because it may lead to reinforcement of the view that people with a physical disability can’t learn and succeed professionally and otherwise do many of the same things as people without disabilities.
I’m lucky to have found a place to work where I’ve found the things that mean the most to me – teamwork, recognition and respect.
I am in a position where I am constantly challenged and I enjoy it immensely.
Hong Kong Shue Yan College in 1985.
What would I tell my younger self? Have a long-term plan and work hard to achieve it.
Derek Lai was CPA Australia’s President for the Greater China Division in 2006.
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This article is from the June 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK.