Then and now: Derek Lai FCPA

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.

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.

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.

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