Now a celebrated academic in Singapore, Themin Suwardy used knowledge and a valuable Australian opportunity to get there from his home town in Borneo.
In 1988, at the age of 16, Themin Suwardy waved goodbye to his family in the Indonesian town of Pontianak and travelled internationally for the first time. After securing a scholarship through the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB), he was Melbourne-bound to study for his Higher School Certificate at Taylors College.
“It took a lot of persuasion for my parents to allow it,” says Suwardy. “I was the eldest child in my family, but even at 15, my home town felt too small for me.”
Suwardy moved in with a family in Melbourne’s west and adopted the local customs. “I lived close to Geelong, and my home-stay family supported the Cats. This was the Gary Ablett era, so getting connected was also being indoctrinated at the same time,” he says, laughing.
Although English was his third language, with Indonesian and a Chinese dialect higher in the pecking order, Suwardy successfully completed his high school education and was offered a tertiary scholarship to Monash University. There he settled on a double degree in accounting and computing.
"Don't just learn what you're being taught; understand what you're being taught."
Initially, the accounting component was not to his liking. That changed after a chance encounter with a KPMG partner at an International Association of Students in Economic and Commercial Sciences (AIESEC) function. The impressed executive offered him work over the summer break servicing Indonesian clients.
“From that experience, I started to like accounting. It was a valuable lesson. Don’t just learn what you’re being taught; understand what you’re being taught. When I went back into the classroom, I could see the sense of it all.”
Themin Suwardy will be presenting at CPA Congress in Singapore in October 2015
After graduating with Honours in 1994, Suwardy’s choice between academia and industry was made easier when he was offered funding for PhD studies. “This is the Asian in me speaking here: karma would come to me one day if I turned down the PhD scholarship, with so many others wanting the same chance. Australia has also been very kind to me, given me so many opportunities, and I thought it would be improper to turn it down.”
After his PhD, Suwardy was teaching at Monash, but then he accepted a position at Singapore Management University (SMU). He has received numerous teaching awards in the past 15 years, and recently he accepted the position of deputy dean in Postgraduate Professional Programmes at SMU. He attributes much of this success to his CPA qualification and network.
“There are two things I’m most grateful for in my career. One is the scholarship to come to Australia, and the second is the industry and professional network I’ve built here in Singapore through CPA Australia. I’m constantly surprised at how much goodwill is extended to fellow members of the accounting profession, no matter where they herald from.”
One piece of advice
Knowledge is never at a standstill. As professional accountants it's our duty to keep in touch with developments in our profession. Never be afraid to learn, unlearn and relearn.
This article is from the September issue of INTHEBLACK