How an 'accidental accountant' took the helm at Deloitte Southeast Asia

Philip Yuen will be steering Deloitte through an era of change

He entered the profession almost by accident, but Philip Yuen has a well-defined vision as he prepares to take the reins at Deloitte Southeast Asia.

When Philip Yuen FCPA joined the accounting profession more than 30 years ago, he had an unusual story: instead of an accountancy background, he held an honours degree in computer science. 

“I was an ‘accidental accountant’,” he quips, adding that he gave accountancy a try only because some of his university mates were applying to join the profession.

Three decades on, having built a career at essentially one firm, the man who wasn’t supposed to be an accountant will step into the top job at Deloitte Southeast Asia in June.

Yuen will head a regional professional services organisation spanning 25 offices in 11 countries, with 270 partners and more than 7300 professionals. That’s on top of his role as Singapore divisional president for CPA Australia.

The new Deloitte role extends the responsibilities Yuen has had since 2010, when he took the job leading Deloitte’s Singapore firm, which makes up half the revenues of the South-East Asian outfit. He’s looking forward to the new role.

“I have had very good mentors to prepare me,” he says.

His ascendancy comes just as accountants and the accounting industry are grappling with a new world of challenges, he notes. Costs are rising, pushing margins down. The industry must deal with regulatory changes, digitisation and a talent shortage. So there is an urgent need for organisations to innovate to improve productivity and profitability.

Yuen, who has been a talent partner at Deloitte, sees people as a common theme of these challenges. 

Grooming new talent and leadership for the evolving business and accountancy landscape is a critical priority for him. He wants to create opportunities for younger partners to come into the Deloitte leadership team and help guide the next generation.

“We need to constantly build our skills and develop leaders at all levels,” says Yuen.

The new focus, he says, is the millennials – the generation born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s and the first generation to grow up in the digital age. He sees this group as constant idea seekers.

“We need to constantly build our skills and develop leaders.”

Yuen started his own career in 1985 in the UK and has seen the Big 8 accounting firms merge into today’s Big 4. Now he’s focused on the opportunities ahead in digital and mobile technology, which he sees cutting capital costs, boosting service and employee productivity, and consolidating and integrating cloud-based information repositories. 

He also expects more accountants will not have accounting degrees but different academic backgrounds and work experiences. That diversity will “widen the talent pool” and bring in “relevant skills that employers value”.

Professional services firms are already responding to change with advisory practices offering the expertise to address fast-changing regulations, cross-border tax, mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, cyber risk management, leadership development and strategising for growth.

Professional Development: Essentials for the aspiring leader

For those building careers in accounting, Yuen suggests acquiring skills such as strategic planning, risk management, technology and analytics.

“Some of these skills could be achieved through mobility programs that build international experience and skills, or mentorship programs that enhance their knowledge of industry developments to help deliver comprehensive advisory solutions,” says Yuen.

For Deloitte, Yuen is positioning the firm for growth opportunities in the South-East Asian region. He sees good prospects for Deloitte’s core practices of audit, consulting, financial advisory, risk management and tax and related services. He wants the Deloitte Southeast Asia organisation to operate as one firm, a factor that he believes can differentiate it from its competitors. 

For an accidental accountant, he is plotting a very deliberate course.

Deloitte Southeast Asia is one of CPA Australia’s recognised employer partners. The Recognised Employer Program acknowledges organisations that have met world-class professional development standards for finance and accounting employees.

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June 2016
June 2016

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