From EY career to accounting ironman

Bernard Poon FCPA has finished 13 ironman competitions since 1999.

An accountant for more than 25 years with a long career at EY, as well as a frequent ironman competitor, Bernard Poon FCPA's life is a juxtaposition of skill and passion, offering a wealth of insight for the profession's new generation.

By Sonakshi Babbar

Partner and transaction advisory services leader at EY in Hong Kong, Bernard Poon FCPA, has a penchant for challenges in both his professional and personal life. Born into a family of medical professionals, Poon’s parents initially convinced him to study dentistry; however, his heart was always set on business.

Poon sidestepped dentistry and switched to computer science at the University of Melbourne. He graduated in 1989, and then completed a commerce degree from La Trobe University.

He then returned to Hong Kong to join EY, entering the workforce at a time when China was opening to trade with the rest of the world.

“While I was at university, I interned with EY Hong Kong during my summer break,” Poon says. “After my graduation, I wrote an old-fashioned letter to EY expressing interest in a job. They replied with a signed contract.”

From studying in Australia to auditing for a steel manufacturing company in Beijing, Poon’s early years as a junior accountant were not easy.

“In 2009, I was able to cross the finish line at Ironman New Zealand, hand in hand with my two daughters and with my wife.”

“I was working from morning to late in the night, I barely knew Mandarin, and was constantly travelling,” he recalls. “It was quite a challenge. I don’t know whether it is fortunate or unfortunate that EY has been my only employer since graduation, [but] I enjoy meeting people and solving new problems every day. I don’t find it difficult to get out of bed and come to work.”

Poon switched to the training department in 1996 and joined the transaction advisory team three years later.

“Continual learning and challenging myself have always been important for me,” he says. “For example, from auditing I moved to the learning and development department so I could brush up on my public speaking.”

Poon’s mantra for success is preparation. “Before I took up a new role, I would do research, assess my weaknesses and speak to different people to understand the requirements of the role. Most importantly, I would aim to get to know trends in the profession.”

Poon says that in the past couple of decades the Big Four have focused on establishing a greater presence in China’s major cities.

“I have travelled less in the last few years because we are now able to use the team on the ground to service local clients. Another key transition since the mid-1990s is switching from manual audits to computerised audits.”

Poon credits the CPA Program – which he completed in 1994 – for helping him develop a “big picture” attitude and to learn about global accounting trends.

“I enjoyed attending events like CPA Congress,” he says. “Listening to success stories from leaders in different sectors and meeting new people broadened my vision.”

Poon continued his association with CPA Australia after returning to Hong Kong. He was divisional president of CPA Australia, Greater China, from January 2012 to December 2012, which he calls a “fantastic learning experience”.

Inspiring the next generation 

Poon believes that in the future accountants will be looked on as business advisers with a 360-degree understanding of business.

A mentor to students at the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants and University of Hong Kong, he says it’s important to prepare the new generation for change.

“Facing a new job in this era is challenging [as] it demands that you have core skills to produce a balance sheet and also the ability to work with stakeholders across the business. The younger generation can learn about how to deal with complex business and management issues from an experienced person.”

Embracing challenges

Bernard Poon has finished 13 ironman competitions since 1999.To maintain motivation, Poon takes on extreme physical challenges. In 1999, he became the first Hong Kong Chinese to complete an ironman competition and has since finished in 12 more across the world.

“Competing in ironman has taught me how to evaluate options and stay calm in stressful situations. The training and discipline required have honed my time management and problem-solving skills.”

Reflecting on his most memorable ironman event, Poon says: “In 2009, I was able to cross the finish line at Ironman New Zealand, hand in hand with my two daughters and with my wife. That picture still hangs in the middle of our living room – it was a very proud moment.”

Poon has been invited to participate in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii this year. 

“This has been my dream for the last 20 years,” he says. “It’s a test of determination, self-awareness and commitment.”

One piece of advice

“Be true to yourself and fair to others. Even when you make an unpopular decision, when people see you are doing the right thing, they understand and respect you.”

Read next: What The Entrepreneurial Accountant can teach CPAs about success


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