At a glance
Joined: Became CFO of the International Medical University (IMU) in 1993 before transitioning to vice-president of finance and administration in 2014; she also took the reins as executive director of the International Medical College (IMC) in 2012
Qualifications: FCPA; Bachelor [P1] of business, accounting, economics, Monash University
Formerly: Group accountant/regional accountant at Beca Carter Hollings and Ferner in New Zealand
Finance team: IMU role, 40; IMC role, 55
Turnover: US$65 million
The role: "juggling act"
Downtime is rare. I hold dual roles as vice-president of finance and administration at the IMU in Kuala Lumpur and executive director of the aligned IMC Education nursing college, so my responsibilities are considerable.
I enjoy the variety. I like uncertainty and thrive on challenges, otherwise I would get so bored.
Every day I draw on my business and cultural experience. I’m Malaysian and I graduated from Monash University in Australia with a bachelor’s degree of economics (accounting) in 1984, before working briefly in Malaysia and then having a six-year stint in New Zealand.
In 1993, I started my long association with IMU, the first private university in Malaysia to offer conventional and complementary medicine all under one roof. I set up the finance department and continue to oversee the university’s financial management.
Meanwhile, at IMC Education my focus is on building great support and teaching teams as part of the college’s commitment to producing excellent Malaysian nurses.
Business acumen is more important than just accounting skills. Accounting gives you the basics, but we need to be broader.
Listening has also been crucial as I move around the campus, tapping into the knowledge of doctors, dentists, chiropractors, Chinese medicine specialists and nurses.
We learn from each other.
Game changers: "learning curve"
In the late 1980s, as a dissatisfied audit assistant, I struggled to get better jobs in a depressed Malaysian job market. I sent in about 100 applications and I didn’t get even one reply. That’s how bad it was.
Friends urged me to follow them to booming Auckland, New Zealand. I took their advice and three days after arrival landed an accounting job with Beca Carter Holdings and Ferner, the largest consulting engineering firm in New Zealand. I was exposed to financial management, tax planning, compliance and reporting roles, before becoming head of the accounting department.
The learning curve extended to cultural lessons, engaging with a diverse group of international employees, including peers from the UK, Malaysia and Tanzania. It was quite a diverse team and the firm invested in our professional development. I really enjoyed my New Zealand days and will always call it my second home.
The other defining moment of my career occurred in 2010, when I was appointed project leader for the IMU’s strategic plan, ASPIRE, which sees me work closely with the senior management team, key staff and consulting firm PwC to set the future direction of the university.
Apart from showcasing my leadership nous, the position also requires influencing skills.
That was really a game changer for me. Being an accountant is not easy because we are normally very technical initially, but the need to be agile, to respond to change and to develop my own management style has helped me in those leadership roles. The guidance and constructive feedback from senior management and academics has been invaluable.
The next goal for IMU will be to build a private hospital on campus. It is the fulfilment of a shared dream to see education and health care together.
Hopefully in the middle of 2021 we should open the doors to our first patients.
Challenge: "strong headwinds"
When I first started with IMU, it was the only medical education provider in Malaysia. Today there are more than 20 competitors.
Of course, the board expects growth each year, but there’s a limit to growth. That’s a challenge we are looking at right now.
The key for IMU and IMC Education will be to continue to be a leader in the delivery of quality education for medical students, despite going head to head with foreign brands such as Monash University from Australia and Newcastle University in the UK, which have a presence in Malaysia. They are huge competitors for us.
Asians are very brand conscious and they often prefer a foreign brand to a local brand.
The answer? Our institutions will simply have to be better than their rivals and work conscientiously to differentiate their programs.
Above all, I and my team know we cannot stand still.
In a very competitive and changing landscape we have to be very innovative with our curriculum and our delivery – and in the way we attract our students as well.
Lessons learned and best advice
Encourage diversity in your team
Getting different views and experiences is the key to success. We should not be choosing people who are all alike. Sometimes we need thinkers, sometimes we need doers. People who can challenge our thoughts will make us a lot sharper.
Show some personal grit
I am not afraid of sticking to my beliefs and values, even if a board member or senior executive has a different view.
Sometimes people need to stand up and say, “No, I don’t support that”, and agree to disagree on issues.
Give back to the community
There is a spirit of volunteering and helping others in a university environment. In life, people can contribute their money or their time.
Here, we learn to contribute our time, and service to the community is something I like to see from our accountants and other people.