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April 28, 2009

Leadership goes offshore

By Nicholas Moody

CPA Australia is well known as an institute with its eye firmly set on Asia. Nicholas Moody catches up with new president Richard Petty, who has spent the past 12 years in Hong Kong and is well placed to take the institute forward in Asia’s burgeoning profession.

Richard PettyAustralia’s largest accounting institute has broken its progressive mould in appointing new president Richard Petty. Petty is both the youngest president to lead CPA Australia and the first to be based overseas.

The 38-year-old is professor of accounting and finance at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management’s Hong Kong campus as well as chairman of his own investment company.

Petty was previously on the editorial boards of several journals, on several other boards and treasurer for two organisations as well as serving on the CPA Australia board for the past three years. He admits he will be resigning from a plethora of positions to focus on the presidency.

Petty is as comfortable slipping between different countries as he is shifting between leadership roles. He has homes in both Hong Kong and Sydney, spending about five months a year in Hong Kong and the rest of his time abroad.

Petty’s 21st century, multinational lifestyle prepares him well for a role that will involve a lot of international travel, particularly within Asia.

Breaking down borders

Petty says the fact the sitting president has a home base outside Australia emphasises the internationalisation of CPA Australia.

“I am gratified that the board has seen fit to appoint somebody who has an international perspective and international base that reflects the structure of our membership base,” he says.

“The reality is that 25 percent or more members are based outside Australia. We have 10,000 members in Hong Kong and China; 7,000 to 8,000 in Singapore; 6,000 in Malaysia; and more than 1,000 in the UK.”

Although CPA Australia has members around the globe, Asia remains a key focus and Petty is well positioned to understand the accountancy profession in the region.

“[The accountancy profession] is growing in Asia and growing rapidly as a companion to the growth in business that has occurred over the past 20-30 years. There is a great need for regulation, governance and oversight and all the things that accountants can bring,” he says.

Petty adds that there is a lot of growth needed in the Asian profession and an enormous investment in the education and qualification of accountants is required. CPA Australia hopes to support that.

The institute’s international focus continues through to Petty’s deputy presidents, Low Weng Keong from Singapore and John Cahill from Western Australia.

Keong is a consultant and company director and a past country managing partner of Ernst & Young Singapore. Cahill was formerly chief executive of listed company Alinta Infrastructure Holdings and spent more than 25 years in the energy industry.

Petty has big boots to fill. Previous president Alex Malley held the position for 18 months while the institute undertook a strategic review and brought an infectious enthusiasm to the role that will be a challenge to match.

Rather than re-inventing the wheel, Petty says the thrust will be to continue the good work the organisation has done under Malley’s leadership.

“We have a three-year corporate plan and I played a close role in developing that plan,” he says.

“Now we have the plan, we are focussed on the implementation of that strategy rather than formulation. And within that, the two words that would sum up the theme would be effective engagement,” he says.

This effective engagement will be aimed at all CPA Australia stakeholders including members, the tertiary education sector, employers and government.

Wide view

Petty also shares his predecessor’s vision for promoting the accountant’s role as the ideal chief executive.

“If we go back 20 years there was still largely in Australia a conventional view of what accountants did that encompassed auditing and tax and financial statement preparation,” he says.

“They are very important, they are things that an accountant should at least have an awareness of and a basic ability in, but the profession goes way, way beyond that,” he says.

“The ideal CEO profile, I think, would be somebody who has the skills of an accountant but marries that with all the other fundamental skills that executives have.”

Petty says that although CPA Australia members are by no means recession proof, the value of the CPA designation takes on even greater meaning in times of economic downturn because members are seen to be well qualified.

In the past there has been an increase in people applying to become members and gain the qualification when times have been tight, says Petty. Currently CPA Australia has seen a “minor but positive” change.

Rounding it off, Petty says the current global economic climate has highlighted the need for the accounting profession to assume a leadership role.

“The business world is faced with serious challenges. The skills and perspective so characteristic of the accounting profession will be integral to addressing those challenges,” he says.

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