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.