WHAT do accountants have in common with dragon boat racing? Most people would say "not much".
That is what Mr Donald Tong, an Australian, thought when he became an accountant after graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce (Accounting & Finance) in 1998.
A seasoned dragon boater, Mr Tong believed that a career in finance meant a life of financial statements, reporting and compliance. He never imagined that in less than 10 years, he would find his chosen career path as challenging as dragon boating.
Upon graduating, Mr Tong's main responsibilities as an accountant included preparing financial statements and handling taxation and auditing matters. While he feels this process was necessary to form a solid foundation in finance, he felt that there was more that he could offer than just "bean counting".
He moved away from chartered accounting when he joined Procter & Gamble (P&G) in Sydney eight years ago as a financial analyst. It was through P&G that he chose to move to Singapore in December 2003.
He says: "I wanted the international exposure in Asia and broaden my experiences with the company. Singapore, being a key financial services centre, just made sense. I'm lucky that P&G supports geographic mobility as part of skills development".
Mr Tong, 29, is presently the group finance manager of Global Business Services (Asia) at P&G. Leading a team of five, he sets strategic business objectives, develops new go-to-market strategies for his business unit and establishes external partnerships.
"While I understand how important it is to balance the books at the end of the day, I knew there was more I could do in finance," he says. "I want to contribute meaningfully when the management makes key decisions, and in order to do that, I had to learn more about finance in a business environment."
This desire motivated him to once again hit the textbooks and take up a professional qualification from the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (Cima).
"I really didn't like the thought of 'going back to school'," he admits candidly. "That said, I knew continuing education would give me a broader business perspective, so I signed up."
As a finance professional, juggling a full-time job while pursuing a professional qualification is no mean feat, especially when Cima training requires intensive focus and a lot of self-discipline.
Says Mr Tong: "For me, it's important to prioritise time, so some things inevitably have to come off my plate."
When asked about his progression within his company, Mr Tong modestly attributes his performance to a keen desire to learn and the company's support of skills development.
He says: "The finance organisation in P&G is deeply embedded into the business, so we need to think as businesspeople, not simply number crunchers. The company encourages entrepreneurial thinking across all functions and levels - to challenge the status quo - and the knowledge I've gained from my course really fits the bill.
"What I've learnt from management accounting is to view numbers from a different perspective. One that relies on developing alternative solutions to increase the value proposition, rather than simply applying the same old standards which will never deliver breakthrough results."
Mr Tong has just completed three strategic-level Cima modules that cover many real-life work scenarios, some of which he is facing at work today. More importantly, he is confident in the value of further education.
"These skills apply to life beyond the work environment. Being able to look at things strategically gives me a better understanding of what's happening around me and enables me to anticipate changes," he says.
And while Mr Tong shifts comfortably between the corporate world and "school" during the week, he looks forward to his third challenge on the weekend - training with his dragon boat team on the Kallang River.