Female leaders in accounting: Amy Lam

Female CPA Amy Lam discusses her career path as a leader in the accounting field.

  • Title: Director of Business Administration
  • Organization: Canadian International School of Hong Kong
  • Number of employees: 275
  • University: University of British Columbia, Bachelor of Commerce, 1989
  • Designation year: 1992, KPMG, Vancouver
  • Fellowship awarded: 2013

Every morning at seven o’clock, during the summer, Amy Lam calls a cab from her 19th floor flat in Hong Kong’s Happy Valley district for the 15-minute ride to work. “I like to get out early so I get a unique view of the streets,” says the director of business administration at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong (CDNIS). “At seven, the streets are quiet and clean. By 11, they’re packed with people and cars.”

During the school year, she takes the school bus with her two teenage daughters who attend the school, which employs 275 staff members and has a student body of about 1,850 from pre-kindergarten through grade 12, representing 41 nationalities.

Lam and her family moved from Vancouver in August 2012 when her husband was offered a senior role in the shipping sector. She landed the job at CDNIS five months later. “I was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Vancouver, so Vancouver is home to me,” says the University of British Columbia grad, who speaks English and Cantonese. She was back visiting in July, and says one of the perks about her new digs is that many cities are just short flights away. In the past year, the family has been to Japan, Vietnam and Singapore. She has been in Tokyo and Bangkok on business.

Along with her daily priority of governing operations with about 50 staff reporting to her, Lam spends time on key strategic initiatives such as the current construction of an educational green roof and an extra floor to showcase the Chinese Language Centre. To bring such initiatives to fruition, she has to balance the input and needs of all stakeholders: the board, staff, senior management, parents and students. “I have learned to be a good listener and open to differing opinions,” she says. “It doesn’t mean we always reach unanimous consensus, but I carefully consider the opinions and input of key stakeholders before making decisions.”

Working in Hong Kong, she has also learned to appreciate the cultural difference in communication. “I have found that just because someone says ‘yes,’ it doesn’t mean they agree with me. They are just less willing to challenge me because I am their boss and that would be seen as disrespectful. I have learned to discreetly probe a little deeper during discussions to make sure we have all issues on the table.”

Lam credits her leadership successes to being collaborative, focusing on goals, continual professional growth and being open to diverse opportunities. During the past 24 years, she has built experience through many roles, among them being a member of the Chinese Business Group service team at KPMG in Vancouver, the director of Business Administration at the prestigious all-girl Crofton House School and senior director of Member Services and External Affairs at the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia (ICABC). In this latter role, she was a key participant in the unification of the profession and led many national projects while overseeing member and government relations, branding, recruiting and communications.

In 2013, she was recognized for her outstanding contributions to the profession with her fellowship award. “I got the call minutes before my interview for this role,” she says. “I was ecstatic. It’s a huge honour and very humbling for me when I look at the recipients.”

What’s ahead? “I’m not sure,” says the ambitious director, who hikes, reads, watches movies and does yoga after hours. “I like to push myself to grow and learn, whether it’s in my current role or a new one — so I am open to what the future will bring and look forward to it.”

Resume

  • 1992 — 2001: Member of KPMG’s Chinese business group service team, Vancouver
  • 2001 — 2005: Director of Business Administration for Crofton House School, Vancouver
  • 2004: Founding member, Independent School Association Group Insurance Committee, Vancouver
  • 2005 — 2007: Director of Advisory Services, ICABC
  • 2007 — 2012: Senior Director, Member Services, ICABC
  • 2011 — 2012: Senior Director, Member Services and External Affairs, ICABC
  • 2008 — 2012: Co-chair, Council of Senior Executives’ Members Advisory Group
  • 2010 — 2011: Member of the team that developed the first national conference on sustainability
  • 2011 — 2012: Chair, Council of Senior Executives Members in Industry Working Group

Giving back

  • 2008 — 2009: Member, Accounting Standards Board Advisory Committee
  • 2010 — 2012: Member, Auditor General of British Columbia’s Technical Advisory Panel

Highlights

Update your knowledge and strengthen your network at this must-attend conference covering the most important issues and trends affecting audit committee members.

It’s probable that someone you know is deep in debt. If you are observant, you might see one of these seven signs.