Hari works as a partner for the audit firm BDO Malaysia. He is the local representative for CIPFA in Malaysia, and has been a member of CIPFA for over 11 years.
Why did you choose to train with CIPFA/become a CIPFA member?
I moved from Australia as a qualified accountant and I got reciprocal membership with CIPFA. I wanted to join because it specialises in the niche area of public sector accounting and finance, and I didn’t see any other body specialising as much as CIPFA does.
What have been the highlights/biggest successes of your career so far?
In my career, the success is not money/fame – I value travel, and I thoroughly enjoy meeting different people and experiencing different cultures, food etc (the good, bad and ugly!). In my role, I have travelled to well over 30 countries and its growing.
When I was in London, I used to cover 18 countries in Europe - eight in the South Pacific region when I was in Australia, and in Malaysia I now cover seven countries, and that’s what my success is. The way I look at it, my success is my ability to travel and meet different people in varying cultures. A lot of the myths you read about places in the media and on the internet, you find the complete opposite is true when you go there. I spent 10 days in Yangon in Myanmar and the people are so lovely and nothing like what you see in the media. Unless you travel there yourself, you’re not going to experience it and appreciate the variety the world has. The scale of rich and poor across the world is so different.
What’s been the greatest challenge?
Because in my role I travel a lot and work in many different countries, trying to adapt to cultural differences and what is acceptable or not acceptable has been a challenge, particularly in a Muslim country where the gender barriers are stricter. The challenge is that in a short period you have to quickly learn and adapt.
What’s your typical working day like?
I’m a salesperson and therefore my job is not a 9-5 desk job. Sometimes my actual job starts after 5 – I go to a nice place and entertain people until midnight, because that’s when the business deal is done. In the office, I have 43 people working for me and there’ll be loads of approvals to be done which takes up a lot of time during the day. Then there’s general client and billing issues which come up, but my actual job is to go out and get new clients or jobs from existing clients, which is what I enjoy. I’m a real chatterbox, and I do a lot of public speaking at events and conferences which is what I enjoy doing.
When did you first become interested in a career in public finance?
A long, long time ago! I first did some public sector work in Australia in 1988. That was when I first became interested in public finance, mainly because its so different. Even now, some other countries use cash based accounting, whereas private sector moved to accruals based accounting. Moving from cash based to accruals was a challenge for the public sector.
If you didn’t work in public finance, what kind of job would you be doing?
Business development and sales!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And by who?
In my very first job in Australia, my immediate senior Martin Lee advised me that it doesn’t matter how much you earn. If you earn 100 dollars but spend 105 dollars, you are always going backwards. Everyone is chasing the income, but very few people look at their expenses to see if you can reduce it. If you assume 20% of your income is not yours and you can live in the 80% then you can be a millionaire. 35 years later, I still remember that advice.
If you were given one million pounds, how would you spend it?
I would retire and put it in some form of investment. I wouldn’t have to work and do what I enjoy doing, which is talking to people, doing conferences and talking to the younger generation to impart some wisdom!
If you were Chancellor for the day, what would be the first change you would make?
I would abolish tuition fees, and I would make up to year 12 in school totally free to get the basic foundation of education. I’d make the schools, the commute and lunch free for every child. Without basic education, there would be no future for the next generation. After that, productivity and the economy would go up.
What book/film/TV programme would you recommend to anyone working in public finance?
I think everyone should watch Friends. Take life easier – people are always so stressed all the time, and it would make everyone laugh. That is what is lacking with this current generation I think.
Who would be your ultimate dinner party guests?
What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a CIPFA member?
If you’re interested in public finance, there isn’t any other body that offers the breadth and depth of what CIPFA offers. As someone who has sat on an exam panel reviewing the syllabus, I understand the comprehensive coverage that CIPFA offers for people interested in public finance, whether its in this country or globally. I would strongly recommend joining CIPFA and doing the course as a student. CIPFA is the only body representing public sector accountants.