CIMA, A FOUNDATION FOR SUCCESS
By PREMA JAYABALAN
When it comes to the importance of a person’s first job in his or her career development, Taufik Albar agrees that while it does have a certain amount of influence, a career can grow in many directions.
The UEM Group Bhd chief financial officer with CIMA professional qualification can testify to this personally, as he began his career in a very different line of work. UEM Group Bhd is an integrated engineering-based infrastructure and services group.
“My first job was to set up a unit called SPICE (Speech and Interpersonal Communication Enhancement) at my alma mater, the International Islamic University Malaysia, to help students develop public speaking skills. I did this while I was completing my Masters,” shares Taufik, who holds an Accounting Degree and a Masters in Economics from the same university.
While studying, he also lectured accounting to undergraduates in twinning programmes at a private college.
“We came up with a good programme for SPICE and it took off well. Till today, I still keep in touch with the SPICE unit and every now and then, when time permits, I would participate as an adjudicator in the debating competitions they run,” he says.
A valuable start
“Given my involvement in debating, people close to me expected me to be a lawyer. But I chose accounting as I love numbers and I knew I wanted to be a senior business leader from the outset.”
However, he shares that nothing has gone to waste. “My love and involvement in debating and public speaking helped me tremendously in my career,” states this father of one who is expecting his second child in April.
Some crucial skills from this time that have had enduring value include a structured thought process, critical thinking, influencing skills and networking.
“In 1993, my university hosted the first ever international debating competition in Malaysia. When we hosted this, it was the first time impromptu debating was introduced to Malaysia where topics were announced only 30 minutes prior to each debate and they could cover current affairs, politics, religion, philosophy, technology and more,” he reminisces.
“This exposure was great as it forced me to be knowledgeable in a variety of areas, many of which are outside of my comfort zone. It has put me in good stead throughout my working life too,” shares Taufik, who is also the co-founder of the Royal Malaysian Intervarsity Debating Championship.
The easy choice
The CFO took on his first full-time job in accounting and finance at Shell in 1998.
“I had other offers at that time but I chose Shell because of its reputation as an excellent employer and the career development path it offered. I felt that a role there would give me a more holistic experience,” he explains.
In 2009, when he was based in The Hague, The Netherlands, Taufik took on the CIMA qualification.
“There was a reason why I waited until then. When you work in Malaysia, work-life balance can be challenging.”
“My job in The Hague was a bit more structured and it allowed me to study on top of my work. It was a natural decision to choose CIMA as it has great syllabus coverage, is highly-regarded and many of Shell’s senior management went through it.”
According to Taufik, the CIMA syllabus provided a good knowledge framework, and helped him to be sharper at identifying gaps, asking the right questions and discussing matters of strategy.
These are the traits of a Chartered Global Management Accountant that set them apart, he says. They are able to see business and strategic implications beyond just numbers.
After being with Shell for more than a decade, Taufik moved on to Axiata in 2009. He was there for four years before taking on his current role with UEM Group Bhd.
Reflection and lessons
The CFO feels very pleased with his career decision to move from a comfortable position at Shell to a government-linked company.
“I wanted to test myself in a less defined setting. In Shell, which is over 100 years old, processes and ways of working are well defined and finance roles tend to be focused.
“There would be more opportunities for me to make a real difference with a wider set of responsibilities in a younger enterprise.
“In Axiata, there would be room for me to propose, establish or change things. I asked myself, could I do that? Or was I only as good because of the structured environment I enjoyed in Shell?
“It was a risk, but I’m very happy with the way things have panned out in Axiata and with where I am today, at UEM,” he says.
When asked if he has any regrets throughout his career journey, he admits there are a few things he would have done differently.
“For example, in my first opportunity leading a team, in hindsight, I could have made a smoother transition from doing things myself to getting things done through others.
“But you live and learn, and I like to think that these experiences have shaped me into a better leader and person.”
For Taufik, the two main things that have a bearing on a person’s success are trust and accountability.
He has built relationships based on these two foundational elements with his superiors and uses the same approach when it comes to his team as well.
As for his life philosophy, he believes in the importance of being well-read on subject matters beyond one’s area of vocation as it helps while engaging with people from all walks of life.
“I am an avid reader,” he says. “I can read up to four to five different books at the same time. I read up on everything you can imagine, not just books related to my profession.”
“One of the books I really enjoyed was Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh. It’s a book about maths and the centuries mathematicians took to come up with a proof for Fermat’s conjecture on the Pythagorean theorem.
As for plans for the future, the CFO looks forward to many more rewarding challenges ahead.
“I hope that I will be able to scale to greater heights, make a real and lasting difference to the organisation I work for and continue giving back to the society,” he shares.
“I am confident in my abilities and the CIMA qualification has helped to widen and put my knowledge into a better perspective.”
Taufik advises current Gen-Ys to always stay focused on their goals.
“The best thing you can do for yourself when it comes to your career is to decide on what feels right for you.
“Do take advice from others as these can be invaluable. But ultimately this is your life, so in the end choose whatever makes you motivated, driven and ultimately happy and go all out for it.”