It is common for Hong Kong-trained accountants and auditors to take on assignments, or long-term secondments, on the mainland. But doing so often involves some tough personal decisions, especially for professionals with young families. They have to reorganise their lives and, somehow, try to be in two places at once.
Brenda Chiu, an audit partner at KPMG, and mother of eight-year-old son Waylon Wong, has learned what it takes to be successful. Working in Shenzhen since 2005, she has found a balance that lets her divide her time between a successful career and a fulfilling personal life, with no more than the usual stress and concerns.
"My family lives in Hong Kong and I come back to stay with them as often as possible," says Chiu, who is responsible for client relationships, marketing and staff development at KPMG Huazhen. "It may look difficult to manage everything remotely, but it depends on your mindset."
After completing a week on the mainland, Chiu quickly reverts to a weekend routine which usually includes going to her son's sporting events and watching a movie with her husband. When possible, she enjoys organising parties to keep in touch with friends and extended family.
"My life is very well planned," she says. "Everyone has 24 hours in a day; it is up to you to allocate that time and decide what you want to do."
While admitting that the mainland work environment differs from that in Hong Kong, she nevertheless applies the same basic approach - effective action and quick responses.
"Mainland clients have different needs and their own way of working," Chiu says. "It takes time to understand what they want, and you have to adjust to some aspects of the local culture. But the best way to help clients is to make sure they take note of regulatory practices and are aware of any changes."
When facing challenges at work, Chiu tells herself to stay positive, identify the root cause of the problem and tackle it. Fortunately, one challenge she can avoid is the need for social drinking to build relationships with her Chinese clients. "I guess that is one privilege of being female," she says. "The clients show respect and won't force you to drink. In fact, they would rather focus on the professional advice you provide."
It also helps, she notes, that the status of businesswomen on the mainland continues to rise. There are many examples of women becoming directors and chief executives, which is changing attitudes and perspectives.
Regarding working mothers in Hong Kong, Chiu finds that a common problem is that they aim too high. They want to be perfect mums and expect their children to be flawless. As a result, they create pressure and take on too much.
"You need to let go and take it easy. Don't blame yourself if your children are not as good as you think they are. They don't need to score 100 [marks] in every test; to me, 70 is good enough," Chiu says. "The main thing is to find what is right for your children and then give them support and encouragement."
She cites the example of how she encouraged her son to take part in speech competitions. Initially, he expected to do well without practising. Realising he wanted to do better, Chiu tried various methods to change his approach, but without creating too much pressure.
Now, her son enjoys competitions, is winning prizes and willingly practises on his own.
"It didn't happen in a blink. However, I didn't push him too hard and was never fed up or angry," she says. "At the same time, though, I believe this is good for him and I encourage him to keep going."
Chiu goes for long holidays once a year with her family
Enjoys her work as an auditor and seeing her son grow up
Maintains a positive attitude every day to confront challenges and pressure