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A Varied Vocation

25 April 2023

Cynthia Li, Financial Controller of luxury fashion retail brand Marie France Van Damme, has taken the scenic route to the top


A Range of Roles

CPA Cynthia Li has taken on numerous roles in the commercial world throughout her career, at a wide variety of companies – and in the process she’s learned about herself.


She decided to study accounting at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, she says, on the advice of her sister. “She thought that I was really introverted and shy, and believed that accountancy would be suitable for me because it requires the least contact with others.”


However, when she embarked on her career, that certainly turned out not to be the case. “The subject has led me to a very varied and exciting life. As people move up the ladder of their career, they find that accountancy is very interactive. As an introvert, I’ve changed a lot during my career.”


She started her first job at local CPA firm Choy Ng and Co, expecting to expose herself to a wide range of clients and professional roles, but it didn’t quite work out that way. “I hoped that it would broaden my horizons and let me learn more, but I ended up working for just one client, a property investment group.”


She moved from the CPA firm to an agricultural company Muni Arborist, which specialises in tree maintenance and landscaping. She was its first full-time accountant, and her learning curve was fast.


“It was very challenging,” she says. “All my work was related to the daily operations of the company. I had to chase accounts receivable, prepare payments for management to approve, file documents and learn to use the accounting system, as well as deal with some HR activities. Life was really much better there because everything was different every day. I discovered I hate a boring life.”


In the meantime, she studied for the QP, taking one paper each year between 2011 and 2015 out of a desire to return to study with first-hand working experience. “It was quite slow compared to other graduates. Without solid practical skills, you can’t be very successful in your career. You need to be able to turn theory into practice.


“QP is really very good. It’s very practically designed all the theories could be directly applied at work, even before I’d sat for the exam. I also appreciated the programme’s workshops. The workshops were entirely useful because they emphasis all-round development of individuals. You need to work together with your teammates and prepare for the presentation. When you move forward in the accountancy profession, interacting, communicating and co-operating with people you don’t know is very important.”


Ms. Cynthia Li
Financial Controller of luxury fashion retail brand Marie France Van Damme


Considerable Challenges

After the short term roles for a CPA firm and a property investment company, she settled down with being an accountant at Sun-Tech I.T. Solutions, an educational software company. She describes it as a highlight of her career, as it’s the first time she took a role with an international dimension.


“I got a lot of exposure to financial planning and analysis. I got the opportunity to take full control of cashflow. I assisted the management in negotiation with customers, drafted customer agreements and was involved in HR issues. It was also the first time I designed operational procedures for a company.”


In 2019 she moved to a start-up, London-headquartered online game company Lein Network Technology Co Ltd, as finance manager, second-in-command in the company’s accounting department. She was headhunted to join the company, and it turned out to be a highly demanding role.


“I never imagined it would be so challenging,” she says. “I had to set up the company’s Hong Kong office, and Hong Kong and UK finance teams. Since incorporation, there haven’t been any accounts. I had to install the accounting system, and I had to coach people to use standard operating procedures. I initiated global training.” The global training, in fact, has been conducted for not only employees in the regional offices like UK, but has also been conducted for external consultants employed by the company around the globe, like US, Mexico, Australia, etc.


All of that notwithstanding, it’s her current job that she describes as her greatest professional challenge to date. In 2022 she became a Financial Controller and effectively the global head of finance for Dorshare Limited, which operates the upscale fashion brand Marie France Van Damme, with offices and shops in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the US and Dubai. Although the company had impressive sales, accounting deficiencies were crippling its cashflow.


“It’s very exciting but very challenging,” she says. “When I joined, I was handed a defective accounting department. It was not functioning; there were many problems that were hindering the company. There was a lag of at least a year in bookkeeping in all regions’ accounts, with some regions lagging behind for more than 3 years. Many accounting loopholes had been accumulated for more than 10 years. They had accumulated capital overseas but never arranged to repatriate it to Hong Kong for further use. The analysis function wasn’t working at all ‒ the management could never understand what position it is in; the reports never had any meaning.”


With the accounting team all leaving just as she joined, she also had to build a new accounting department from scratch. She estimated it took her around six to eight months to sort out all the problems. She tackled the bookkeeping backlog with a new accounting system, and set up a new banking structure with more specialisation so the company could track its fund flow. Her reforms, it would be fair to say, ran into some opposition.


“People shouted at me. They asked my boss to fire me and threatened to call the police for not reimbursing them. During my probation, I was sometimes a bit desperate. Why am I proposing so many changes that my predecessor didn’t? Simply I can’t tolerate those problems with the company; I can’t turn a blind eye nor a deaf ear.”


“Nonetheless, I have a never-give-up attitude. As I moved forward in my career, I’ve found life can be full of many trials. Although you may fail, keep trying and you’ll succeed finally.”



Interview and reporting by Richard Lord