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Outside in

14 April 2021

A move from external to internal auditing allowed Janet Wong, Senior Analyst, Internal Audit for The Estée Lauder Companies, to make the most of her skills.


Broadening horizons


Accountancy first appealed to Janet Wong as a career for two reasons. “Fundamental accounting concepts are essentials in the business world – they can be applied everywhere, even working outside the accounting profession. Secondly, instead of being a generalist, I wanted to be a specialist in short future, especially in auditing and risk management,” she says.


Now Senior Analyst, Internal Audit for US cosmetics multinational, The Estée Lauder Companies, Wong first became interested in the profession at a careers fair when she was studying for a Bachelor of Business Administration and Accounting at The University of Hong Kong.


Her desire to specialize was the reason why she decided to enroll in the QP in 2015. “If I want to be a specialist, the key to success is to equip myself with solid, comprehensive knowledge in those areas,” she says. “The technical skills I learned from the QP are transferable to my current and previous roles. It also taught me persistence: studying for the QP takes a lot of time, and you sometimes have to sacrifice some personal and family time too. From that time on I was quite confident I had been trained as someone who never gives up.”


After graduation she took the time-honoured route through the audit department of a CPA firm – in her case Big Four firm EY. “I met many great colleagues there and learned the basics of auditing,” she says. “The most valuable lesson I learned was to be independent and to ask questions proactively.”


She left the firm after just over a year for a job in the commercial sector, joining clothing giant Esprit as an Assistant Internal Auditor in late 2016.


“At EY I was mostly serving one big client in Mainland China. Esprit offered me the chance to work in Germany, and around the rest of Europe and APAC. I also felt I was strong at report writing, which is an internal auditing task. I struggled before accepting the job, as most of my peers stayed in the Big Four for about three years. But it was the right decision for me.”


She had to learn many of the skills of internal auditing at Esprit, she says, including an understanding of business forecasts and a focus on any problems with internal controls. But other skills from her time as an external auditor applied equally in her new role, including attention to detail and an ability to multitask. The most challenging aspect of the job for Wong, it turned out, had little to do with accounting: it was the language barrier with some of her colleagues around Europe, many of whom didn’t speak English.


Ms. Janet Wong
Senior Analyst, Internal Audit,
The Estée Lauder Companies.

The art of negotiation


Wong moved from Esprit to her current job at The Estée Lauder Companies in early 2019. She says there were several reasons for the move: “I’m passionate about the beauty industry, and Estée Lauder was an inspiring entrepreneur who founded the Company 75 years ago. I was ready to work for a different type of company – I appreciate the goal oriented culture and the fast pace. The company also values its employees, and creates learning opportunities for staff. And it has lots of different brands.”


The fundamental nature of the job is the same as her previous one, she adds: identifying areas of potential risk and auditing them so as to provide a level of assurance to company management. It is, though, a considerably more senior role, and one where the professional communication skills she learned at her previous job have been invaluable, including the importance of being a good listener.


“The most rewarding part is that it’s not only regular audits; it’s also some transformational initiatives in which I’m interested. The most challenging part is learning to be a professional negotiator. I can be challenged by the business partners, and I need to keep calm, overcome my emotions and stick to the facts,” Wong says.


The most important attribute of a good auditor is accuracy, she says. “No matter whether internal or external, is a high level of accuracy. Remember that the business partners might be more familiar with operations than you are; you need to be respectful but also to maintain a professional attitude.”


In her spare time she is also something of an expert on Japanese language and culture, running a popular Instagram channel that tries to help bridge the gap between the Japanese and English languages.


“I’ve been passionate about Japanese language and culture since university,” she says. “I’m inspired by Japanese people’s respect for each other, care for the community and culture of innovation.” She took part in a Japanese language and culture summer programme at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan, and has been continuing her studies ever since. Recently, with The Estée Lauder Companies expanding its business in Japan, she has even got to use her Japanese skills professionally.


Interview and reporting by Richard Lord