The numbers add up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 July, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 July, 2010, 12:00am

An aptitude for numbers and early exposure to the family business might have predestined Dennis Tam Chi-wai for a senior executive role, but his path was by no means direct. After studying in Canada, the group finance director at Melco International Development first worked at a Vancouver area supplier of fireplaces before starting a magazine and working in local radio in his spare time. On returning to Hong Kong in the mid-1990s, he completed a professional accounting qualification.

Where did you first develop a feel for business?

My parents ran a company in Tsim Sha Tsui manufacturing clothes, so the family was always talking about numbers and targets. Even when I was very young, my father would give me figures to calculate - perhaps revenue or the wages - to see if they were correct, and it was something I always found interesting. My mum, especially, wanted me to be an entrepreneur, but they didn't ask me to take over the business because they could see how tough the competition was becoming when everything started to move to the mainland.

How did you land your first full-time job?

I didn't really have a plan and, looking back, it might have made better sense to study accounting earlier. Instead, I studied management in Vancouver and lined up a job with a local company before graduating. It was a wholesale business with 20-odd staff selling fireplaces. The boss was a chartered accountant and I went there to do the ledger. I didn't really consider what it might lead to; I just wanted a job that paid. But I learned a lot.

How did you find your niche back in Hong Kong?

I went to a headhunter and got a three-month temporary assignment with one of the big insurance brokers. They decided to hire me full time in their accounts division and after a few quick promotions - and working from 9am to midnight almost every day - I rose to assistant vice-president. I later joined a major chemical company and then became finance director of a health care firm by the age of 30.

How difficult is it to oversee the finances of a major business?

I'm still learning about the more technical things, such as which market to list on or how to raise funds. The main thing for me is to ensure the accounts and financial projections are correct. We can always rely on our lawyers to take care of listing rules and on the banks to advise us on other standards.

Ahead of the game

Holds a PhD degree from Washington Intercontinental University

Corporate sector committee member, CPA Australia - Greater China

Fellow, Financial Services Institute of Australasia