ACCOUNTING AND financial advisory firm LehmanBrown is ready to battle the Big Four in China. Knowing it must first attract professionals with international exposure and experience working with multinationals, the firm plans to find such recruits in Hong Kong. A specialist in China business, LehmanBrown has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Shenzhen, and has even extended its reach to Inner Mongolia. Senior partner Dickson Leung, who is overseeing the China expansion, said the company planned to hire another 30 to 50 accountants this year to boost its workforce of 90 employees. 'We hope to have 200 people by the end of 2006,' said Mr Leung, who is based in Beijing. 'I come from Hong Kong myself, and I know the people there are admired for their diligence, intelligence and leadership ability, and would make good recruits.' However, lacking the brand-name drawing power of a Big Four firm, LehmanBrown knows it must take an aggressive approach to fill these new positions. Mr Leung said tough competition for the best and brightest people in the sector meant the firm was willing to pay a premium salary to those who joined its ranks. 'We must be able to offer our clients the highest levels of service and expertise,' he said. 'We already have some well-known names on our client list, but we are also targeting small and medium-sized firms, and will offer them an alternative in China.' Those who worked with a comparatively small company had the opportunity to gain broad-based accounting experience. They could then choose to remain in a general role or specialise in a particular area of the profession. Dealing with a wide range of clients in various industries gives scope for overall variety. Employees can learn first-hand about everything from helping businesses to gain registration and set up shop in China to auditing work, consulting and mergers and acquisitions. Different departments at LehmanBrown handle financial accounting for businesses that outsource this function, management accounting and assistance with budgeting. Financial advisory services extend to training, cash flow management, systems solutions and areas relating to market entry, due diligence and risk management. 'There is constant variety and real room to grow here,' Mr Leung said. 'It is not like the bigger firms, where a person can specialise in a single area for their entire career.' As an example of variety, he recalled receiving an e-mail from a client in the United States who wanted advice on sending 100 dinosaur models to China for an exhibition. 'It just shows you never know what your day will bring, which is what makes it so exciting.' LehmanBrown is looking for candidates who are flexible and committed. 'We need people who can respond fast and think outside the box,' Mr Leung said. 'It is essential that they have no trouble understanding where the client is coming from. There are not always textbook solutions in China, so we try to take a practical approach to getting the job done.' Recruits are expected to be outgoing, inquisitive and adept at multitasking. They must also have strong interpersonal and communication skills. 'You can have all the auditing talent and financial skills in the world, but if you can't communicate with the client, they can come to nothing,' said Mr Leung. 'We also regard teamwork as very important.' The stress on teamwork and camaraderie is linked to the firm's belief in a sensible work-leisure balance. Staff must put their noses to the grindstone in the office, but are encouraged to get involved in other activities at weekends. Mr Leung wants people to regain their perspective after a busy week, and be ready for work again on Monday morning. He said the firm's system of remuneration and rewards was based on an international model. There is a merit scheme with performance goals linked to financial rewards and incentive payments. Promotion depends on individual performance rather than seniority. An innovative profit-sharing plan helps to ensure commitment from employees. The firm also provides time off for employees who have to prepare for professional examinations in order to update their skills and qualifications. LehmanBrown is a Chinese member of the international accounting organisation, and is ranked 13th in the world. It pays membership fees to various professional bodies on behalf of individual accountants. Mainland growth LehmanBrown is expanding in mainland China and plans to hire up to 50 accountants this year. Candidates from Hong Kong are favoured for their experience and international exposure. Applicants should show flexibility, commitment and the ability to understand client needs. The firm offers a combination of general and specialist work.