Interview: Interview: Suchada Tantioran FCCA, partner, EY Thailand
As a partner with 19 years of experience at EY in Bangkok, Suchada Tantioran has spent her career developing the qualities of persistence, objectivity and independence that she sees as the keys to success in her field. These qualities allow accountants to provide the best possible service to clients, while also preparing themselves for the challenges that they may experience during the course of their own careers.
Suchada takes a particular interest in the difficulties faced by professional women. ‘If I could, I would encourage every woman to put fear aside, be confident and believe in herself. I think they should also be honest and realise their strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes this takes effort, but only then can they improve and solve these problems,’ she says.
One problem Suchada sees is a general reluctance among women to stand up, step forward and ask for the recognition they deserve. But she acknowledges that this level of assertiveness can be difficult to achieve without a great deal of personal and professional assistance.
Suchada is thankful for the continuous encouragement she has felt ever since she discovered her love for accounting at a young age. At her high school in Chonburi, she did well in mathematics. She then pursued several opportunities in this field throughout university, with help from her peers and professors.
Suchada gained practical experience outside of class as well, as her enthusiasm for accounting opened the door for participation in several other projects. One of these involved taking a key role in her student union, where her position as a bookkeeper saw her monitoring expenses and helping manage the activities. Suchada later took on a similar role in a student-run summer business, where she gained hands-on experience in managing the inner workings of a private company.
On graduating from university in 2000, Suchada joined EY in Bangkok, where she has remained ever since. She credits the firm with taking a progressive approach to recruitment and development policies. ‘At EY, we pay attention to equality and inclusiveness,’ she says. ‘People are included regardless of their gender or other characteristics, and are given equal opportunity at the firm.’
Still, the extra level of personal encouragement she received at the office helped her realise that all the hard work would be both manageable and worthwhile. ‘I got a very good level of support when I was a junior,’ Suchada recalls. ‘When I was promoted to supervisor and partner later on, I continued receiving support from my team.’
Passing the torch
Having benefited from the kindness and expertise of those who came before her, Suchada made a commitment to enable women to achieve their professional ambitions. That pledge has led her to mentor several people each year – an extra responsibility that has the added benefit of helping EY’s talent pipeline develop high-performing team members. ‘This is a time I appreciate and enjoy,’ Suchada says. ‘This is my chance to make a difference in someone else’s life. It’s beyond my job description, but it’s very meaningful.’
EY also has its own programmes in place to nurture young talent, and these are led by people like Suchada. ‘As an engagement partner, it’s my direct responsibility to advance the juniors and to catalyse their opportunities to grow and develop,’ she explains.
Suchada soon realised that many of the most complex barriers towards advancement affected women in particular. ‘In Asian society,’ she says, ‘women are more expected to take care of family members. At the same time, they need to advance in their own career as well. It’s quite challenging. They have to manage not only their own children, but also their vulnerable parents and their extended family. They have to juggle sometimes between two homes and one job.
‘One of my young female managers had to attend to one of her parents. At the same time, work required a lot from her as well. She was frustrated because she couldn’t give her best to both sides, and so she began thinking about whether to quit her job. So I sat down with her and discussed the circumstances, and we realised the key problem was flexibility.’
Suchada found a way to adjust the manager’s schedule, to enable her to work a three-day week. This solved the problem, letting her find the right balance between life at home and at the office. ‘We just need to take the time to learn how to support our people,’ Suchada says. ‘This arrangement was not usual, but I hope that in the future, we can offer this kind of help and support for others as well.’
The need for flexibility is important to Suchada – not just among employers but for team members as well. Finding the right balance means being able to adapt to the changing needs of the present moment.
Other key attributes, Suchada says, include self-development, persistence, independence and keeping an objective mind. These qualities can help professional accountants navigate through challenges from stakeholders, looming deadlines, work-life balance issues, changes in accounting standards, and countless other issues that characterise the field. Suchada also recommends staying physically fit, to maintain the energy needed for long periods of consistent work.
Firms like EY continue to seek new talent with these types of personal qualities. Increasingly, however, they seem to be in short supply – as the younger generation tends to focus less on long-term commitments and more on the ability of technology to solve problems more quickly.
This preference among younger workers makes employee retention an even bigger priority for EY. It takes time to train a workforce in the effective use of artificial intelligence, while also keeping everyone up to date on new financial reporting requirements. Moreover, the world of accounting is stunningly complex. ‘Even after nearly 20 years, I’m still learning new things,’ Suchada says.
Looking back over her long professional journey, Suchada considers how it all could have gone differently. ‘When I was younger, I considered working at a smaller firm,’ she recalls. ‘I even thought of opening my own accounting business – or going into another profession entirely. But when the opportunity came to join EY, I started to appreciate the value I could add to other businesses by joining.’
EY has also allowed Suchada to gain the kind of experience that a smaller firm would have difficulty replicating. In 2006, she went to Sydney as part of the firm’s global exchange programme, remaining there for 18 months. ‘I got to know my international colleagues and expand my network while I was there,’ she says. ‘I also learned more about EY’s worldwide network, and saw how accounting was done outside of Thailand.’
Suchada also earned her ACCA Qualification, which has enhanced her profile. ‘The qualification has helped me stand out in the eyes of my clients and supervisors. Not too many people in Thailand have the ACCA Qualification, and so it is considered prestigious.’
Now an FCCA, Suchada is also approved by Thailand’s Securities and Exchange Commission. In addition, she is a member of committees and subcommittees set up by the Federation of Accounting Professions in Thailand, to examine policies created by international standard-setting boards.
Suchada credits her success to a healthy work-life balance, as well as a determination to work hard and improve herself at every opportunity. ‘Find something you love doing,’ she says, ‘and don’t feel guilty about enjoying your work. Life is full of challenges, but if you are prepared to meet them, you’ll be surprised at how far you can go.’
Established in 1959 under the name Turquand, Youngs & Co, EY Thailand has more than 2,000 employees and is based in Bangkok. The firm audits more than 2,500 companies in the country, of which nearly 250 are listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, representing about one third of all listed companies. In addition, it provides professional services to many of the largest local and international companies. Worldwide, EY has more than 270,000 employees in 700 offices in 150 countries, with global revenue of US$34.8bn for the year to 30 June 2018.
Steve Callerame, journalist
This article was first published in the June 2019 China edition of Accounting and Business magazine.