Dato' Lock Peng Kuan and Andrew Choong

In a strong job market where professionals can leave without necessarily having another role set up, Baker Tilly is working hard to create a binding culture built on strong values.

The culture is based on ongoing personal interaction. Baker Tilly wants to inspire its employees as well as take care of them. While partners want to create an atmosphere where anything can be discussed, alongside that quest for transparency there is a focus on creating respect for all. 

Steps to break down conventional barriers can be as straightforward as partners lunching with junior staff. That ongoing communication enables partners to share elements of business and the firm, and staff can see that partnership is attainable, even at a young age. 

Backing up this approach is a determination to keep HR ratios low (staff to manager and partner to manager) so lines of communication can be kept short and open, and everyone can get the level of support and guidance they need to perform well. Audit has changed its approach to hiring, moving away from high graduate recruitment levels – when attrition was high as they were unsure of the role they wanted or what audit entails – instead turning to more experienced hires. Baker Tilly Malaysia have tried to build up good staffing ratios: so the manager to staff ratio is 1:4 and there is one partner / director for 12 staff. The result appears to be a stable team with low staff attrition rate.

The culture created is partly in response to the competition from other professional firms, notably the Big Four, as well as other destinations such as Singapore which can offer higher salaries due to the currency conversion advantage. 

Dato' Lock says the partnership is trying to create a dynamic firm with learning at the heart where management cares and listens to staff. 

This is working: some who left the firm returned shortly afterwards realising that they wanted that sense of belonging, that feeling of family. That family feeling is built through an emphasis on teams where people are offered flexible roles and where those with less experience are not isolated left being stuck on problems.  

The approach has also led to the idea of stopping overtime. As far as possible the audit team wants to offer equal opportunity. They try to ensure no on carries an unfair share of the workload and work hard to identify and support those who appear to work more slowly, as much as keeping an eye on those who seem to successfully complete the work quickly.

Behind engagement and empowerment is the idea of kaizen (a Japanese word) which encompasses the principle of making ongoing little improvements rather than big changes. 

All this approach has been embedded during a period when Baker Tilly Malaysia has seen growth from 150 staff to the strength of 600 staff over a 10-year period. The partners say that they are not artificially holding back expansion rather they are working on having the right pool of stable managers to enable the business to continue to grow. 

Partners are constantly engaging with their managers to identify and nurture the leaders of tomorrow. Careful work is undertaken by partners to identify and assess people’s characters with attributes valued such as emotional intelligence and being able to understand how others may feel or think – which is key in Malaysian society with its high level of diversity and multiculturalism. 

First there is no rush to judgement: Andrew says that those who perform the best in the first three years of training may not perform as well in subsequent years. As the years progress in a professional’s career while technical skills remain of importance, soft skills come to the fore. 

He suggests this is about inspiring and motivating not just about meeting the next client deadline. 

As Andrew notes a high performer can become average and a moderate one can really develop to be of great value, when that happens it is like finding gold. That has to be a good way of looking at a culture which is creating and nurturing talent for the workplace of today…and tomorrow.