This article was first published in the April 2016 Malaysia edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Dato’ Dr Lukman Ibrahim FCCA has a long association with Malaysia’s automotive industry. So, after almost 20 years with the country’s first national carmaker, Proton, it came as a surprise to many when he decided to quit his job as deputy CEO in May 2014. 

Lukman says simply that he left Proton ‘to pursue my interests’. He left the high-pressure corporate job to give himself a breather and to spend time with his family, especially his four children. As it turns out, Proton’s loss was ACCA’s gain. With more time on his hands, he stepped up to become the president of the ACCA Malaysia Advisory Committee (MAC) in September 2015 and started his own business, Li Commerce, an investment company focusing on halal food, healthcare and green technology. 

Lukman has been involved with ACCA activities since 1997 and had taken on greater responsibilities in ACCA Malaysia in recent years despite his busy schedule at Proton and its parent company DRB-HICOM, where he was group CFO and later group COO. He was first a member and subsequently deputy president of MAC before moving up to the top of the hierarchy last year.

‘Being MAC president is a bigger role and that means more time is required of me,’ he says. ‘And with the balance that I’m able to achieve in this new career, I have more time to spend on ACCA. As part of the succession planning for this role, I served as deputy president, assisting Datuk Zaiton Mohd Hassan. When she stepped down after two years, it was my time to take the MAC presidency.’

Creating value

One of the things Lukman aspires to achieve during his tenure is to ‘intensify our efforts to create more value for stakeholders’. Among these he counts the authorities, the regulators, ACCA members and students, as well as MAC members. Engaging with stakeholders is something he did as MAC deputy president, and he plans to carry on ‘with greater intensity.’

In particular, Lukman wants to see ACCA members play a greater role in advancing the goals of their professional association. ‘I intend to spend more time engaging with members, especially senior members. [Many of them] are positive influencers within the profession. By engaging effectively with them, we hope to persuade them to contribute. They have a lot to offer especially as an inspiration to ACCA students and young ACCA members, and as mentors in the Leaders of Tomorrow programme.’ 

Mentoring is an activity Lukman has become involved with himself over the years. ‘I have shared [my experience] with the students and young graduates of ACCA, as well as engaging, coaching and mentoring some of them via the Leaders of Tomorrow programme,’ he says.

During his term in office, Lukman intends to ensure that ACCA supports the government in its plan to produce more accountants in support of Malaysia’s Vision 2020 aim to become a developed and high-income economy.  

The target is to have 60,000 accountants by the end of the decade but there is debate over whether this is achievable. Lukman does not wish to get involved in what he calls a numbers game. ‘What if you get only 59,000 accountants by 2020? Does this constitute a failure?’ he wonders. He, however, believes that, given the growth rate of ACCA students and members in Malaysia, ACCA has and will continue to contribute significantly towards achieving the target. 

A question of quality

Though Lukman is clear that more accountants are needed for a growing economy like Malaysia, he thinks numbers alone are not enough. What is more important, he says, is that they should be ‘good-quality accountants’. ‘It is this qualitative aspect that we need for the country,’ he says. ‘So while driving the numbers, we need to get the quality. For example, among the good qualities that I have been emphasising in the course of my roadshows and my engagements are integrity and professionalism.’

While the right skillsets and qualities are obviously high up on Lukman’s agenda, he believes it is just as crucial that accountants are equipped to keep pace in a changing world. He wants to encourage an innovative mindset among accountants, especially ACCA members. He accepts that during the course of a career, it is easy to become complacent. ‘But then you are not actually on a par with others, especially those competing with you. In the end, you’ll be left behind. If you want to become a leader or a pacesetter, whether as an individual, organisation or even as a country, you need to be innovative,’ he concludes.

The key is to keep abreast of the latest developments in the profession and the business world. ‘The world is becoming borderless, especially with the creation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). You need an understanding [of the impact on business],’ he points out, adding that he is sure that the quality and versatility of ACCA-qualified accountants will enable them to take advantage of developments in South-East Asia and beyond, especially with the advent of the new groupings.

Wider horizons

Lukman believes the launch of the AEC presents opportunities for ACCA members to become ASEAN accountants. ‘As ACCA is a global accountancy body, I don’t think we will have problems in becoming regional accountants or global accountants. If you are marketable anywhere around the world, you won’t have problems being marketable in the context of ASEAN. 

‘However, we need to be mindful of the local context, the local knowledge, the language and the local laws or regulations. We need to study these but, given the right mindset, dedication and professionalism, ACCA members should be able to leverage on opportunities in the region,’ he says.

He says, too, that accountants need to be more business-centric and able to deal with the increasing complexity as the region opens up. ‘We need to have the right skillsets because the business environment is much more challenging than in years past,’ he says. ‘That is why ACCA is preparing accountants to face all these challenges.’

Lukman says Malaysian accountants, especially ACCA members, are very well received by other countries, including Singapore, Hong Kong, China and the Middle East. However, the profession must not become complacent. ‘We must play a part in shaping the mindset of future accountants. This is the qualitative aspect that I’m looking to pass on,’ he says.

He believes professional bodies such as ACCA have a crucial role to play in keeping their members up to date. ‘You need to engage in continuing education to stay relevant. Life-long learning is vitally important,’ he adds.

On the major challenges facing the accountancy profession, he mentions in particular uncertainties on the macro side. ‘You need to understand the uncertainties and make the necessary preparations. That is a big task facing any professional, especially if you are the CFO or CEO.’

 For Lukman, having himself risen to the top of the tree, being able to contribute to ACCA and the community in general is a privilege rather than an obligation. His passion to serve has its roots in the assistance rendered to him in his earlier years.  

‘I came from humble beginnings, and needed assistance in order to grow. So having received such help [in the form of scholarships], I really appreciate the support I received from others, from the government – in fact, from anybody.

‘As a recipient, you realise the great effort that others have made to give you that assistance, especially those people who have no relationship with you. 

Giving back

‘As a result, I felt that if I could I should be doing the same for the next generation. That is the right thing to do. As you grow in your career, you begin to realise that a certain part of you is meant to belong to other people,’ Lukman explains.

He urges others to nurture a similar passion. ‘I have been engaging with senior ACCA members, encouraging them to allocate some time to contribute to the profession. So far, so good, in terms of the response. A number have blocked their time so that they can participate in certain ACCA events and programmes, such as the Leaders of Tomorrow programme, to be a mentor.’ 

Did he ever envisage in his early days as an ACCA student that he would one day lead ACCA Malaysia? ‘No, never,’ he replies. ‘All I was concerned about then was passing the exam!’

Nevertheless, he is thankful to have been given the opportunity. ‘It is a big responsibility, which requires huge commitment. So the moment I decided to take this up, I knew I had to be very committed to it. I’m preparing myself in the coming two years to give of my best to ACCA, and to lead MAC to greater heights.

MK Lee, journalist