"Joining ACCA was perhaps the best decision I ever made"

Jenny Gu, ACCA Council President, 2019-20

Jenny Gu knows all about overcoming barriers.

She was born, raised and schooled in China when it was light years away from the economic power it is today. Compared to the influence it wields on the world’s commercial stage now, the country was a relatively minor power.

It held vast reservoirs of natural resources and people, but they remained largely untapped. Opportunities for young people aiming for a career – and certainly chances to make a mark in the wider world – were limited.

And for a young woman, the options were especially scant.

‘It was a different world,’ said Jenny, as she looks back on a career that has flourished in parallel with China’s dramatic rise up the global economic ladder.

Profound influence

‘When I left school in Shanghai, China was predominantly a closed and planned economy, and in most organisations women were absolutely the minority in senior leadership roles.

‘I am full of admiration for other professions, but I really felt that my calling was in finance, and I was determined to make my way in that world.’

Jenny duly graduated, qualified with ACCA, and set out on a life in business which has seen her emerge as a leader in companies across the world – mainly in China but also in the US, Taiwan and Singapore. She has filled senior positions with global corporations including Nike, and now as head of the luxury group Richemont in China.

In 2019 she also became president of ACCA, 20 years after joining as a young and forward-thinking accountant. The appointment has given her a perfect platform to serve the organisation which has had a profound influence on her life, and a chance to help up-and-coming professionals sweep aside the kinds of hurdles that lay in her way.

A mountain to climb

‘I could not feel happier at having the opportunity to serve all my friends across the world, because I owe so much of my own good fortune to ACCA,’ she said.

‘Joining ACCA was perhaps the best decision I ever made.

‘The world has made plenty of progress in the areas of diversity and inclusion in the last few years, but we still have a mountain to climb.

‘That’s why I said right at the start of my presidency that the values of inclusivity and basic fairness will be my priority.

‘ACCA has always led the way, not just in finance but across all the professions, in promoting and protecting opportunities for all people, whoever they are or wherever they come from. It is such an honour to serve as the first Chinese woman president of ACCA. I know that we will always strive to push forward the frontiers of opportunity for all people who are ambitious to build a career in finance and to play their part in making the world a better place.’

Leaders, strategists, individuals with vision

Jenny’s experience in business has also seen the nature of accountancy change entirely in a short space of time.

She said: ‘When I started work accountancy was seen as a strictly limited occupation. You were an auditor, a bookkeeper, nothing else.

‘But that is now transformed, and no profession has altered so much.

‘Accountants are increasingly influential across all branches of business. They are leaders, strategists, the individuals with vision and a wide horizon that extends way beyond a balance sheet, and the custodians of company assets.

‘Their skills and expertise now exceed the traditional finance function, and the genius of ACCA has been to understand that, to change with it, and to re-engineer our Qualification, to make it the perfect means of preparing people to work and flourish in this new world.

’That’s why when people talk about diversity, I don’t just think about the old barriers like gender, nationality and social background. I think about how accountants can leap outside the old constraints, to master incredibly diverse disciplines which were closed off to them in the past.

‘In this way ACCA is preparing new professionals to excel in this world, and ensuring that they have the abilities and the right attitude to apply their ethical training and experience, no matter what the workplace of tomorrow looks like.

‘It’s humbling to have the chance to help make that happen as ACCA president.’