Interview with Zhe Qiu, FCCA, Investment Director in CMC EUROPE.
During your career so far, you have worked for such big companies as, PwC in Oman, Grant Thornton in Cyprus and the United States, and Mazars in Poland. What was your professional development path? What tasks did you perform at the beginning of your career and what are your responsibilities now?
Zhe Qiu, FCCA, Investment Director at CMC EUROPE: I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to work for some top international networks including Big 4. Being the ACCA member, which is a globally recognized qualification, I could choose the specific areas I would like to develop and even places I would like to work and live.
I started my career as a financial auditor in the Middle East and served clients from various industries. As a Chinese national and native Chinese speaker, I worked in the team to serve large Chinese construction and energy companies. Besides auditing, I was also involved in tax compliance and tax planning. For me it is very interesting to see how arranging tax differently actually can make huge savings for the company. I guess it is how I landed in Cyprus, where I learned a lot about tax structuring and tax planning. Later moving to the US gave me a chance to gain hands-on experience in US GAAP.
I came to Poland for a family reason; it was also the right moment when Chinese investment significantly entered into this region. As the head of China Desk for Mazars in the CEE region, my role was not just to attract Chinese business but also be part of the executive team to serve them in the front line. I was encouraged to work like an entrepreneur - my ideas were always welcomed by the firm’s partners. During those years, with the support from local Mazars offices across the CEE region, I published a series of “Doing Business Guide” in Chinese and conducted several online and offline workshops for the local Chinese business community. The most exciting thing was that I worked with different service lines from different offices, travelled to almost all countries in the CEE, and witnessed some large transactions and infrastructure projects realized.
Now I am working as Investment Director for CMC, a Chinese state-owned construction and engineering company belonging to a 500 Fortune Group. My responsibility is to assess renewable energy investment opportunities in Europe and manage M&A process, also working with offtakers for selling energy and banks for financing.
How did your work for the Polish company and building relations with Polish clients differ from work and relationship building in other countries?
I would not say doing business with Polish companies and clients is so much different from dealing with French or Germans. It was probably because I was working as a problem solver on a project basis. But I do find it can be sometimes challenging when the east meets the west.
My western friends always ask me how to behave in front of their Chinese partners. I was always amazed that they can tell a lot of “must-DOs”, such as handing over a business card with two hands. I would say those small details can definitely make a great impression on your Chinese partners. However, what matters more are still your products and service and, most importantly, the willingness and desire to cooperate in the long-term.
To build connection and trust with Chinese business partners is somehow time-consuming, frustrating - one key word is “flexible”. Willing to offer discount, changing scope of work to cope with clients' new expectations, rescheduling…., those are hardly acceptable in Western culture, but are very common when working with Chinese and being seen as what a trustable and reliable business partner should do. To draw this line clear but ready to step back a bit and find the balance between those two is the secret to winning Chinese business. Once the relationship is established, you can always expect recurring business out of it.
Have you started feeling more confident in making decisions and taking actions, after completing the ACCA qualification? Has completing it impacted your everyday work?
The confidence gaining is all the way along my ACCA journey. One more exam passed and one step closer to becoming an ACCA member make me feel that I am not just getting one paper passed by using English as my second language, but also that the knowledge I learned can be applied in my work. When people see me, they don’t only see the ACCA glory halo, but they recognize me as a hard-working, determined and skill-equipped individual. It is very likely to make you stand out of the crowed and be seen, it is a very big advantage, especially at the beginning of your career. Getting ACCA qualified is just the beginning - learning during work and always keeping yourself updated are very important. For this I recommend you to take advantage of the ACCA resource portal; plenty of CPD opportunities can be found there.
What would be your advice for young finance professionals who want to become ACCA Members and are wondering how to complete the qualification successfully?
What ACCA gives you is not just a certificate, but the confidence to face, and the capability and knowledge to solve problems. Try to enjoy studying time and make the best of it. Always keep yourself curious and willing to learn new things, because we are living in an era with changes happening all the time. If you aspire to get to a senior level position one day, developing interpersonal skills and having the ability to develop strong networks early on will be essential to your success.
You have a lot of work experience in the CEE region. What, in your opinion, is the greatest potential of our region?
For a long time, CEE countries have attracted significant manufacturing businesses due to relatively low-cost labor and manufacturing facilities. Over the past years, more and more international companies from all sectors have set up shared services operations in the region and the trend is still increasing. The low-cost advantage will gradually disappear, but one thing can be difficult to find a substitute, which is human capital, people with knowledge and skills. This is the most important drive to keep the CEE region growing.