Up Close & Personal with MICPA’s Most Outstanding CPA 2012 – Tara Ong Vi Ling

Date Published: June 18, 2014

Tara Ong Vi Ling

Every year, MICPA honours its candidates and graduates at the annual Excellence Awards ceremony. The most prestigious award of the night is the Most Outstanding CPA Award – there can only be one winner to take home this title out of the many nominees. Each nominee is interviewed and assessed by a panel of interviewers from the Membership Affairs Committee who deliberate carefully on the deserving candidate based on a list of criteria. This award is presented to one successful candidate as part of the Institute’s initiative to recognise the extraordinary talents and skills they possess while encouraging them to perform beyond the ordinary. The winner should not only be successful in academic endeavours but should encapsulate a complete package of excellence in their career, leadership and personality.

Last October, we awarded the recipient of the award for year 2012 to Ms Tara Ong Vi Ling who is indeed an outstanding graduate of our Programme, currently under the employment of PwC. During the course of pursing the MICPA-ICAA Programme, Tara won 2 Gold Medals for achieving top scores in the Taxation and Ethics & Business Application modules. Apart from her academic achievements, she has shown a consistent track record of being outstanding in leadership abilities from her school days till today, as she continues to excel in her career. We decided to interview Tara to congratulate her, and to find out more about what makes this model candidate tick.

MICPA: How do you feel about winning the Most Outstanding CPA award?
Tara: It is truly an honour to win this award to represent MICPA in this aspect and I am truly grateful to everyone who has stood by my side all these years.

MICPA: What do you think were the key factors that led to your winning this Award that stood out during the interview process? 
Tara: Every milestone is a success and the key to achieving it is through hard work, diligence and the tenacity to pursue excellence. I am very pleased that the combination of these qualities has given me the leverage to achieve such outstanding results. If I can place my finger on a single factor it would be consistency. There is a track record on how I’ve come this far and I say this not to boast but to emphasise on the fact that there are no short cuts in achievements. I believe that a suitable candidate must be one who is serious about their dreams and development.

MICPA: A child usually takes up a certain mould that is shaped by his/her family, social background and personal beliefs. Could you please elaborate a little on your background as well as the values/personal beliefs, close to your heart; that you hold on to till today?
Tara: I attribute much of my learning experiences and development to my parents and life mentors. If there is one thing I held throughout the years, it would be the value of investing and sowing into my character and dreams. I learnt that there are no shortcuts to life’s achievements and every victory comes through a process.

MICPA: What inspires you?
Tara: Growing up, I’ve always been inspired and encouraged through the thoughts of authors like John C. Maxwell and Zig Ziglar on the values of having the right attitude towards both successes and failures.

However, my strongest role model would be my parents because in them, I found diligence, respect and selfless giving; attributes which are important in shaping the success of an individual. Although they did not complete their university years, they worked their way up to secure us and provided us with the choice of creating our career pathway. That’s powerful because I grew up with the understanding that my future was of my own freewill and I was handed the passport to pursue anything that I wanted. This landed me in accounting as it was my strongest subject in school.

MICPA: As fun as school years may be, it can also be extremely challenging as a developing teen trying to figure out one’s identity. What were your biggest challenges during those years?
Tara: My biggest challenge during schooling years was to remain focused, disciplined and diligent on a daily basis so much so that it became a routine. I guess having multiple tuition classes and long days at school helped keep me out of trouble.

Peer pressure on the other hand is inevitable for any student to succumb to. I did have my downfalls in schools but I learnt to let it shape me. I went to church from a young age and believe that that has kept me in-check.

The most important thing to be an outstanding student is to have a great appetite for learning.

MICPA: How did being involved in extra-curricular activities in school help you in your formative years?
Tara: Learning should never be just a textbook experience. When it comes to extra-curricular activities, the benefits are tremendous. I developed my leadership skills being President of the Interact Club and Assistant Head Prefect. In the area of sports, I was never the number one athlete but I led our sports team to the number one spot in school. I was also in the volleyball team at the age of 15 and represented the school’s girls’ team. All these opportunities exposed me to different areas and helped me view things differently.

MICPA: Which University did you attend? What were your best moments there?
Tara: I went to Monash University Malaysia, with a year spent in Melbourne, Australia. My best memory was meeting new faces and welcoming these students from all over the world to the campus. Being a student leader, it was probably one of the best moments in my life, to be able to help them create memories of their stay there.

However, the most unforgettable moment would be my graduation day when I found out that I was included in the Dean’s Honor’s list representing the top 2% quartile in the Business Faculty.

MICPA: How do you think your university experience has helped and shaped you as an individual?
Tara: The distinguishing factor that university life brings is the notion of independence. Doing well in university takes an even greater extent of responsibility and willpower, simply because there is an even greater array of life choices to undertake and that is the exposure that it offers because you learn to be independent through the choices you make.

In university, I met many people and I am able to better relate to people from all walks of life. It built my interpersonal skills which I personally think is pivotal in preparing a person to enter the corporate world.

MICPA: How would you advise a student who is undecided on their career pathway and how would you encourage them to consider Accounting as an option?
Tara: I would advise the student to evaluate his/her strengths and weaknesses in order to understand themselves better. Accounting can appear frightening to some students but it is an interesting subject once the student is able to understand it fully.
However, anyone should give it a try without judging a book by its cover. If you desire to run your own business, be a CEO, CFO or an investment banker, you can never go wrong with accounting because the principles you learn forms the bedrock of sound financial knowledge.

MICPA: Working life is definitely different from student life. How did you find the transition from life as a student to starting a career? What were your toughest struggles in adjusting and how did you overcome it?
Tara: Transitioning into a working lifestyle especially into a role of an auditor is no easy feat. Aside from working more than 12 hours a day, I had to juggle between assignments and focus sessions in sitting for the MICPA-ICAA papers.

The workforce may not be as forgiving as it was in university and you may feel that you’ve been robbed of your freedom. When I joined PwC, it was during the peak period and I soon found myself swimming at the deep end of the pool. Nevertheless, thankfully I had wonderful seniors back then who got me to keep climbing the steep learning curve without looking down. Having the right people in your life plays an important role because they help take part of your burden away through moral support and guidance. Apart from that, perseverance on your end is equally important so that you do not give up in the midst of all the challenges.

All these were some of my biggest struggles and eventually became a test to my willpower. However, in the long run, it strengthened my character and moulded me to be a better individual.

MICPA: What are some notable experiences that have contributed to your career growth at your current workplace?
Tara: I am currently under the employment of PwC and it is my 4th year. I began my working years in the Oil and Gas industry and later decided to take on a separate engagement in the media sector of the business for wider exposure before joining PwC. At PwC, I gained great exposure when I was selected to undergo a secondment as an Acting Financial Controller in my 2nd year with the firm. I learned the hard way because I refused to let my age dictate my abilities in contributing to the client and went on providing solutions and recommendations that were value adding. Right now, I am in my 4th month as Executive Senior to my Manager.

As I mature in the firm, I realised that I have to constantly put on various types of hats. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt is the ability to manage expectations and having said that, it is not about high-performances but the ability to communicate and articulate ideas and solutions. Project management became a KPI in measuring the effectiveness of managing a particular client’s portfolio. Within project management is the ability to monitor the budgeted hours and cost manage with a very lean structure. This eventually developed me into someone beyond auditing skills.

Auditing is a skill that is not hard to come by. The challenges of auditing is basically the ability to plan and carry out effectively-tailored audit approaches that will appropriately address the risk-based areas of the client’s business. Over the years, although the workload seemed unbearable, I’ve learnt that that’s where one develops sound management skills.

At the end of the day, working here has brought me something more than just monetary benefits; it has given me satisfaction and happiness. That is an impact worth working hard for.

MICPA: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. How do you reward yourself after a tough day at work?
Tara: After a tough day at work, I would normally find time to recreate either through catching up on my favourite book, or swim or even take a jog at the park.

MICPA: There are many bodies which offer professional accounting qualifications. What made you choose the MICPA-ICAA Programme?
Tara There are many reasons why the MICPA-ICAA qualification gives candidates the edge to excel in their field of endeavours. One of which is the international recognition of being a Certified Public Accountant and a Chartered Accountant. This provides you with the flexibility to work and practise internationally, with a reputable set of credentials. As such, there are endless career opportunities that awaits a person hence makes the programme unique.
MICPA: How has the Programme helped in paving a professional pathway for you?
Tara: Unlike other professional qualifications, MICPA trained me to be an all-rounder and gave me the opportunity to apply my accounting knowledge hand-in-hand with the accounting matters that I am dealing with at work. For example, undertaking the Financial reporting module at the end of the 1 ½ years helped me firm up my technical knowledge and placed me ahead of many others in my team.
MICPA: It can be challenging working & taking up a professional qualification at the same time.  How did you cope?
Tara: The sacrifices I made were on time that could have easily been spent elsewhere. I understood my priorities and set timetables and milestones for myself. Even if it was a one pager on a tiring day, it is still progress. The key is to not give up. There is a quote that I hold on to, “Take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves.”
MICPA: What would you say to an accounting undergraduate who needs motivation and inspiration to keep going in their pursuit of a professional accounting career?
Tara: I would encourage individuals to gain tenacity and be hungry to learn more. Start your career pathway right away, knowing that no one can ever take away that learning experience from you. The tough times can work on your behalf to make you a better person and a better professional.

MICPA: If you were given the opportunity, how would you make a difference for accounting students and the accounting world in the long run? What are the changes that you would like to see in the accounting arena?
Tara: I would like to see greater convergence in terms of global mobility and sharing of knowledge between accounting setters in the world. There is a great deal of capital movements between countries these days, and investors long for simplistic yet meaningful information in financial statements. Accounting students should learn to appreciate the spirit behind these accounting standards and strive to provide accounting solutions to stakeholders. Information is powerful and should be used to aid in better decision-making.

MICPA: How do you envision the path that your professional career takes you?
Tara: I see myself being a successful business woman, but definitely for a humanitarian cause. I love to stand for what I believe in and see myself making a difference in the world.

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