What Does this Accounting Firm Value Most in its People?

From starting his own accountancy firm in 1992, to growing it into a group comprising seven entities with 60 staff members, Helmi Talib’s journey in the industry has been nothing short of admirable.

Helmi Talib & Co, considered one of the top 25 accountancy firms in Singapore, has invested various resources and a significant amount of time into developing its talent management programme.

We speak to Helmi about his corporate and personal values, what traits he instills in his employees’ through development initiatives, and how the Skills Framework for Accountancy is applied in his company.

This is now your 28th year running Helmi Talib and Co. What were the core values of your company at its founding, and have these evolved and grown with the company? 

We started out with the values of being ethical and trustworthy, the DNA of all accountants. Three other values we added that quickly became important to the development of the practice were Responsiveness, Respect and Optimism.

Responsiveness means reacting to the client not only in a swift way, but also in a way that responds to his needs. Respect is a wide word. We respect each other, first and foremost. No matter what level our employees are at, we treat them all equally with respect. So, to a great extent, we have an equal opportunity for all, and we try to maintain that.

Optimism is one of my personal values. I like people to have a little bit of optimism, so I try to bring that as much as possible to the firm. I want people to take difficulty as a challenge. In times like these, optimism is what keeps us going.

How has your approach to managing your employees changed?
In the early years, I used to train my staff and handle a lot of the supervision and management of staff. As the firm and my workforce grew, I started hiring more senior professionals and develop other departments like HR, accounting and marketing, and that was how we started growing. The process is very gradual, and because the resources are limited, we have to do it step by step. That’s been our approach.

What kind of skills do you instill in your employees through professional development?
We try to give each employee 40 hours of external sessions in a year. It’s a little bit more sometimes. We recommend courses for different sets of employees, for example, leadership skills for those more senior, and softer skills like communication and motivation for juniors, which are key things we look out for in our employees.

In addition to leadership, we also get our senior employees to participate in more strategic courses, to make them understand what the key drivers for the practice are. These are courses we run in-house three to four times a year, mostly linked to our values, and how they contribute to the firm.

We also evaluate them holistically, according to three main pillars – delivery (of service), technical capabilities, which is tied very closely to the Skills Framework for Accountancy, and company values.

Why did your firm choose to place such an emphasis on training your staff?

As I stepped away from the initial duties I held at work, my realisation was that the only asset I have is people. The key thing to do is to develop the workforce. I realised that it’s the working culture you create which attracts people, retains better people, and leads to general improvement in the business over time.

Tell us more about how the Skills Framework has been applied in your company, and the area(s) it has been particularly useful.

The skills and competencies found in the Skills Framework are directly relevant to us. If you look at the skills needed as an auditor, those are tasks we do on a day-to-day basis. These technical capabilities also make up a section of our staff’s evaluation.  We take the framework and tell our staff, say, six months down the road, about what they’ve done and what they need to do. Overall, we have seen a gradual improvement in productivity.

In your opinion, what is the most important soft skill that an employee should have, to keep up with all this evaluation and training?

It has to be that he or she is interested in developing him/herself. It all depends on the individual. They must take their own responsibility of developing themselves.

When a person is determined to do better, it’s a very important trait. With technical skills, some people have it and others don’t. But even if you have it, you got to have the determination to learn and not wait to be taught.

Do you have any words of advice for the next generation of accounting professionals?

When I started my firm, I was very focused on technical knowledge. But in reality, it’s only a stepping stone. It’s what gets you into the business and you definitely need it to go on and deliver the work. But to be successful, you need a lot more than that. Leadership skills, communication skills, personal skills... these are just as important.

Also, being outward-looking is important, meaning that it’s not just thinking about yourself or being concerned about your practice. You need to put yourself in your client’s shoes, and try to understand from his viewpoint. That’s very critical

This story was first published on MySkillsFuture on 13 May 2020. All information is correct at time of publishing.

24 Mar 2023