Voice of Experience: Maan Huey Lim, Partner, PwC Singapore

maan_huey_limWelcome to The Glass Hammer’s Spotlight on Asia Week. We’ll be featuring profiles of successful business women working in Asia all week long!

By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

“To be very candid,” began Maan Huey Lim, Tax Partner at PwC, Singapore, “Early on, when I started I was very much focused on the technical work. To be a good tax advisor, you need to spend a lot of time going though the legislation, and deciding how it would work in the real world. I spent a lot of time doing the work, but as a result, I spent less time on soft skills.”

But over the course of her career, her focus has expanded. She continued, “Don’t get me wrong – my clients loved me because I was doing top notch work. But as I progress, I find my focus changing. I’m spending my time really talking to people and engaging with the team around me. It’s such an important part of the business. I could not see as much when I was starting out. As an associate, a lot of your focus is on getting a good foundation, learning tax laws, and writing good advice. But it’s also important that you are really connecting and engaging with the team and clients you are working with.”

“You get so much more out of talking to people. You learn useful information, and the more you get to know people the more business comes to you along the way,” she added.

Career at PwC

Lim was born in Singapore and lived there for her entire life. After finishing college she joined PwC’s Singapore office as an associate. “I’m proud to say I’m still doing my first job,” she said. After a few years as a manager, she was able to go on a secondment in New York for the firm. “It was a great time to be in New York – this was 2007 to 2008. During 2007 the economy was doing really well and there was a lot of interesting work.”

She recalled a client that brought her a significant amount of pride while she was on her secondment. As a junior manager, she built up an account of over seven-digit fees on that client. “It was amazing, especially coming from a background where I was not US trained. My partners were all surprised given my level of seniority, and also being only the second Asian woman on that team of 30 people.”

“There were question marks about how well I would integrate with the team,” she explained. Lim worked with PwC’s international transition office so that she would be successful in her role. She was prepared for people to view her as the stereotypical demure Asian woman, and was worried she may have trouble integrating into an environment where she didn’t fit the stereotype. “But now I am great friends with a lot of my colleagues from that team. The transition office helped tremendously.”

Lim moved back home to Singapore in 2008, she continued, “and it was a great time to be in Asia where the next growth was happening.”

Last year, after only 11 years with the firm, she was made a partner. Lim counts being made partner – one of the firm’s youngest – as one of her highest achievements. “For the past 11 years, I’ve been able to touch all sorts of areas in the financial service sector. Due to regulatory pressure on banks, I’ve been spending a lot more time on asset management. Banking and capital markets and asset finance are key areas of interest to me.”

Now as a partner, Lim is also keenly focused on building business. “Our clients come to us wanting the best advice. How do I grow the business? It’s exciting to be in a position to grow a business, thinking of ways to be entrepreneurial and chasing the next dollar,” she said with a laugh. “It’s exciting to think about ways to be out in the market and relevant to our clients.”

Advice for Professional Women

Lim believes one of the key challenges women face in the professional services industry has to do with flexibility. “In terms of what I can see and people that I know, this is a client servicing industry and it can be very consuming and demanding in terms of time. As women, we have many hats to wear – wife, mother, somebody’s daughter – and this can be particularly challenging.”

“There are many talented women in my organization who have made the decision to let their career take a backseat to other priorities, and family or children are some key reasons,” she continued. “PwC is always trying to give people the flexibility to balance their personal priorities.”

Some of the advice she shares with junior women in her group is to “get a life and a partner,” she said with a laugh. She explained, “We are very fortunate because there are some really talented and hard working female colleagues here. But I worry for them – I walked through this journey myself, and now I ask myself how I would have done things differently. I appreciate the hard work they put in for our clients. But I try to remind them that while it’s important to work hard, one of the things that helped me to be successful is my husband, who supports and guides me. He’s mentored me throughout my whole journey with the firm.”

She continued, “It’s no disrespect to the people who choose to be single. But it’s great to have someone who cheers for you all the way and picks you up when you are down. Life is a long journey.”

Lim encouraged women who are more senior go easier on themselves. “I’m always mindful about giving peer advice – everybody has a great way of doing things in their own manner. But women tend to be too hard on themselves, I think. We need to learn to give ourselves a break.”

“As women, we tend to have too much to do on our to-do list and we beat ourselves up when things don’t go well. We need to relax a little and let go.”

Lim says she has benefited from actively seeking opportunities to “let go.” She explained, “The firm has always been really good for me. When I came back from New York in 2008, after a year I told the firm I wanted to go on sabbatical, and the firm said go ahead.”

“I’m really fortunate to be the recipient of anything I need from the firm, and I have seen this for a number of colleagues – flexibility, part time work, working from home. In Singapore, this has slowly been taking place.”

In Her Personal Time

Outside work, Lim says she travels as much as possible. “My team would tell you – even prior to my admission to the partnership, in a year, I’d still take time to go out of the country quite a number of times. Singapore is a small place, but you do get quite a lot of exposure to what’s happening around the world. That said, it’s important to venture out to see what else is out there.”

“It’s also the only way I can stop myself from working,” she said with a laugh. “You must always spend time to recharge your batteries.”