In awarding Amanda Line the 2013 ICAEW ‘Chartered Accountant of the Year’ award, the judges were unanimous: The recipient of this award has shown unfaltering commitment to professional training and development. This, as Accountant Middle East finds out, is her passion play.
“I HAD always wanted to start my own business but it wasn’t until I worked for a couple of companies that didn’t care about their customers… that I felt compelled to start my own business so I could give customers what they deserved. That’s what has driven me in every business that I’ve started,” says Amanda Line, Partner at PwC’s Academy Middle East.
She continues; “Today I run a business within a global professional services firm and not only are we providing really great service to our clients, we are making a difference in the MENA region by providing world class training to a population that has not always had access to such globally competitive education. That’s what drives me.”
Amanda, a lifelong champion of education and training has just received the 2013 ‘Chartered Accountant of the Year’ award, conferred upon her by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW).
Her enthusiasm ripples through her words as she describes her career of helping people build the skills they need to be successful, and, in turn, building stronger businesses and economies. Here we learn more about this passion for continuing education and qualifications as Amanda talks about her early years, first businesses, and current projects.
An early spark
“In order to be successful, you have to find something you’re passionate about,” Amanda says, her voice strong and lively.
She acknowledges that she was lucky in that she found her passion early on, very early on. She recounts a memory from her childhood, describing how she held a sale of her unwanted possessions to her younger siblings, even having them wait outside her bedroom door for the ‘big’ event to begin.
It’s this youthful interest and a knack for business that Amanda remembers starting her down her career path. And, she adds, she learned a valuable lesson about ethical business when her parents reprimanded her upon discovering she’d sold her brother her broken watch. While the thrill of making a sale hooked her on business, she also “learnt at an early age that selling a quality product is very important.”
The golden key of qualification
Her real start, she says, was her professional qualification with the ICAEW. She considers this as the crucial foundation upon which all of her success has been built.
“In London, I started working after school instead of going to university, and got my ICAEW qualification. It was the best thing I ever did. It’s amazing that you can remain so grateful of something you did 25 years ago. How many people look back on their university degree and think ‘Wow that had such an impact on my career’?”
She laughs that in her personal life her own children, nieces, and nephews would say that she is “boring on the subject of getting a professional qualification” in that she constantly reminds them of how important these certifications are in any chosen career path.
However, her professional trajectory has not been linear, but rather more project-based, as she uses her talent for recognising opportunity for growth and improvement and then capitalises on those prospects.
The first of these ventures took place in Singapore where she and her husband moved after she qualified in London. While he worked for Singapore Airlines, she started her own financial training company. It was here she put her professional training into practice: by observing the demographics of Singapore where people “want professional qualifications and are prepared to work hard.”
She continues, “I looked around at the other training providers and they were just not delivering good quality training. I knew I could do better.”
Seven years later, after expanding her business into Hong Kong and Shanghai, she sold it to training giant, Kaplan Inc, and began her next chapter in the Middle East.
Upon moving to Dubai, Amanda and her husband started a sandwich business called Dante.
Although it was fun and enjoyable because she “loves food and eating”, she didn’t feel like she “was making a huge difference [and she] didn’t find it a very sustaining business.” While it was fulfilling on a personal level, one where she learned new facets of her own strengths and weaknesses, she also realised that she loved the business of education and training more. The choice to return to her original ethos was an easy one to make.
It was the right time for this return; the Middle East was seeing a marked growth trend in education and training beyond the traditional institution of university. Local companies were seeing the value of training & development and over the last decade have been investing in this area heavily.
Amanda says, “The reason I joined the PwC’s Academy is because over the last ten years in the Middle East the focus on training has increased ten times…but there’s still a lot to do. There’s still a gap between the knowledge and skills that people have when they leave university and those they need to be effective in the workplace. In my area, finance, that is particularly the case. So I am definitely driven by the opportunity that arises from that.”
Now PwC’s Academy is one of the fastest growing divisions of PwC in the Middle East and that only underscores the importance of training and development in the MENA region.
Amanda describes the innovative forecast for the New Year: “We are opening in KSA [this year] and we are launching a new certification with ICAEW – an Accounting Skills Certificate in Arabic. This is the only certification for entry level finance professionals available in Arabic. We believe it will go a long way to filling the gap in fundamental level finance skills that currently exist.”
Amanda remarks that at PwC’s Academy they have the ethos of a quality brand and because they constantly work with businesses, they’re not “just standing up and teaching a topic; but relating that topic to real-life business” and bringing that experience of business into the classroom.
While the Academy trains clients, Amanda’s passion lies in the training of young professionals starting out their careers and she says that with around 70% of the population in Saudi Arabia alone being under 30, giving young people the skills they need to succeed in the business world is a top priority.
Of course, the challenge in the emerging markets is you can’t move fast enough, Amanda says.
Some of the regulation and process around the education business makes it tough to establish new businesses. She explains that “having built a training and development company from scratch on an international level, I can intuitively see the opportunities in the market and it seems that no matter how fast I am moving, I am not moving fast enough to capture all that the market has to offer.”
No person can do it all alone, especially if that person moves to a different continent, starts a new business, and gives birth to three children in a span of five years. Amanda smiles and says, “I think my biggest supporter is my husband. We have had to be a team. He turned down two promotions when he was in Singapore to keep his flexible work pattern. That would have made it very tough to run the business.”
As far as raising the children, Amanda describes exhausting days from dawn until far past dusk: “I’d go to work in the morning, come home for a couple of hours in the afternoon to spend time with the kids, and then go back to work and teach a class from 7 to 10pm,” she recalls. However, her husband’s schedule with the airlines was flexible, and she says that helped immensely during those initial years.
She counts herself lucky because her husband was the breadwinner at that early stage and she didn’t have the stress of an all-or-nothing business gamble, nor the stress of living on an austere budget. Amanda knows that not everyone is lucky to have such a set-up, but she encourages women who do have a husband earning the primary income to take advantage of their situation and recognise that they can take a risk that others may not be able to.
And if things fail? She says, “I’m not so proud that I was ashamed to fail; I was happy and eager to give it a go. When I look back on it, there were of course times when things weren’t going so well, but never that gut-wrenching how-am-I-going-to-feed-my-family type of stress.”
Changing individuals, changing the world
Amanda’s bottom line in her life’s work is education. She grows emphatic as she says, “[Education] changes people’s lives and if you change lives, you can change whole economies.”
“If we can give people better skills and qualifications, we will influence not only their personal growth and development, but also the economies in which they live and work. And that is a wonderful thing to say that you’re involved in.”
She adds that although a life of leisure and rest is sometimes attractive, the opportunities in the training field are “too compelling” for her. At every mention of training and skills-building, Amanda becomes even more animated, and it’s clear she has indeed found her true passion in life.
Amanda was uncomfortable talking about her most recent accolade of ICAEW ‘Chartered Accountant of the Year’ as she prefers to shy away from the limelight. She acknowledges that while it’s nice to be recognised, she says what’s really important is the chance to highlight the growing opportunities for women to succeed in the fields of finance and accounting.
Overall, the ICAEWs awards ceremony, the fast growth of PwC’s Academy, and the fact that we now have women winning accounting awards in the Middle East… all highlight the huge strides the region is making and confirms that the UAE continues to be the MENA region’s leader on so many levels in the finance profession.
* Article by Shane Phillips, Managing Director – Shane Phillips Consultants