Topped with a Ph.D. in Internal Auditing, this CA and mother of 7 never stopped learning and is now CEO of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants

  • Hi everyone! My name is Dr. Nurmazilah Dato’ Mahzan, CEO of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants (MIA). I currently live and work in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
  • My three action plans before I graduated were to get a job at any of the Big 4, get my professional qualification, and get married. Subsequently, history created its own path.
  • Throughout my career, I have grown my family simultaneously. I am a firm believer that as women we can manage both our family and careers. 
  • Apart from being a Chartered Accountant of the MIA, I also hold the CPA, Certified Internal Auditor, and the Certified Risk Management and Assurance qualifications and a Ph.D. in Accounting from the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. Continuous learning has been a key factor in my growth.
  • Here are some highlights and perspectives from my professional journey.

A career in Finance

I took accountancy as a subject during secondary school and I did very well in my exams. Hence, I decided to continue my tertiary education in the Bachelor of Accountancy Programme at the International Islamic University Malaysia.

Honestly, my career vision was not very clear when I was in my first and second year because I was very active as a student leader.

However, one aspect I remember is the various intellectual discussion circles that I joined on campus, where we discussed books written by authors such as John Naisbitt, Kenichi Ohmae, and Malek Bennabi. Those books challenged my intellect and helped me develop a critical thought process.

Then in my 3rd year, my Auditing class was conducted by KPMG partner, Dato’ Abdul Jabbar. His manner of teaching the audit class really solidified my interest in building my career in accountancy.

What next?

Eager to start my CPA journey & challenges on the way

I calculated my cumulative grade point average (CGPA) and forecasted whether I could earn a first-class degree. Unfortunately, I realised that even if I scored As for all the subjects that I had not taken yet at that point in time, I still wouldn’t be able to achieve a first-class degree.

Therefore, I decided to cram the subjects for each remaining semester in order to graduate one semester earlier than scheduled, so that I could quickly start working and sit for my CPA exam. (Looks like I have practiced risk management ever since I was an undergraduate!)

After I was confirmed in my position as an audit assistant at Arthur Andersen & Co., Kuala Lumpur, I quickly enrolled to take the CPA examination offered by the Malaysian Association of Certified Professional Accountant (MACPA and now known as MICPA).

When I started my early career in an audit firm, it was a month after my wedding. And when it was time to appear for the CPA exams, I was carrying my first baby.  However, this did not stop me from my CPA dream instead I continued working at Arthur Andersen and simultaneously prepared for the exams. 

My first attempt at CPA was not an easy one as I failed one subject and now had to take all 4 papers again.

I made up my mind to give my best shot one more time and due to my determination, I managed to pass all the papers at the subsequent sitting. This was in 1995.

When I think of it now, this was a turning point in my career as it made me resilient and more confident! It also made me believe that I could have a family and a successful career.

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Career way forward: Auditing to Corporate Finance to a Lecturer

After qualifying as a CPA, I decided to continue working in the audit line to gain good experience. In 1996, after 4 years in audit, I moved to the corporate finance function - fulfilling my goal of securing a job on the finance side.

Truly, I was fortunate because I had the opportunity to be involved in the exercise to turn the company into a listed entity. In addition, I was handling the corporate accounting function at the holding company, which has subsidiaries in various sectors such as telecommunication, property, trading and education.

After obtaining several years of experience, I felt that I would like to share my experience and nurture young talent, hence this prompted me to move to the education sector.

It also enabled me to pursue an MBA and a Doctorate in Internal Auditing. Since then, upskilling has been a very important part of my career growth.

I have to mention, that I had two children while in the audit firm (one when I passed my MICPA examination), one when I was in a public-listed company (when I was doing my MBA part-time), and four more when I was in academia (including one who was delivered while I was doing my Ph.D.). I love children and I love my work.

I am a firm believer that as women we can manage both our family and careers. 

Opportunity to become CEO of MIA

After almost 16 years as a senior lecturer, I was ready for my next challenge.

Around the same time, in 2015, I was headhunted to be the Deputy CEO of the Malaysian Institute of Accountants.

When I was approached I realised that the responsibilities that come with the designation are huge. However, I was attracted by the opportunity to contribute to wider stakeholders through regulating, developing, and supporting the career of accountants in the country.

Perhaps for me, the most difficult task facing MIA as it goes forward will be managing the expectations of all the various stakeholders, both internal and external. We have to balance members’ interests while upholding the public interest.

To add, the accountancy profession, which fundamentally upholds ethics; trust and integrity is very important towards the growth of a nation. So, this is a big responsibility for me.

Questions I get asked most often.

"Continuous upskilling as a working mother."

Throughout my career, I have grown my family simultaneously.

Creating a suitable work-life arrangement for myself requires me to draw on my resourcefulness and skills in time management.

Early in my career, when I was pursuing my postgraduate studies while being pregnant, I would make an effort to go to the office before working hours started, to squeeze in time to study.

Now, as a working mother, I need to think of what school holiday activity will keep the kids occupied when I have to work.

I also believe in being as engaged with my children as I am with my employees. For example, I would fill my kids in on my schedule, so that they know when they will get to spend time with me.

"Work-Life balance."

Work-life balance is something that we need to consciously plan and implement.

I apply whatever I have learned from work such as designing an effective and efficient system at home and using the balanced scorecard method in allocating my time.

I keep track of each of my children’s competency frameworks, supporting them with additional skills when they seem lacking in any area.

I identify and implement the necessary support systems to ensure that everything is well taken care of. All these can be well achieved with proper information vis-à-vis research and knowledge.

Prioritizing your roles can help you decide how best to manage your work whether at the office or home.

In the past, going to work used to mean that you leave behind whatever issues you have at home and vice versa.

With technology blurring the boundaries between our personal and professional lives, completely separating both aspects does not make sense anymore. The current pandemic has definitely made us more agile and resilient.

Wrapping up…

Generally speaking, future accountants need to be flexible, agile and adapt well to changes happening in their organisations and the accountancy profession. They need to be articulate and have the fortitude to overcome challenges.

In addition, they also need to review their level of knowledge periodically and provide innovative services, especially to meet the growing needs of their would-be clients. They must also equip themselves with analytical skills and sharpen their communication skills.

It is also vital for accountants to be digitally adept in order to be relevant, as the digital economy and digital technologies are becoming more important.

Lastly, as providers of assurance and purveyors of trust to the public, the profession must always be as objective and honest as possible when asked to provide views and advice. One must never sacrifice principles for profit.

 Established under the Accountants Act of 1967, MIA is the national accountancy body that regulates, develops, supports, and enhances the integrity, status and interests of the profession in Malaysia.  MIA accords the Chartered Accountant Malaysia or “C.A. (M)” designation. Working closely alongside businesses, MIA connects its membership to a wide range of information resources, events, professional development, and networking opportunities.

Presently, there are more than 37,000 members making their strides in businesses across all industries in Malaysia and around the world. 

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