Appointed as the first Regional Director for ICAEW Southeast Asia in 2009, Mark Billington’s mission was to build the historically UK centric brand across the region. Prior to joining ICAEW, Mark Billington served as the CEO of O2 Asia Pacific – a member of the iconic telecommunications group.
As a professional chartered accountant himself, coupled with his extensive international business experience, it came as no surprise that he made an ideal candidate for the first Regional Director outside of UK. His appointment was a significant step in ICAEW’s strategy to expand its international footprint within key global markets.
1. In the current business climate, is it possible for someone to obtain a ‘truly ASEAN’ work experience in the early years of their career? If yes, what advice do you have for them?
It is if you are prepared to take a risk! I see two ways – under your own steam or through your employer. If you want a DIY approach then I recommend you start building your network now – for most people you move jobs more easily when you have already made a connection and that’s true even more so if you want to change country. If it’s through your employer then, clearly, you need one that matches your own ambitions and you have to tell them early and repeatedly what you want – and when you get the offer take it, even if it wasn’t the dream location you had. Proving you can operate outside your comfort zone is part of the challenge
2. Can you share with us one pivotal moment or experience within your career that has profoundly defined who you are today?
5 years after I’d qualified as a Chartered Accountant and had already moved in to the telecoms sector I went on a management development programme and was told I needed customer facing experience. At the time, I was doing well and comfortable in the operational side of the business but I said I wanted to fill that gap and I was offered the opportunity to run a unit in a hard-core sales division – a huge culture-shock but a very important learning point of what it’s like to be right on the front line selling and then delivering mission-critical services to major clients.
3. In a world where technology enables us to stay connected around the clock, how do you achieve work-life balance being the ICAEW Regional Director of Southeast Asia?
I have a good team who I trust which makes it easier and in addition I’ve always found it easy to get up early. I like to get my exercise out of the way before I start work (and now I resist the temptation to look at my email before I work out). When I’m in Singapore I aim to be home to have dinner with the family.
4. Of all the locations in the world to work, what have made you stay for the length of your career in the region of Southeast Asia?
It’s a combination of things that in my experience are unique to ASEAN: the warmth of the people, the range of cultures, the food and the opportunities – with O2 to build a business and with ICAEW to make a difference to people’s lives.
5. In the digital age today, how can ASEAN young professionals prepare themselves to stay relevant and anticipate the future of work?
Some industries will face the advantages and the disruption of automation earlier than others but I don’t think anyone will be untouched. For professionals, whatever the industry, it’s about maintaining higher level skills like empathy, communication and team-work as well as technical competencies to be in a position to be trusted to lead and drive change.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2017 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.