Accountants’ curious career paths

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s humorist on the many weird and wonderful roads that accountants can take in life

I got into trouble so often in my early days as a reporter, that I thought of signing Power of Attorney to my three-year-old.

Victims of journalism can’t sue toddlers. And unlike my wife, he wouldn’t be able to spend all my money, because he couldn’t reach shop counters.

(When you defame people for a living, you have to think about this stuff.)

In those days, I thought life as a journalist was far more exciting than the careers of my accountant friends – not realizing that they often end up running firms or doing other genuinely exciting stuff. The reflection was sparked by a spate of reports I had read about where accountants end up. The first was a feature about how Australia’s man in charge of saving the country from climate change is Barnaby Joyce, a cowboy hat-wearing former accountant.

On another page, I read about an accountant who had moved from auditing accounts to rescuing turtles from fishermen’s nets off the coast of Kenya. On the face of it, that definitely seemed preferable to sitting in an office staring at a spreadsheet, although I suspect he’ll have as much trouble getting paid by the turtles as one normally does by human clients.

Over on the job ads page, there was a role that combined traditional accounting with a touch of potential excitement. The Jenner/Kardashian family in the United States had just advertised for an accountant for one of their businesses. Remote workers will be considered, it says, so you don’t have to move to California.

Worth recommending to accountant friends in Hong Kong? Hmm… upon reflection, no. Why would anyone want to work for the Kardashians without being an actual physical part of that crazy headline-grabbing family and ending up on TV? No point, otherwise – you get all the pain of auditing their accounts, but no Instagram presence.

Flicking through the media later the same week, yet another story of an accountant with an unusual job popped up. Ryan Blake, a 23-year-old accountant, took a break from his job to take part in a reality TV challenge, it said. TV producers dropped him (and three other people) naked, moneyless and phoneless in the British countryside and challenged them to find their way home. They start off wandering through fields, without a stitch of clothing and with a horrified look in their eyes. Now that’s what I would call a way of making a boring desk job look wonderfully attractive.

Of course, you don’t have to take your clothes off to get some drama into your days. Accountants who like raw power can go into governance – and many do. This column once featured Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, a 40-year-old accountant, who in 2015 ascended an African throne to become Ooni of Ife, or what the Yoruba people of Nigeria call their monarch.

And Barnaby Joyce, mentioned earlier, is Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, showing that accountants do often go high up the ladder.

But not everywhere. There have been grumbles in the U.S. recently because more than half the people who have been leader of that country have been lawyers. The remaining ones were military men, doctors, academics, a farmer, and of course, two screen celebrities.

Clearly it is an accountant’s turn to take the job of U.S. president, arguably the most powerful position in the world. But who would want that thankless task?

I’d rather rescue turtles from fishing nets. Maybe the accountant who had to wander naked through the British countryside may consider it? He’s done one of the hardest jobs in the world, he might like to try another.

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices

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