Go East, young accountant, to find your fortune

Number-crunchers with language skills are a highly valued commodity, says Roger Trapp
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The Independent Online
The old exhortation "Go West, young man" is increasingly being turned around, with young professionals - and not just men - being advised to head for the East.

Nowhere is this more true than in accountancy. The breakdown of the old socialist regimes has created apparently limitless opportunities for accountants. With little home-trained talent as yet available, vast armies of number- crunchers are required to help introduce capitalism into the old planned economies of Central and Eastern Europe.

The only problem is that facility with numbers is not always matched with ability at languages. In the words of Jeff Grout, managing director of recruitment specialists Robert Half and Accountemps, the situation is especially frustrating for Britons because, while their qualification is the most highly rated, they are the least likely to be fluent in foreign languages.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule - and they quickly find themselves in high demand once they venture into the jobs market.

Robin Davidson, for example, by his own admission drifted into accountancy after studying French at university. He trained with BDO Stoy Hayward, leaving last summer, a few months after qualifying.

Now working for Dresser Oil, Mr Davidson, who speaks German and Italian, is using his lingusitic ability at the same time as travelling extensively. Away from the company's Knightsbridge office about 80 per cent of the year, he typically goes abroad for three-week stints - returning home for a week between each trip.

Currently carrying out an internal audit in the Netherlands, Mr Davidson, 29, says the farthest afield he has been to date is Singapore and Jakarta, a trip that followed attendance at the company's annual conference in its home city of Dallas, Texas. He also travels extensively within Britain, particularly to the oil industry centre of Aberdeen.

It is, he says, a greatly different experience from working at Stoy Hayward, which does little business outside South-east England and offered him little opportunity to use his linguistic skills as well as the professional training he picked up on the way to becoming a chartered accountant.

Having at least one foreign language was, he says, with a fair degree of understatement, "a good marketing point". It gave him an extra advantage when competing for jobs with large numbers of candidates who were otherwise difficult to distinguish.

But even his extra skills pale beside those of Caroline Kort, who - like Mr Davidson - was placed in her current position by Warwick McLintock, a recruitment consultancy specialising in accountants with foreign languages.

Ms Kort, also 29, learnt Indonesian and Malaysian while at school in her native Australia. As a German citizen, she also learnt German at home. Since moving to Europe a few years ago, she has added Czech, Polish and Hungarian to the list.

Having trained with the international accountancy firm KPMG in Australia, she moved to Prague, where she picked up the European languages. Although she followed her three-year spell in the Czech Republic with a short time at KPMG's Birmingham office, she must have appeared ideal material for her present role - as internal audit manager at the hotels group Hilton International. The job entails checking the books of the various hotels in the organisation for about 60 per cent of the time.

Ms Kort says she was not aware how valuable her languages would make her until she came to Britain. But at Warwick McLintock, the director, Keith Griffiths, is in no doubt. "People with languages don't always know their market worth," he says.

He points out that more language graduates become accountants than is imagined but adds that "all the big multinationals need British-trained accountants who speak an Eastern European language as well as a Western European one to oversee their operations in those countries".

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