As chief financial officer for China’s largest internet company, Curtin graduate John Lo is an expert in innovation and what it takes to succeed in the rapidly evolving world of tech.
Over the past fifteen years, Lo has helped steer the Chinese company Tencent from an unlisted internet start-up into the world’s biggest investment corporation, valued at over A$628 billion.
“Honestly, I never expected to be the CFO of a listed company!” Lo says.
The busy CFO spends at least one third of his time learning about industry trends and new products.
“The internet market is changing so fast that your knowledge will become obsolete if you don’t keep up,” he explains.
A billion users and counting
One of Tencent’s most successful inventions to date is the all-purpose app WeChat, a household name among its one billion users. The app has been described as ‘Facebook, Skype, Slack, Amazon, PayPal and Apple Wallet all rolled up into one’.
“We’re really keen to provide people with one-stop shopping convenience,” Lo says. “That’s been a major key to our success.”
When asked about how he sees the internet evolving over the next ten years, Lo replies: “I think everything will be linked up seamlessly, as opposed to now when everything is a single transaction.”
International education a career boost
Lo credits the skills he has acquired throughout his studies and career to his success today.
“Ever since graduating from Curtin twenty-five years ago, continuous learning has been my top priority,” Lo says with enthusiasm. “Thanks to the excellent education offered by Curtin, I was equipped with ample knowledge and skills.”
Lo says he was inspired to study overseas at Curtin because of the university’s international reputation and the affordable cost of living in Perth compared to the eastern states.
“Perth is also in the same time zone as Hong Kong, my home country, so it was more convenient to connect to family and friends back home,” he explains.
Lo believes studying abroad is hugely beneficial and says he really enjoyed his time at Curtin.
“I made a lot of friends and learned how to connect with people from many different backgrounds,” he recalls.
“The support for international students at Curtin was very robust. In addition, the English-language environment greatly improved my language skills, particularly my spoken English.”
After graduating from Curtin, Lo went on to obtain his CPA qualification in Australia before relocating to Hong Kong, and later mainland China. He was offered a position as an auditor at one of the world’s largest accounting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers [PwC] and quickly climbed the corporate ladder.
“PwC provided me with excellent professional training in finance and accounting and also gave me valuable exposure to different industries in China,” Lo reflects.
A calculated move
By 2004, Lo says he was restless and ready for a change. He opted to leave his secure, senior job for a finance role at a small Chinese internet company.
“I knew if I stayed at PwC, I had a good chance of making audit partner,” he says.
“Everyone urged me to stay, including my parents. But I knew moving to Tencent was the right choice.”
In 2004, less than seven per cent of China’s population were internet users. Tencent was not yet listed on the stock exchange and had fewer than 500 employees.
Lo, however, foresaw huge growth ahead.
“In the US at the time, internet penetration was more than 60 per cent,” Lo says. “When I looked at the internet industry in China, I was fascinated by the exciting growth opportunities ahead.”
His calculated decision paid off.
Today, Tencent is one of the largest internet companies in the world and internet penetration in China has risen rapidly to 52 per cent.
In November 2017, Tencent became the first Asian company to cross the US$500 billion valuation mark, becoming one of the world’s top five biggest firms alongside Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Amazon.
As Tencent’s chief financial officer, Lo says it’s critical to stay ahead of the game.
“I’m not just a ‘number crunching’ guy”, Lo says. “In my industry I think it’s really important to keep abreast of business development and be agile and ready to react to anything that may emerge.”
John Lo is a Fellow of the CPA Australia, a Fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Certified Public Accountants and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. In 2018, Lo is also the Vice Chairman of the CPA Australia South China Committee. Alongside his Bachelor of Business (Accounting) degree from Curtin University, Lo holds an executive MBA degree from the Kellogg-HKUST EMBA program.