A Conversation With Dr. Leslie Shen on His Experiences In Law and Finance

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Dr. Leslie Shen is an accomplished accountant who moved from China to Canada in the early 2000s to pursue higher education and progress his professional career.

He holds a bachelor of commerce from the University of British Columbia, a master’s in law from the University of Liverpool, and a Ph.D. in law from Oxford. He also earned a degree at Yale and his MBA and SJD from Harvard.

Dr. Shen has been a recognized accountant in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Additionally, he is a member in good standing of the Global Academy of Finance and Management, which recognizes him as an honorary professor and global advisory council member. He now works for a global mining company as part of their international mergers and acquisitions team, where his duties include financial reporting and management, corporate merger and acquisition transactions, and compliance and legal work.

  1. What do you currently do at your company?

The company I work for right now is a large multinational mining group, and I am currently a part of their international mergers and acquisitions team. I do a bit of financial management, a bit of compliance work, and a bit of merger and acquisitions work in my role at this company.

Before my current job, I worked as the CFO of a different mining company, and before that, I worked with the ‘Big 4’ accounting firms on assurance and advisory work.

  1. What was the inspiration behind your business?

Ever since I was a child, I had an inspiration and a personal desire to be an accountant. Finance is the language of this business. Finance, legal, and management – that’s the triangle of business. As such, I pursued my education and career in accounting and finance specifically to get into this business.

My interest in law came later, and as a result of my experience in accounting. As I observed my surroundings and circumstances, I realized that everything in business happens for very particular reasons and in certain regulated ways, and those observations sparked my interest in law.

  1. What defines your way of doing business?

Finance and legal are, on a fundamental level, simply support functions for business purposes. As such, my skills in finance and legal are the tools I use to do business. I am not driven to do accounting for the sake of accounting, or legal for the sake of doing compliance. Rather, everything I do in business is for business purposes.

  1. What keys to being productive can you share?

The key to being productive is to have clear objectives. You always need to know exactly what you want and have a clear understanding of what you’re actually aiming for and why. And, of course, you have to stay focused. Never lose sight of the goal, and make sure that you’re always actively working toward it.

  1. Tell us one long-term goal in your career.

An example of a long-term career goal for someone like me would be to reach a senior position in the company, or otherwise be in a position to handle complex and significant international M&A transactions.

The way to achieve those goals can vary significantly, depending on what sort of company you’re in, but the commonality is big international transactions.

  1. How do you measure success?

Success is simply in the act of reaching the goals that you initially set for yourself. That may be a simplistic measurement, but it’s the one that I find the most realistic. There really isn’t anything more to it than that.

  1. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?

The importance of being able to say ‘no’ is the most valuable lesson I’ve learned over the years. The work I do the most – the finance and accounting – is a support function that is primarily about facilitating the needs of the business. But when you get into the legal side of things, you often find that you’re being pressed from multiple sources and in multiple directions. In those situations, the ability to say no to particular things and to prioritize the work that really matters is indispensable.

  1. What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?

I have two big pieces of advice for anyone who wants to succeed in this field.

The first one is to stay focused. You’re going to feel a lot of forces pulling you in a lot of different directions, and you need to maintain your focus on the important tasks and goals.

The second piece of advice is that you need to be proactive. Generally, just be a go-getter. People in this field tend to be… I don’t think ‘aggressive’ is quite the right word, but they tend to move and work at a quick pace all the time. You need to be proactive in as many aspects of the job as possible, or you won’t be able to keep up and you certainly won’t succeed.

  1. What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?

I do have a few hobbies outside of work. I tend to spend the little free time I have reading, or playing sports like badminton. I also do quite a lot of writing. Articles, primarily.

  1. How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

To be honest, that’s a really hard question for me to answer, because I honestly just don’t have a work life balance. I spend most of my time at work, and my free time is limited. This job is demanding, and that is a difficult reality at times. It’s the reason I don’t spend as much time with my family as I would like, and it’s why the time I spend on my hobbies is so limited.

That said, it’s important to be proactive in taking accountability for such things. I’m in this position because it’s the path I chose for myself. I don’t take these things personally.