Fang Ai Lian
First woman to become partner in a professional services firm in Singapore
Fang Ai Lian made history in 1981 when she was named a partner in Ernst & Young Singapore. It was the first time a woman had achieved partnership status in a professional services firm in Singapore. When in 1996 she became the firm’s managing partner, she was the first woman to head an international accounting firm in Singapore and the first woman to run any Ernst & Young office worldwide. In 2005 she became chairman of the firm.
She had initially considered a career in medicine, but when she was leaving school in the late 1960s, Singapore was taking off economically and, with so many businesses being set up, accountancy seemed like a good proposition. She went to London for her professional training and thoroughly enjoyed life in what was then one of the hippest cities in the world.
She returned to Singapore in 1973 and joined Turquand, Youngs & Co (which later became Ernst & Young). The Singapore economy and her firm were expanding fast, and with the support, as she once explained, of ‘an enlightened group of partners who opened doors for me’, Ai Lian’s career progressed rapidly.
Ai Lian, who is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Singapore, retired from Ernst & Young in 2008 after 34 years with the firm. But this did not mean she stopped working. In April that year she became chairman of Great Eastern, the largest life insurance company in Singapore. She also chairs the Board of Trustees of the Singapore Business Federation as well as the Tax Academy of Singapore, and sits on the boards of a wide range of corporations, educational entities and non-profit organisations.
She once said that every non-profit organisation needs accountants to help them with their financials, accountability and governance. With the growing need for such services, it is easy for members of the profession to contribute back to society. Ai Lian has done so for many years, serving in various capacities on the boards of many organisations, including the Breast Cancer Foundation and the Home Nursing Foundation. She chairs the Charity Council, lending her expertise to promoting good governance and best practices in the charity sector.
Ai Lian is a Justice of the Peace. From 2002 to 2006, she was a Nominated Member of Parliament. She was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2001 and the Public Service Star in 2009.
"I feel I have somehow been favoured, and therefore it is the right thing to do – to favour others as well. It’s always a good feeling. You can touch the lives of others."