Interview with a Chief by Acclime - Leading a diverse and inclusive firm

As a regional corporate and professional services firm, Acclime helps its clients navigate the complexities of establishing and operating their business in Asia. Debby Davidson, co-founder and COO of Acclime, tells about her journey leading to setting up her own business, combatting bias and becoming an employer of choice.

By Zuba Adham-Bos

Please tell us a bit about yourself

I’m Debby, co-founder and COO of Acclime. I am a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a mother of two and a wannabe gardener.
I am extremely proud to be leading Acclime, alongside my co-founder, Martin Crawford. Like many women, my career path hasn’t been linear. I was trained as a corporate lawyer and worked in the legal industry for over a decade, with stints in both Hong Kong and London. After the birth of my first- born son, I forayed into business over twelve years ago and discovered that I am much happier building and developing businesses.

What does Acclime do?

We are a regional corporate and professional services firm, providing an extensive range of services. We help our clients navigate the complexities of establishing and operating their businesses in Asia. We provide market-entry services, incorporation of companies, accounting and bookkeeping services, tax advisory and tax compliance, payroll services and human resource outsourcing. By taking care of the ‘corporate governance’ of our clients’ businesses, we enable our clients to focus on what they do best: which is to grow their business and drive top-line growth.

Besides Hong Kong, Acclime operates in nine other markets: Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Our experience has been that clients appreciate our on-the-ground guidance and assistance, especially in emerging markets.

How has the concept of diversity and inclusion changed during your career?

The landscape has changed drastically from when I left university. When I had my firstborn, I was working in an international law firm. I remember feeling very guilty when I returned from maternity leave as if I was letting the team down by being a young mom. I was perpetually guilty, whether to my

work colleagues or my family. It was hard to operate in an environment where you’re expected to drop everything for your clients at a moment’s notice.

In terms of diversity and inclusion, I think there is a lot more acceptance and understanding in the workplace with regards to childcare, especially now that work from home became the norm during the pandemic.

What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you?

We are at an exciting time in history where the world now expects diversity and inclusion and notices the absence of such qualities. The senior management team of Acclime strives constantly to build a company with an inclusive mindset, and one which celebrates our colleagues as people. To me, diversity means that you don’t have to adhere to a single image of success. In old days, there were certain views about how a highflier professional should look, act or sound. Diversity means that there is no stereotype and that we at Acclime are proud of our workplace culture that fosters inclusion – whether it is relating to LGBT+ or gender or cultures. At Acclime, we want to be an employer of choice. I believe that we have had considerable success in this regard.

Any experiences with bias during your career?

Sure. As an Asian female, I did encounter bias, particularly in the earlier stages of my career. I think people form a certain impression from your appearance and they tend to then build their own preconceived stereotypes. However, I find that once I form a personal connection with others, whether such connection is through a face-to-face meeting, a Zoom chat or a Whatsapp exchange, one tends to move past stereotypes into a real working relationship. The key is to build partnerships.

What would you like to see differently in your industry regarding Diversity & Inclusion? Or perhaps any tips on this?

At Acclime, we work hard to establish a sense of belonging for all of our employees. We believe in teamwork, collaboration and being One Acclime. We practice empathetic leadership and encourage our team leaders to be the mentor they wish they’d had when they were more junior.

Which trends do you expect to see in your industry in the next five years?
2020 has seen exponential growth in technological innovation, digitalisation and e-commerce. Throughout the COVID period, our team has embraced remote working practices. We have now proven that we can onboard new clients virtually and we can effectively advise and represent our clients without travel. Acclime has continued to grow our business, our team and expand into new markets and new services during 2020.

Now that we have learnt that we can work remotely and digitally, we have embraced a technology-enabled Acclime. I believe that this trend will continue in the next five years, and our employees will continue to work digitally and remotely. This is not simply for our employees’ convenience but ensures that our clients will increasingly benefit from greater levels of service and more efficient communication.