Helping others adapt to change and pave their own paths: Profile on Sam Lau

“More than ever, in this era of e-commerce and globalization, businesses need advisors to guide them in making decisions,” says Sam Lau, a Chartered Professional Accountant. “This is the reason why I took an interest in tax, as this field is always adapting quickly in order to keep pace with these changes.”

Adapting to change is nothing new for Sam, as he’s experienced significant changes throughout his life, including moving to a new country and switching career paths during his post-secondary years. As a tax specialist for KPMG LLP, and active community volunteer, he regularly mentors and guides others in adapting to change, whether it involves responding to new tax legislation, transitioning to a new country, or dealing with a life-changing disease.

Born in Hong Kong, Sam moved to Vancouver with his family at the age of five. Upon graduating from Eric Hamber Secondary School in 2008, Sam enrolled at UBC where he majored in microbiology and immunology. As he had a personal interest in the fight against cancer, Sam focused his undergraduate research on studying how emerging technologies could improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“However, after working at a lab after completing my undergraduate degree, it became clear that the slow pace of research wasn’t for me,” says Sam.

After he completed his Bachelor of Science, Sam realized that he wanted to seek a career where each day was unique and presented new challenges to respond and adapt to. Having learned about UBC’s Diploma in Accounting Program (DAP) at a campus career fair, he decided to pursue a career in accounting. He saw himself one day working in a capacity where he could help businesses both anticipate and create change.

Transition to working as a CPA
Sam completed DAP in August of 2014 and began working at KPMG while he continued to work towards obtaining his CPA designation. He credits his success to a strong support team of mentors who helped him through both technical and mental preparations for the Common Final Exam.

He was also inspired and motivated by working in a professional accounting environment. “Working in a firm allows you to see how the [CPA] program produces so many accountable, intelligent, and composed professionals. It definitely helps you get into the mindset, and shows you who you have the potential to become,” he recalls.

Giving back
Despite moving to Canada at a young age, Sam remembers experiencing some challenges in adjusting to life in a new country. Apart from a language barrier, he found it difficult to find role models he could relate to. “As a child you try to find role models who came from a similar situation to show you who you could potentially be,” he notes. “This is one of the reasons why I’m passionate about mentoring immigrant youth.”

One of the ways Sam gives back is by volunteering for Youth Leadership Millennium (YLM), a program dedicated to helping young people aged 14-24 in areas of personal and leadership development. The program is offered through S.U.C.C.E.S.S., an organization committed to assisting people of all ages and cultures overcome language and cultural barriers.

Many of YLM’s participants are first or second generation immigrant youth, a group that resonates personally with Sam. As a mentor, he’s learned to shape his leadership to fit the personalities within the groups he guides. “Leadership is about the team and not so much about my own preferences. I try to analyze the teams and resources that are available, and possible synergies that can form,” he says.

As he found it difficult to find relatable role models during his childhood, he understands the impact that mentoring has on kids. “It’s incredibly rewarding to connect with youth and watch them develop into young adults who are passionate about bringing positive change to society. No matter how passionate one person is about creating positive change, there is only so much that one person can do. However, by mentoring youth and guiding them to develop their own ideologies, you are able to amplify the impact to the community.”

Throughout all of this, Sam is still active in contributing towards the fight against cancer. He volunteers for Camp Goodtimes, a camp where kids fighting cancer can enjoy being kids without feeling stigmatized.

“I volunteer with the family program, which allows younger kids to attend camp with their parents for some family bonding time, as well as for parents to share their cancer-related journeys with other parents.”

When reflecting on his volunteerism, Sam says, “The most rewarding thing for me is seeing the smile on people’s faces through the work that I do. Being able to bring a smile to individuals facing unimaginable hardship is one of the most rewarding feelings you can have.”