‘I never liked standing still’: how I went from teenage tech enthusiast to a finance leader

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As a teenager Adam Luk was obsessed with having the latest games and gadgets: from playing Pong on an Atari console to owning the latest Nokia phone. More than 20 years later, his passion for new tech is just as strong, but now he has built a career on spotting emerging trends and devising strategies to drive business success.

Today he can be found in Canary Wharf, London, as it continues to undergo a transformation, from a business district to a place where people “live, work and play”, in one of Europe’s largest urban regeneration projects.

Approximately 5,000 homes are due to be built in and around the neighbouring area, along with a primary school and GP surgery, says Luk, who is head of finance for Level 39, an innovation and fintech hub operated by the Canary Wharf Group.

It has been an amazing journey for the economics graduate, who started his career at Walt Disney Company as a brand merchandiser responsible for products in the company’s flagship stores in London, Paris, Milan and Rome.

After two years of data crunching and logistics, he was ready for a new challenge. Excited by the opportunities of building financial forecasts and devising business strategies, he went for a finance job in the company – only to lose out to another candidate who was a management accountant.

Adam Luk: ‘It’s been a fantastic journey so far’

“It was a pivotal moment,” says Luk, who grew up in Hampshire, and now lives a stone’s throw from the docklands in east London. “Up until then I had thought that having a degree was enough for my career. But the other candidate had qualifications from CIMA – The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants.

“I realised if I was to progress, I needed professional qualifications. I’ve always been interested in emerging business trends. Through talking to a few mentors, I realised that the job I wanted was as a management accountant – so I looked for a job in finance that would allow me to study with CIMA at the same time.”

That was 15 years ago and the start of a varied career that has included roles at large multinational companies and at startups, where he was responsible for scaling up business and financial operations.

In his current role Luk is involved in Canary Wharf’s post-Covid comeback, and the development to the east of neighbouring Wood Wharf – a new urban district with a mixture of homes, parks and offices as well as a school and health centre.

Growing up in Portsmouth, Luk says he was fascinated by technology but encouraged to choose a traditional career path by his parents, so he ended up studying economics and land use at Reading University.

Looking back, he says he was always interested in the future-facing aspect rather than focusing on audits and ledgers – the remit of traditional accounting. He also loved tech: family members would bring back the latest game consoles and phone models from their travels.

“When I was young, I used to change my phone every six months. I was interested in the latest and greatest gadget and was very aware of technology beyond our shores. Now I have a job where I use my curiosity to look forward and spot future trends,” he says.

In 2007 he moved from Walt Disney to Securicor, now G4S, which sponsored him to study to be a management accountant with CIMA while working in procurement. Studying part-time, he took 15 exams covering operations, management and strategy (the process now involves 16 exams).

The qualification opened doors, and he took up a new job at a technology startup involved with the digitisation of tickets. “The company was in its early stages and I had to build its finance function and grow the business,” says Luk.

The London skyline at sunset - Canary Wharf, Docklands in the evening sun
Luk is now head of finance for Level 39, an innovation and fintech hub operated by the Canary Wharf Group. Photograph: Karl Hendon/Getty Images

Keen to work for a big corporation, he joined Canary Wharf Group’s Level 39 in 2014, where he devised a growth strategy aimed at supporting emerging companies to find flexible office space. Since then, he has witnessed more than 600 companies scale up within the L39 community. In the meantime, he has been made a fellow of CIMA (FCMA), vice-chair of CIMA’s Life Learning Committee and a CIMA council member. He is also an adviser to an industry accelerator programme, offering guidance on accounting and regulatory technology to early-stage companies.

All this doesn’t leave much spare time for Luk, who says his priorities have changed since his daughter (now aged two) arrived. Gone is the international travel and weekend trips to Europe, but he still makes time for working out at the gym with a personal trainer.

He admits he feels lucky to be where he is today. “It’s been a fantastic journey so far,” he says. “I have never liked standing still. I have always been interested in the bigger picture, solving problems rather than compliance.

“[Studying with] CIMA has given me a sense of purpose, belonging and accountability. In short, global credibility. It is also important to me to give something back, which is why I am on CIMA Council – and want to support new students and accountants going forward.”

Find out more about The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants’ courses and qualifications, and how they can help you transform your career in business and finance at cimaglobal.com

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