Editor’s note: John R. Onedera is the country managing partner and assurance leader of Ernst & Young’s Guam and Saipan practices providing assurance, tax and advisory services.
Onedera has 23 years of public accounting experience and an additional six years in the private industry, where he served as the finance director/controller for DFS MidPacific Division and other related LVMH companies.
He is also the chair of the Guam Board of Accountancy and a member of the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration Advisory Council. He earned his bachelor’s in accounting from UOG and a master’s in business administration from San Diego State University.
Q. You’ve been in the financial advising and auditing industry since you began your career. What motivated or influenced you to choose this path?
A. It all started with getting an A in my first accounting course. I started to enjoy it once it began to make sense. While pursuing my MBA in San Diego, I bumped into George Chiu in Guam during Christmas, who was working with KPMG, one of the “Big 8” accounting firms at that time. He encouraged me to submit my resume, which I did. I ended up coming back home to work as an auditor for KPMG, then Deloitte and eventually Ernst & Young. In each of these firms, I was fortunate to work with many great leaders of our clients. I enjoyed auditing the companies, learning the different industries and providing insights on improving controls.
Q. Tax and regulatory laws often change. Talk about some of the bigger shifts that have occurred in the last five years that impact your industry and what that has meant for the businesses you work with on Guam.
A. There are a few. Companies have benefited from the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which reduced the highest marginal corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, resulting in substantial tax savings. The cct also provided 100% bonus depreciation. Companies now fully deduct assets such furniture, equipment and autos and defer the tax to later years. On the other hand, the 25% increase in gross receipts tax from 4% to 5% and the increase in real property tax have had negative impacts, especially for hotels, shopping centers and other real estate developments. The H-2 visa worker restrictions have also had a significant effect. Companies have delayed projects or incurred more costs as a result.
Q. What shifts do you expect in the next five years that people should be watching closely?
A. We should watch for increases in technology and automation. Companies should consider how this will affect the industry and customers and how it will impact the need for and delivery of services. Companies have already begun using process automation to improve productivity and reduce costs. As an example, our audits are 100% paperless and web-based. We’ve also increased the use of data analytics tools in our audit tests that allow us to audit 100% of transactions rather than just a sample.
Q. What is biggest challenge you come up against in the financial advising/auditing industry on Guam and Saipan?
A. Recruiting and retaining talent. We are one of the first places companies look at when needing to fill a higher-level accounting or finance position. Many staff come to us to get certified public accountant, CPA, experience and training before leaving to join a private company. This is normal for our profession, so we try to ensure our staff have the right training and experiences while with us, before serving as EY ambassadors when they leave.
Q. You oversee a staff of over 70 people. What makes for a successful leader in the financial and auditing industry?
A. You need to find the right people, coach them, train them and keep them engaged. This is never easy especially if most of them are CPAs. You should have a genuine interest in their growth and development. As a professional services firm, we sell our talent. It’s critical that they are knowledgeable, motivated and skilled to provide exceptional client service. The island may be small, but client demands and expectations are not.
Q. Name a few important traits or behaviors that a person should have to succeed in your industry.
A. Technically competent, responsive, insightful and committed.
Q. Reputation is an important piece of operating a financial firm. What impression should a business leave with clients and potential clients?
A. A firm in our profession should demonstrate integrity and respect and develop relationships based on doing the right thing. This is key for clients to trust in the services and deliverables we provide.
Q. You graduated from the University of Guam with a bachelor’s in business administration. Talk about the value of getting an education on island and what advice you have for those who may follow in your footsteps.
A. The University of Guam has a great business program. The students can interact with local business leaders and discuss issues that currently affect the local economy. The business community is very supportive of UOG which provides great opportunities for graduates. I tell many accounting students that now is the best time to be an accounting student at UOG. There’s an active junior accountants society, company internships, scholarships, CPA mock exams and company tours where students talk to the accounting professionals at various companies and learn more about the profession.
Q. Your community service has been as diverse as chairing the Guam Board of Accountancy, to membership of the UOG School of Business Advisory Council to past president of the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay — and more. Please comment.
A. It’s not enough. I hope to help more as much as I can. It’s challenging to find the time, so I admire those who are able to commit and give back to the community. mbj