Meet Stella Chen, Tax Partner and Co-leader of Aprio’s Chinese Practice
December 22, 2022
Welcome to Aprio’s International Spotlight series, which gives you an opportunity to learn more about our international leaders and team members’ expertise, the businesses they serve and the challenges they overcome for clients. For the third segment of our series, we sat down with Stella Chen, Tax Partner and Co-leader of Aprio’s Chinese Practice.
Thanks for sitting down with us, Stella! Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and what attracted you to Aprio.
Stella Chen: I grew up in China before coming to the United States, and I have lived in the US for over 22 years now. I’ve worked for different accounting and consulting firms, but I chose Aprio as the firm where I wanted to build my long-term career for several reasons. First, Aprio is so inclusive and diverse — in fact, 25% of the team members in our firm are first-generation immigrants. On a daily basis, I work with people who have such different backgrounds and speak a wide range of languages. It’s an environment that I truly wouldn’t be able to find at another firm.
When Aprio recruited me, I knew that they had already built a very successful Chinese practice, which is another factor that attracted me to the firm. It’s exciting to be a part of a practice that is well-established.
Aprio is also a firm that prioritizes innovation and has seen tremendous growth as a result. We are always evolving our services and approaches to meet clients’ needs. Typically, when there is notable organizational growth, there are also opportunities for an individual to grow and a team to grow — and that has certainly been the case here at Aprio.
We know that you focus on Asian inbound as well as outbound clients. Which Asian countries are your primary focus?
Stella Chen: I primarily serve clients from China, Taiwan and Singapore. Most of my clients come from the manufacturing and distribution (M&D) industry with headquarters in these countries.
What trends are you seeing in the M&D industry?
Stella Chen: Digitalization is one of the biggest trends and themes I have seen in M&D over the past few years. The sector has transformed at a rapid pace and technology has evolved quickly. Many M&D companies, especially those that are more seasoned, don’t have the right technology, tools and equipment to accommodate that level of change, especially compared to the newer M&D plants built with those cutting-edge tools.
The labor shortage is also having a major impact on the M&D space, particularly in the US. Some candidates have biased perceptions of M&D and don’t necessarily realize just how much technology has evolved plants, the production process and the nature of M&D jobs. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic is still having residual effects on candidates; many of them are uncomfortable working in close quarters in an M&D plant and of potentially contracting the virus. There are several efforts underway to continually improve safety and also educate and attract candidates to the wide variety of jobs and skill sets available to acquire in the M&D world.
Do the trends and challenges differ for M&D companies based in China versus the US?
Stella Chen: The challenges are similar to what companies in the US face, but an additional trend that Chinese M&D companies are thinking about is the changing demographics of their worker population. Similar to what companies in the US are facing with the retirement of baby boomers, Chinese companies are seeing older employees leaving the workforce and newer employees joining their ranks. This creates additional needs in terms of on-the-job training and recruiting. It has also inspired many companies to go out into their communities, visit schools or even host students on plant tours so they can get a hands-on, front-row look at how an M&D plant works, or even show them how technology is influencing change in the M&D sector as a whole. This has helped create more excitement and encourages the next generation to get into the space.
How does Aprio help multinational M&D clients overcome challenges?
Stella Chen: Due to the supply chain issues that companies all over the world are facing, many of our clients are looking to bring their manufacturing businesses into the US. This makes many of our clients eligible for different tax benefits and incentive packages from federal, state and local governments, which leads to major tax-saving opportunities. For instance, the recently passed CHIPS Bill will likely create several incentives for M&D companies in semiconductor manufacturing. The tax and legislative landscape is constantly changing; therefore we always monitor updates and make sure we seize every tax-saving opportunity possible for our clients.
Aside from the tax and financial perspective, Aprio frequently serves as a “connector” for clients with symbiotic needs or issues. That’s one of the biggest benefits to partnering with Aprio: not only do we offer technical expertise, but we also provide a deep network and foothold in the international business community in the US that empowers us to help clients achieve their goals.
In your opinion, why are clients attracted to Aprio? What is Aprio’s unique advantage?
Stella Chen: At Aprio, we are known for providing high-quality services to meet our clients’ needs, as well as both industry and technical expertise in the issues our clients face every day. From M&D to technology and blockchain, we know our clients’ industries on a foundational level. Plus, we have team members that have resided in the countries our clients come from — in fact, 60 of our professionals are from China, Japan or Korea and are native speakers. So, whether our clients want to set up an office in the US or need help with planning their expansion efforts, we can help them navigate and explain the complex US rules and systems in their native languages.
That unique expertise isn’t something you’ll be able to easily find at other firms in our industry.
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