Asia’s Exceptional Regional Chief Financial Officers

The Regional CFO of the Year will be announced on 19 November during a dinner gala at the Marina Mandarin Singapore, along with the honorees in the CFO of the Year category and the banks, accounting firms, technology providers and other outstanding partners of the CFO in the Partner of the Year awards.
We introduce six outstanding Regional CFOs (in alphabetical order) below. They have been nominated by CFO Innovation readers – and shortlisted by our editors – for the Regional CFO of the Year award. Their achievements and continuing efforts to keep the regional organization ahead of the game holds valuable lessons for every CFO and finance professional.
Protecting Margins: Jeremy Gray
As CFO of US multinational W.R. Grace’s Construction Products Division Asia Pacific, Jeremy Gray leads a team that aims to reduce working capital by 10% this year. “We’re on track to meet our goal,” he reports. Revenues in the first half of 2013 reached US$100.2 million, up 4% from the same period in 2012, after falling 8% last year compared with 2011.
The loss of a major customer in Australia contributed to the 2012 revenue hit, but finance was quick to cut costs to protect the bottom line. Profit in the first half of 2013 was up 26% to US$19.1 million. The division has also completed an acquisition in Australia that finance expects will pay back in less than 18 months.
Gray has also pioneered a Shared Service Center for financial planning and analysis in Manila, which is improving the quality of FP&A services at W.R. Grace in Asia at a lower cost. A frequent speaker at finance and industry conferences, the CFO also provides pro bono services to help young entrepreneurs develop their business plans.
Transforming Finance: John Henderson
As CFO Asia Pacific at Regus, a London-listed global provider of serviced offices, John Henderson has led more than 30 competitive acquisitions, managing aspects of deal structuring, due diligence and integration. Since becoming regional finance chief in 2000, he has played a key role in M&A, franchise and joint venture initiatives in Japan, China, Australia, Vietnam and Korea, and has helped expand Regus’s footprint from nine to 18 countries in Asia.
Much of this was done while Henderson was also transforming the finance function, an initiative that started about three years ago. Field headcount has now been reduced by 70% because most back-office processes for the region have been transferred to a Shared Service Center that Henderson built in Manila. The SSC has been so successful that it now employs 500 finance professionals – and provides global support, not just to Asia.
The SSC and other cost-management programs are helping the Asian operations save an estimated US$1.6 million a month. Finance has also implemented treasury systems with cash pooling to leverage cash held across multiple legal entities. Working with HSBC, a cash management system has been implemented, involving the standardization of all banking activities across a secure Internet platform.
Turnover in Asia Pacific increased 16% to £195.9 million (US$311 million) last year while profit before tax was up 38% to £31.7 million (US$50 million). First half 2013 results are even better, with turnover up 20% to £111.2 million, although profit before tax is 18% lower at £12.3 million.
Solving Complexity: Rajani Kesari
It’s not easy overseeing financial management of 19 legal entities and 31 manufacturing locations that use ten different operating systems across India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. So Rajani Kesari, Greater India CFO of French energy management multinational Schneider Electric set about reorganizing the finance function methodically.
Since becoming finance chief in 2008, she has clearly demarcated roles and responsibilities in the various entities and optimized utilization of manpower. One element is what she calls “mutualized functions,” meaning shared services in such areas as credit management, treasury and reporting, and FP&A. This required shuffling of various team members and responsibilities, hiring new people (60% of talent were recruited in the past two years) and creation of new roles.
Today, Kesari oversees 538 finance professionals, including 183 in the Finance Shared Service Center. The finance reorganization has helped improve transparency, connections among cross-functional teams, accuracy of data, benchmarking of good practices and other benefits. Kesari is also working on making working capital management more effective, profitability improvement and benchmarking Schneider companies in Greater India against peers.
The results are evident in achievements such as savings of around 350 million rupees (US$6 million) a year from reductions in support function costs, 250 million rupees (US$4 million) annual savings from interest cost reduction, and recovery of bad debts to the tune of 200 million rupees (US$3 million). Greater India revenues in 2012 jumped 25% to 90 billion rupees (US$1.4 billion). Schneider Electric India does not publicly disclose profit figures.
Talent Guru: Angie Lim
In her six years with global property company Jones Lang LaSalle, Angie Lim has lost exactly zero of her nine finance directors in Australia, Japan, Greater China, India and Southeast Asia. On average, the attrition rate at the 211-strong regional finance team (84 are in the Finance Shared Service Center) is exceptionally low.
“The continuity in service has allowed me to maintain stability and drive a common vision and mission throughout the APAC finance community,” says the CFO, Asia Pacific. And as she writes in her LinkedIn profile: “I enjoy working with teams of diverse, cross-cultural and experienced finance professionals, and interacting with like-minded finance professionals in other industries.”
Exceptional talent management is a particularly important skill in Asia, where demand for finance talent exceeds supply. The stability in finance, along with a common ERP system for the 16 countries in Asia Pacific (Australia completed its migration to PeopleSoft this year), have enabled Asia to make closing much faster than the other regions, at C+3 draft results and C+5 done.
As well, the common platform allows a near real-time review of debtors, payables, T&E and other transactions at the regional level. Lim has also implemented a Hyperion tool throughout the region to automate the planning process, which is estimated to save the company US$300,000 a year in man-hours.
Lim was named an International Director at Jones Lang LaSalle last year, one of 40 around the world to join the company’s top leadership group in 2012. The members of this elite bank of some 300 employees (out of the total workforce of 50,000) are recognized for “their exceptional work for clients and their roles in directing the firm’s growth.”
Last year, Asia Pacific revenues at Jones Lang LaSalle rose 7% to US$875 million while operating income was up 15% to US$289 million. Asia is the company’s fastest growing region, with compound annual growth rate in revenues of 13% a year since 2007 and 16% CAGR annually in profits in the same period.
Business Partner: Ong Wee Gee
The Vice President for Finance and Administration Asia Pacific of US data center and co-location giant Equinix does not hole up in his office. Ong Wee Gee partners closely with the company’s Asia Pacific President, country managing directors and heads of department to achieve the region’s financial objectives. 
For example, he is involved in deal negotiations with large financial institutions and other major customers. Ong also deals directly with suppliers of utilities, including negotiating with one vendor that resulted in savings from the previous contract.
Then there are interactions with potential partners for inorganic growth. The acquisition of Asia Tone last year (this company has operations in China, Hong Kong and Singapore) is contributing to revenue growth in 2013.
A non-equity partnership in Jakarta this year has paved the way for Equinix to enter a second Asian emerging market, after China. Meanwhile, finance is supporting organic growth in Australia, Japan (expanding to Osaka), Hong Kong, Singapore and China. 
Asia Pacific revenues last year were up 40% to US$301.8 million, although profit was smaller by a third (US$21.1 million) in part because of the Asia Tone acquisition and the expansion program. But first half 2013 revenues were up 38% to US$178.2 million while net profit more than tripled to US$35.9 million.

Growth Focus: Ginny Y.M. Wu
After joining Canadian logistics company Delmar Group in early 2011, Ginny Y.M. Wu helped conduct due diligence and financial analysis of the Vietnamese market, culminating in a joint venture there that has opened new markets for Delmar in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Wu has also helped the group win more than ten new large-enterprise customers in Asia by partnering closely with the business.  
The expansion and new clients helped boost Asia Pacific revenues by 12% to US$110 million in 2012 and profit by 35% to US$3.5 million. First half 2013 sales are even stronger, higher by 16% to US$64 million compared with the same period last year, and earnings up 50% to US$2.1 million. Asia has also improved its cash from operating activities (CFOA) metric, which jumped 20% in 2012.
Wu is also focused on optimizing internal processes. Finance has automated daily reporting of cash balances to the board and senior management. The reports generated are auto-fed to each recipient’s mailbox, regardless of where they are via the cloud. Cash pooling and sweeping in the region have also been automated, which is helping Wu minimize funding costs and lengthen tenors on loan facilities.
Talent management is another priority (there are 60 people in the finance team in Asia, including those in the Finance Shared Service Center). High potential is not the same as high performing, she says, noting that “being focused on high performance alone will deliver short-term results, but poses risk in the longer term.”
About the Author

Cesar Bacani is Editor-in-Chief of CFO Innovation.