CFO Innovation Awards 2013: The CFOs of the Year Are . . .

Unlike last year, it wasn’t a rainy night when the 2nd CFO Innovation Awards were given out on 19 November in Singapore. More than 100 CFOs and other guests streamed into the ballroom of the Marina Mandarin for a night of celebration and heartfelt acceptance speeches.
ACCA (Association of Certified Chartered Accountants), Hays Recruiting Experts Worldwide and CFO Innovation collaborated on the judging for the 2013 CFO of the Year Awards.  And the honorees are:
  • CFO of the Year: Frank Lai Ni Hium, China Resources Enterprise (Hong Kong)


  • Regional CFO of the Year: Ong Wee Gee, Equinix (Singapore)


  • Excellence in Talent Management: Angie Lim, Jones Lang LaSalle (Singapore)


  • Excellence in Finance Transformation: John Henderson, Regus (Hong Kong)


  • Excellence in Capital Management: Ysmael V. Baysa, Jollibee Foods (Philippines)


  • Excellence in Financial Turnaround: Atul Kumar Agarwal, MedPlus (India)
Partner of the Year awards were also handed out to the accounting firms, management consultancies, banks, insurance companies, technology providers and executive recruiter that you, our readers, voted for as the most innovative and responsive service providers to the finance function.  
Click photo to enlarge
Awardees and winners all in (several) rows
CFO of the Year: Frank Lai of China Resources
Frank Lai is the second recipient of this award after S Mahalingam of India’s Tata Consultancy Services, who was honored last year. Mahalingam stepped down from the CFO top in February after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65.
At 52, Lai has years of financial management ahead of him. A member of CPA Australia, Australia Society of Accountants and Australia Society of Certified Practicing Accountants, he was named CFO of Hong Kong-listed China Resources Enterprise (CRE) in 2009. He has since helped revitalize the business model and operations of the Chinese state-owned enterprise, which had revenues of HK$126.2 billion (US$16.3 billion) in 2012.
Frank Lai accepts the CFO of the Year Award
It was Lai who took the lead in the sale of non-core assets and using the proceeds to expand CRE’s presence in China’s burgeoning consumer retail sector. The company raised HK$3.8 billion (US$490 million) from the 2009 sale of its Esprit China distribution business. Lai also swapped holdings in textiles and ports for a beer brewery and a hypermarket chain owned by its parent.
Finance then proceeded to reinvest the freed capital by buying more breweries and retail assets. The latest acquisition closed in February this year, when CRE paid HK$5.38 billion for the seven breweries and distribution and sales assets of Kingway Brewery in southern China, a region where the company had little market share.
In October, China Resources announced a partnership with Tesco, the UK’s leading retail group, to create a joint venture that would own and operate hypermarkets, supermarkets, convenience stores, cash-and-carry businesses and liquor outlets in Greater China. Tesco will pay HK$4.325 million for a 20% share in the joint venture, inject its existing assets in China and share its technology and know-how. China Resources will own 80% and inject about 3,000 stores.
The Tesco deal, which has yet to close, follows a 2011 joint venture that Lai negotiated with Kirin, Japan’s largest beer-and-beverage company. Leveraging on Kirin’s product and processes know-how and China Resources’ intimate knowledge of the China market, the 60-40 JV (China Resources owns 60%) has been growing by an annual 50% in the past two years. Before being injected into the joint venture, China Resources’s beverage assets were expanding at 20%-30%.
Despite the series of deals, China Resources had net cash of HK$3.8 billion as of 30 June 2013, up 56% from the same period in 2012. First half 2013 sales rose 12% to HK$72 billion, but net profit for the same period fell 46% to HK$1.5 billion on sharply lower revaluation gains. (Net profit for the whole of 2012 rose 24% to HK$5 billion.)
CRE is being affected by the current anti-corruption drive in China, which has had an impact on sales of high-end liquor and other consumer items that were traditionally bought as gifts and regarded as symbols of wealth. Stripping out mark-to-market gains and other exceptional items from the first half 2013 results, underlying net profit in the first half of 2013 slowed just 11% to HK$1 billion.
Regional CFO of the Year: Ong Wee Gee of Equinix
For this year’s awards, CFO Innovation decided to distinguish between CFOs who oversee finance in the entire MNC or national company, and regional CFOs, who take charge of finance for the Asia or sub-Asian region. The Regional CFO of the Year is Ong Wee Gee, 43, who jokingly described himself as a “slave driver” onstage.
Ong left IBM Singapore in 2006 to become Vice President for Finance and Administration Asia Pacific of fast-growing US data center and co-location company Equinix (2012 revenues: US$1.9 billion). He partners closely with Equinix’s Asia Pacific President, country managing directors and heads of department to achieve the region’s financial objectives.
‘Slave driver’ Ong poses with some members of his team
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.
Excellence in Talent Management:
Angie Lim of Jones Lang LaSalle
When Angie Lim walked up the stage to accept her award, she made sure to dedicate it to the 221 members of her team, including the 84 staffers in the Finance Shared Service Center. In her six year with global property management company Jones Lang LaSalle, she has lost exactly zero of her nine finance directors in Australia, Japan, Greater China, India and Southeast Asia.
“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 for 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.”
Angie Lim thanks the 211 members of her finance team
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 Lim and her team to make closing much faster than the other regions, at C+3 draft results and C+5 done.
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.
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.
Excellence in Finance Transformation:
John Henderson of Regus
It was Ben Loh, Commercial Finance Director, who accepted the award on behalf of Asia Pacific CFO John Henderson, who was stuck in business meetings in London.
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.
Excellence in Capital Management:
Ysmael V. Baysa of Jollibee Foods
Like Henderson, Ysmael V. Baysa was stuck in business meetings in the Philippines, which had just gone through a harrowing time from Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in human history.
Formerly senior vice president at Union Bank of the Philippines and finance director at Procter & Gamble Southeast Asia, the 57-year-old Baysa joined Jollibee Foods, the country’s largest quick-service restaurant chain (2012 sales: US$1.6 billion), in 2003. He has a rather unorthodox philosophy. He believes that scarce capital compels very sound investment selection, while abundance of capital can lead to carelessness.
Thus, he has deliberately avoided increasing the company’s debts despite historically low interest rates, and kept the investment hurdle rate very high. Still, the company opens about 200 outlets every year in the Philippines and abroad. Baysa ensures discipline by estimating a new store’s ROIC for the next 12 months and predicting IRR for the entire project life of 10 years within four months of that store’s opening.
Finance also calculates the total ROIC and IRR of a batch of stores opened in the last 15 months. Business heads are thus able to view their store investments like a portfolio. They can decide to tolerate lower returns from some stores for competitive or strategic reasons as long as this is offset by superior performing stores – and the overall hurdle rate is still met or exceeded.
Baysa has presided over a hot streak that saw revenues surge 173% from 26 billion pesos (US$600 million) in 2004 to 71 billion pesos (US$1.6 billion) in 2012 – and net income jump 131% from 1.6 billion pesos (US$37 million) to 3.7 billion pesos (US$85 million) in the same period. According to the Euromonitor World Consumer Food Service Report, Jollibee is now Asia’s second-largest quick-service restaurants chain by system-wide sales, after Japan’s Zensho Holdings.
Excellence in Financial Turnaroud:
Atul Kumar Agarwal of MedPlus
When Atul Kumar Agarwal joined MedPlus Health Services three and a half years ago, the Indian pharmacy chain was losing money despite compounded annual growth rate of 34%. It was still unprofitable in fiscal year 2012, when the red ink came to 142.9 million rupees (US$2.3 million).
But the CFO’s turnaround efforts appear to be finally bearing fruit. MedPlus reported net profit of 44.3 million rupees (US$723,000) in the year that ended March 2013 on revenues of 8.9 billion rupees (US$145 million). That’s a small profit, but hopes are high it can be sustained and nurtured.
Atul Kumar Agarwal thanks his colleagues and family
Fresh from a stint as CFO and member of the board of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Indian operations, Agarwal started at MedPlus nearly from scratch. The company was growing so rapidly that the management information system, financial reporting and other processes could not keep up. It was difficult to identify the reasons for the losses, especially since there was no structured finance function.
Agarwal created a finance team comprising existing employees and new hires, streamlined financial operations, defined processes and policies, and established systems for board, MIS and GAAP reporting. A new quarterly document on economic value added (EVA) is helping shareholders understand empirically how their investment is performing. The monthly close and other financial processes were speeded up, resulting in on-time visibility into the profitability of each division, segmented into various profit drivers.
Prodded in part by finance’s analysis, MedPlus has started expanding into the hospital pharmacy business. It currently runs 38 in-house pharmacies in four states across India, even as Agarwal and his team continue to evaluate the finances and potentials of more hospitals with which MedPlus can do business.
Partner of the Year Awards
The top three vote-getters and the winners of the Partner of the Year Awards are:
Best in Audit Services
Ernst & Young (Partner of the Year)
Best in Risk Management Advisory
Ernst & Young (Partner of the Year)
Best in Tax Advisory
Ernst & Young (Partner of the Year)
Ernst & Young’s Siew Moon Chung-Sim
Best Finance and Accounting Outsourcing Provider
Accenture (Partner of the Year)
Best in Finance Transformation Consulting
Accenture (Partner of the Year)
Boston Consulting Group
ACCA’s James Lee hands the crystal to Accenture’s Daniel Tan (right)
Best in Payroll Outsourcing
Infosys BPO (Partner of the Year)
Best in Cash Management
HSBC (Partner of the Year)
JP Morgan
IBM ASEAN CFO Harsh Chugh (left) congratulates HSBC's John Laurens
Best in Foreign Exchange
HSBC (Partner of the Year)
Standard Chartered
Best in Commercial Lending
HSBC (Partner of the Year)
Standard Chartered
Best in Equity/IPO
JP Morgan (Partner of the Year)
Best in Property Insurance
Allianz (Partner of the Year)
Best in Casualty Insurance
AIA (Partner of the Year)
Best in Credit Insurance
Coface (Partner of the Year)
Best Insurance Broker
Aon (Partner of the Year)
Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) Asia
LTA’s Alice GK Tan presents the award to Aon's Erik Klanderman
Best Treasury Management System (TMS) Solution
Oracle (Partner of the Year)
Best Business Intelligence Solution
Cognos Business Intelligence (IBM)
SAP Business Objects (Partner of the Year)
Best Financial Management System (FMS) Solution
Oracle (JD Edwards)
SAP (Partner of the Year)
Best in Finance and Accounting Executive Recruitment
Hays (Partner of the Year)
Michael Page
Robert Half
Tiger Airways Group CFO Khushi Ram and Pearly Ng of Hays
About the Author

Cesar Bacani is Editor-in-Chief of CFO Innovation 



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