Editor’s Note: Recruiters, mentors, and coaches often talk about the changing required skills of a CFO. Wendy Wang, CFO & COO at Tricor recently shared with Teresa Leung, senior editor at CFO Innovation her experience of how she’s been keeping up with the changing expectations of a CFO out of changes brought by technology, acquisitions, and new partnerships.
From what we’ve heard from Wang, we believe there are some key takeaways for finance execs who aspire to become CFOs. While constant learning and upskilling are important, CFOs must be able to work with other C-level execs as a team. There’s no room for individualism.
Can you briefly describe your career? What drove you to finance?
Wendy Wang: I have always been a big believer in driving business growth with the right strategy supported by numbers. After spending almost two decades in the financial services industry where I specialized in customer relationship management, business process improvement and outsourcing, I found it a natural move for me to turn to a finance position.
While many’d agree that financial officers thrive on numbers and are inherently prudent and rational, CFOs need a healthy dose of risk-taking and the openness to embrace new ideas instead of always relying on tried and tested ways in order to succeed in today’s dynamic digital economy.
Looking back at my career, I constantly seek out opportunities to broaden my horizons. During my full-time role as senior vice president at Genpact Asia—a business process specialist where I worked for more than a decade, I completed my EMBA studies at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Beijing where I met many inspiring tutors and classmates who shared the same passion for not just advancing their own careers, but also invigorating leadership and creating positive impact to maximize brand value and growth.
And this was also one of the reasons I joined Tricor— its platform, people and exciting possibilities offer opportunities for both personal and business growth.
Tricor has a great reputation in the market as the Asia expansion specialist, and is well respected for the quality of its services.
At this company, I find opportunities to apply my experiences to help it thrive in a rapidly changing world.
I’m privileged to work with so many talented people, leading a strong team of more than 2,400 professionals operating out of a network of 40 offices across 21 countries and territories.
My colleagues are incredibly committed to their clients and their own professional development. We’re constantly questioning and challenging norms with the goal of taking Tricor to the next level.
I understand you’ve lots of experience in cross-functional management. What are the major issues facing CFOs when it comes to business partnering with other C-level execs?
WW: Following private equity company Permira’s acquisition of Tricor in 2017, there have been various acquisitions and partnerships for Tricor across Asia. As we expand quickly, we’ve attracted many highly experienced C-level execs.
Business partnering at the C-level requires C-level execs to be fully aligned with a company’s business strategies and objectives.
During my first two years at Tricor, I spent a substantial amount of time bringing up to speed Tricor’s transformation calendar. This required me to work closely with other senior executives on group strategy.
We worked as a team to set up the business transformation blue print and to drive higher financial performance through technology, work enhancement and talent empowerment.
Today, Tricor’s C-level execs work seamlessly together by focusing on the most pressing strategic priorities to create the greatest value opportunities for the business.
We spend most of our time developing strategic partnerships and technologies to advance growth and create business efficiencies. Going forward, we foresee continuous investments in technology and innovation to drive the company’s success.
How can different C-level execs effectively align with a company’s strategies and objectives?
WW: I’ve come across different types and combination of C-level executives in my career. Besides having the right talent, trust and collaboration are key to effective business partnering.
Facing today’s rapidly changing environment, C-level executives need to stand together as one team—sharing wins and losses with no individual hero mentality.
Communications is important as well. There will always ups and downs in business. At all times, everyone should stay open-minded towards communications without making assumptions, look at things objectively, and maintain a team spirt. These attitudes will help C-level execs overcome challenges.
I’m lucky that I see no problem at all in working with our executives and managers. As a team, we encourage all employees to speak up in discussions, to challenge ourselves, and to ‘hold a mirror’ up to the business.
Facing today’s rapidly changing environment, C-level executives need to stand together as one team—sharing wins and losses with no individual hero mentality
I understand you spearhead the development of RPA in your role at Tricor. What are enterprise customers’ concerns when it comes to RPA?
WW: We’ve licensed software from a leading robotics provider and are about to start building robots for Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia.
We expect to have 20 robots servicing Hong Kong and Japan within two months; and in six months, we’d have more than 100 robots servicing China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Along with this, we’ve decided to set up our shared services center in Kuala Lumpur with an aspiration to have around 500 employees in five years’ time.
Expanding our SSC is a strategic decision that’d allow us to strengthen our growth through service optimization and automation.
With the SSC as the command center, we’ll enable our business growth through AI, robotics, and high achieving talent in KL.
I’d say we’re proud to be doing good for customers with RPA and we want to focus on how it will enhance customer experience and showcase success.
As a CFO, how do you keep up with technology trends?
WW: Curiosity. Now you can keep learning and refreshing your knowledge with numerous online information and resources. The key is how you put what you’ve learnt into practice. RPA is one example—while it’s been talked about often, the challenge is how businesses can make it work for them.
At Tricor, we bring in new technology, train our people and learn together during the process – we focus on what we can do better. All these experiences are so precious that they’ve brought significant values to our business.
Finance execs have to learn to work with robotics and manage AI outcomes. It’s a new skillset that'll create more job opportunities and offset the transactional job types that’ll be gone.
Besides RPA, what emerging technologies do you think would be relevant to the finance function? Why?
WW: Given the potential of Blockchain and AI in simplifying standardization and compliance for financial records, I’m always interested in putting these innovations into practice someday. All these self-driving finance platforms for optimizing efficiency and accuracy will fundamentally redefine what it means to be a CFO as well.
For example, many finance functions spend lots of time doing forecast with different variations and versions. Predictive analytics through AI can actually improve and save time in forecasting as well as raising its quality.
In this changing world, finance professionals have to learn to work with robotics and manage AI outcomes. It’s a new skillset that will create more job opportunities and offset the transactional job types that’ll be gone.
What are the major skills that you think a CFO should have today? How can they be acquired?
WW: To be a successful CFO, I believe one needs to stay hungry and keeps learning. Given that the world is changing at a much faster pace than ever before, we can’t rest on our own laurels.
CFOs have to have the ability to understand what technology means to their businesses—in terms of growth, new product development, operations, investment needs and other areas, and then work with senior executives to lay out the company strategy, blue print for execution, and create visibility on progress.
There's no short cut, but we’ll see positive financial outcomes after putting in the required effort to make it happen.