Meet the CFO: Lay Chin Wan FCPA

Getting results from different teams at IBM New Zealand.

Lay Chin Wan FCPA manages a team at IBM New Zealand, but also offshores work to IBM staff in Kuala Lumpur, China and India. Being able to get the best results from people in different cultures is a skill set on its own, she says.

The role

This is my fifth year in the CFO role and it’s been a really interesting and exciting ride. I report to IBM Australia and New Zealand CFO Sara Watts and managing director [for IBM New Zealand] Rob Lee. My priority is to provide strategic financial advice to the leadership team and ensure IBM meets its fiduciary obligations. In addition to managing a multimillion-dollar organisation [IBM NZ announced a 2012 year-end revenue of NZ$430 million and NZ$50.8 million of pre-tax income], I have operational responsibilities including managing support functions (IT, integrated supply chain, real estate and site services). Including those support functions, we have a team of 50.

A new skill set

Learning how to deal with multiple cultures is a skill set on its own. You appreciate communicating, and trying to get the best out of different teams from different cultures requires a very different skill set again. You have to be very conscious how you deal with and get effective results from people from different countries.

Lay Chin Wan FCPA

Lay Chin Wan FCPA

How it works

IBM leverages a “global integrated model”. With accounts payable, we draw on resources in China. We have procurement functions based in India, and fixed asset accounting in Bratislava. Our centre of excellence (COE) in Kuala Lumpur delivers more day-to-day repeatable accounting tasks, so the finance team can focus on more value-added insights and analysis to support the business.

In the beginning

I grew up in Malaysia and completed my degree at Victoria University [Wellington]. I’m still here 32 years later. I studied political science, majoring in public administration, and in my final year got a part-time role with IBM. When I completed my studies, they offered me a job. I never left! I found I was good at interpreting numbers and relaying the key messages to the business. In 2003, IBM sponsored me to complete my MBA part-time.

Career boost

Obtaining an Asia-Pacific role gave me scope to grow, particularly in presenting and communicating strategically at senior levels. This was a major transition from a more operational regional role. I have continued to use these skills to position the bigger picture (strategy) and outcomes in my current role.

Key lessons

Play to your strengths, select people with complementary skills and you will have a good team. Promote strong people and support them. Learn how to coach well. In the long run that provides stable succession planning. Don’t be afraid to try something new, even if that means you make a mistake. There is sometimes a culture of unwillingness to admit to mistakes, but it’s OK as long as you learn from them. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes and from great managers and teams who’ve supported me.

This article is from the May 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.

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