How Amy Foo CPA went from numbers nerd to the Asia-Pacific finance director for Zendesk.
As the finance and operations director for Asia-Pacific, I cover all the usual finance responsibilities: reporting, operational requirements as well as human resources. This is for the four legal entities Zendesk has in the Asia-Pacific – in Australia, based in Melbourne, the Philippines, Japan and Singapore. Currently, although we are growing rapidly, there are 10 direct reports.
In the beginning
I have a flair for numbers. I was one of those strange kids who did better in advanced math than normal mathematics. When I was choosing a career I naturally fell into the numbers side of things. I could have gone into engineering, but I am also business savvy. So I took up accounting and when I graduated I got into the Big Four and, with my interest in IT, slowly made myself a career as an IT finance professional. Prior to Zendesk [she joined in mid 2013], I was with Serena Software for five years, managing Asia-Pacific finance out of Melbourne.
It helps to do your Big Four service to get the knowledge to be a finance professional. It is a well-rounded experience and the knowledge gets inbuilt in your DNA. I am a truly experienced APAC finance professional, with three designations: CPA Australia, CPA Singapore and CPA Malaysia. I have experience in running finance for Japan, Australia-New Zealand and Asia. I speak Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay as well as English, and I benefited from cross-country career progression moves.
Best career move
Zendesk was definitely my best career move because it is a challenging job. The software business model has made a big shift and we finance professionals had to shift as well. When I started at Zendesk in 2013 there was only one legal entity. Now we’ve grown to four.
We also undertook the acquisition of a Singapore company, and we went to an IPO in June last year for Zendesk Inc. All this in one and a half years – but it felt like 10! It brought the best out in me, made me think out of the box and put on my big-picture hat. But I had to be hands-on because we were still a small company.
My advice to all my direct reports is to make finance processes and procedures really simple, while still achieving all our financial goals. Be business savvy, have empathy and doors will open and opportunities flood in. I believe in having a culture of self-belief.
Want to make the leap to CFO?
If you’re not passionate about the role and the business you’re in, then it’s hard to excel. People are receptive to these ideas. Keeping people motivated is one of the hardest parts of this role. To be the leader of a team and make it function, you have to motivate not only from a technical perspective, but also give them goals and make sure they’re part of the company culture.
As part of a high-growth company, the challenges are to always be 10 steps ahead with our strategy and financials, to stay relevant in our industry and to put all our competitors to shame. We have high ambitions and with that comes the expectation of high execution. My challenge is to grow the team in a well-balanced manner. We can’t add people just like that, so we have to justify our needs and ensure our goals are achievable and sustainable – that our development and globalisation costs balance our company goals.
This article is from the March 2015 issue of INTHEBLACK.