Soft skills and the CFO

Annuar Marzuki Abdul Aziz FCPA, CFO and Chief Investment Officer of KLCCP Stapled Group. Photographer: Aaron Chin.

From crunching the numbers for toll roads to helping ensure the success of the precinct around the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Annuar Marzuki Abdul Aziz’s financial nous and people skills have stood him in good stead.

Fact File

Joined KLCCP Stapled Group: December 2013
Based: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Formerly: Group CFO of the UEM Group; CFO of PLUS Expressways; general manager of corporate finance, Time Engineering; auditing roles at PwC
KLCCP Stapled Group is a listed Malaysian company that, through its subsidiaries, manages interests in real estate (including Grade A offices), retail, hotel and car-park properties
CFO’s team: About 70 in total across the group
Revenue and profit: KLCCP Stapled Group earned about 1.3 billion ringgit (US$302 million) in 2016, and delivered a profit of about 1 billion ringgit (US$232 million)

1. My role: "Story to tell"

Apart from a traditional finance role, I am also in charge of investor relations duties; this is something that I enjoy doing. Meeting analysts and fund managers requires myriad skills. We have a story to tell about our group, and we need to be able to articulate the strategy for analysts to understand the business, in order to evaluate the success of the plans we are adopting. 

I maintain good relationships with these analysts, so whenever there are updates on the company – good or bad – they always consult me or my team and we are able to give them better insights into the business. 

In Malaysia, KLCCP Stapled Group is the only company that has a stapled structure, whereas in countries like Australia it is quite common. When we meet investors and analysts, we have to ensure they understand the stapled structure and the mechanisms of it.

As a CFO you have to raise financing and close the books in a timely manner each month, of course. However, soft skills are very important for the role. Convincing external parties about our business journey requires different skills altogether from our technical skills. 

Professional Development: Generating creative and innovative ideas suite: explore the essential attributes of a creative person, understand how to maximise team creativity and learn techniques to verify and build on creative ideas.

As the CFO of a listed company, you have to be able to articulate to stakeholders the strategic direction of the company. In the span of my career, I’ve experienced the good times and the bad times, including the fallout from the Asian financial crisis. 

I have dealt with lawyers, bankers, valuers, contractors and people from various facets of the industry. It’s made me feel quite well-rounded as a professional. 

2. Game changers: "People skills"

During my time at the UEM Group during the late 1990s, Asian countries were facing the region’s financial crisis. We had a lot of foreign borrowings in US dollars and, at the time, we were unable to source sufficient income to service the debt. My role was to negotiate and restructure the loans – and it was one of the toughest challenges I have faced in my career. 

I had to regularly meet every bank – more than 10 banks had given loans to the UEM Group – and update them on the finances of the company and discuss the loans. It was difficult because the lenders were on the verge of calling a default for the company. If that happened, it would have brought down quite a number of key businesses in the group, which were employing thousands of staff. 

Although we were not able to generate revenue, we were lucky to have good assets, including major toll roads. Through new bond issues and restructuring the loans, we paid off some of the debt and were able to avoid a default. Those negotiations took the best part of a year. 

It took some real people skills from our finance team to get the banks to believe our story and to have faith that we were going to execute our plans. 

That gave me and my team a great deal of satisfaction – and I learned a lot during the crisis that I have been able to apply in my current role.

3. My challenges: "More than finances"

As CFO, it’s about more than the finances; the role also requires smart business strategies and marketing. Nowadays, CFOs have to truly understand their businesses so they can successfully give an opinion or lead a strategy.

One of the key challenges I face is monitoring our investments in retail, as they are subject to the vagaries of the economy, both in Malaysia and regionally. Our retail properties are located in the tourism belt within the vicinity of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, a major tourist attraction and the world’s tallest twin structures. 

However, in the event of an economic downturn, the impact on our retail and hotel investment becomes apparent. To increase revenue through such periods, we initiate a lot of marketing promotions and ensure that our retail mix is right. 

It’s important to always have new ideas and strategies to enhance customer experiences and maintain the footfall of the mall. 

Lessons learned and best advice

Encourage teamwork
I need to lead and guide not just my finance team, but also colleagues in other teams across the group. They need to understand how the board and the finance team looks at managing the business. Such teamwork allows the CFO to lead more effectively and steer the company to greater heights.

Think broadly
A CFO must be able to step outside the finance area and understand the key fundamentals affecting the business. If the views of the CFO are well informed, grounded and practical, they will be more easily accepted by others in the group.

Develop talent
In my career I have learned that staff are an integral asset for an organisation. At KLCCP Stapled Group, we take a proactive approach to developing people’s talents. Every month, we divide staff into groups and get them to share what they know on assigned finance topics. Besides sharing knowledge, it helps them improve their presentation and public-speaking skills, which are important for them to grow within the organisation.

Engage with colleagues
To work effectively as a team, we must engage closely with all our colleagues – and that should not always be through formal channels. For example, we are developing new buildings within the KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Centre) precinct. Through group engagement, we can find out what’s happening on the ground and gain some insights that may not be apparent in formal reports.

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September 2017
September 2017

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