Vu Phan CPA on embracing new challenges

Hanesbrands' director of finance for the Eastern Hemisphere, Vu Phan CPA. Photo: Todd Brown.

Vu Phan CPA, the head of finance for Hanesbrands Vietnam, has seen plenty of change in the past 10 years. Indeed, he has seen more than his fair share in the past nine months alone.

At a glance

  • Vu Phan CPA is director of finance for Hanesbrands, one of the largest apparel manufacturers in the world.
  • Phan’s role has evolved considerably over the past decade, as has the business environment in which Hanesbrands operates.
  • The past year has brought about more change, but Phan views change as a constant, and he believes in being adaptive and ready to embrace new challenges.

A lot has changed in the business world in the past year, but Vu Phan CPA, Hanesbrands’ director of finance for the Eastern Hemisphere, knows more change is on its way.

Hanesbrands is one of the world’s largest makers of apparel, with brands that include Maidenform, Champion and DBApparel.

Hanesbrands is also the company behind Playtex and the Wonderbra, L’eggs Hosiery and Bonds. Indeed, the chances of you wearing a garment made by the company as you read this are fairly high.

Asia, one of the two major manufacturing hubs for Hanesbrands, has been at the centre of the company’s global reinvention in the past decade. An apparel firm that served only the US market in 2010 has metamorphosed.

Phan says getting to grips with the financing and logistics of so many new lines – which now run into so many new countries – has been a whirlwind. Yet, he says this is nothing compared to what the company managed to achieve in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In just three months, the company transformed from the world’s biggest apparel maker into one of the world’s most prolific manufacturers of medical masks and gowns.

“We were involved in all of that COVID-19-related wear,” says Phan. “It meant a lot of new oversight, not just from the finance team, but also from the company worldwide. As a team, it was not about finance or manufacturing – we all just had to make it happen and make it happen fast.”

Phan is not one for self-congratulation, but he does give credit where it is due. “I am very proud of what we have been able to do,” he says, somewhat modestly.

Natural evolution

Phan, whose financial remit encompasses Indonesia, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam, says his role has expanded and diversified in a way he could never have foreseen when he became the financial controller of the company’s Vietnamese manufacturing operations in 2010.

His swift advancement has since taken him to Bangkok, which was chosen as the headquarters for tax, infrastructure and logistics reasons.

His job has evolved from covering the finance of two manufacturing plants to providing guidance on operational finance and management accounting, including financial, administrative and fiduciary matters, to the company’s plants and offices in five countries, where he oversees the work of more than 100 accounting and finance staff.

“Nobody can precisely predict the future, but as a team, we keep on learning and strengthening ourselves. We all believe that we’re ready, moving forward by staying nimble, challenging ourselves and being adaptive to change.”

Phan is now directly involved in strategy and planning, budgeting and forecasting, business analysis, performance improvement projects, financial and external reporting, management reporting, treasury, internal audit, process controls and compliance, and tax accounting and compliance.

Ten years ago, it was all about serving the US market, but since then the role has evolved enormously.

“Pure financial work turned into strategy setting, in which finance became part of the leadership team at headquarters.

“I found myself involved in the company’s goals and strategy, driving initiatives and embedding the new parts of the company – the companies we had acquired – into the larger whole.”

Riding the changes

Unlike most apparel companies, Hanesbrands owns the majority of its worldwide manufacturing facilities, producing approximately 80 per cent of the apparel it sells.

“Australia’s Pacific Brands, for example, had only one manufacturing plant in Indonesia – but the demand for the products was huge. So, we had to internalise them into our network and bring the entire volume into Vietnam.”

With the new acquisitions came new functions, and Phan says the company has since evolved its finance and accounting department to cope with those changes. Financial accounting functions on all accounts payable and accounts receivables, as well as external reporting, treasury and taxation, are now centralised.

Phan says that, while they don’t come under his direct remit, he cannot be totally divorced from areas such as quality, delivery, lead time and price.

“We have to run a great deal of costs and benefits modelling – making sure everything makes sense financially. “We, as a team, look at performance, KPIs and try and challenge ourselves as to why we keep adding volume to one particular company, while taking away volume from others. It can get complicated.”

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Seeing the bigger picture

Phan was born in Vinh City, in Nghe An province of Vietnam. His father taught economics at university, before moving into an industry leadership role, and Phan was more than happy to follow in his father’s footsteps.

While many young men may have looked up to athletes or movie stars, Phan admired GE’s legendary CEO Jack Welch, who was striding the global stage in the 1980s and 1990s.

Phan started his career with food and beverage ingredient manufacturer Tate & Lyle, and then his dream job – working for GE Power in Hai Phong City, about two hours east of Hanoi.

He stayed there only two years, as the role meant a lot of time away from his family. It was upon his return to Hanoi that Phan got the job in finance for Hanesbrands’ Hung Yen manufacturing plant.

As his job grew and evolved, Phan knew it was time to obtain his CPA designation. The role demanded it, he says – he felt he needed the credibility and expertise that the designation would afford him.

Phan says that, for him, being a CPA is also a mindset. It’s about seeing the bigger picture of a company – and the areas he can cross into that do not traditionally involve pure finance and accounting.

He cherishes the designation, because it helped him understand the business he was in and allowed him to contribute more than he could before.

“What’s most important is how I can help my team to see the value of aspiring to something like a CPA. You want them to aspire to the same thing, and you want them to see the value of it.”

Road ahead

Phan is not sure what the next curveball will be, but whatever it is, he and his team are ready. After all, the needs and tastes of Hanesbrands’ customers will never stop changing.

“Nobody can precisely predict the future, but as a team, we keep on learning and strengthening ourselves. We all believe that we’re ready, moving forward by staying nimble, challenging ourselves and being adaptive to change.”

December/January 2022
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