Why Timothy Williams CPA is an entrepreneur at heart

Timothy Williams CPA, Regional CFO Asia, FCM Travel Solutions. Photo: Luke Marsden.

For Timothy Williams CPA, one of the greatest lessons the travel industry should learn from disruption is the value of thinking outside of the box while reacting and adapting quickly to change.

At a glance

  • Regional CFO Asia, FCM Travel Solutions, Singapore, since January 2019.
  • Multiple senior finance, strategy and risk roles in Singapore, the US, the Middle East, the UK and Australia.
  • Gained CPA qualification in London in 2007.
  • In charge of 59 people across financial planning and analysis, controllership, product, data and analytics, strategic partnerships and mergers and acquisitions.

My role: breaking the mould

I have been told before I shouldn’t have been a CFO – I would make a much better chief commercial officer.

I’ve always been entrepreneurial, and my role at FCM Travel Solutions, especially in this COVID-19 period, has been to break the mould and think differently.

Having that mindset, coupled with my CFO and COO experience, has allowed me to understand the importance of taking charge of the business while continuing to keep an eye out for potential opportunities.

As an industry, what we did in the past is not what we need to do in the future. The foundational aspects of getting someone from point A to point B is the minimum expectation of a client.

What clients need today is all the additional value add. They see value differently, and we must adapt our business model. You may have to look outside of our traditional sphere and partner with industries that will enhance that offering to the client.

I prefer not to use the term “strategic transformation”, because all businesses must evolve to remain competitive. A business that can’t, or won’t, will not be successful for long. In the end, it’s about capital allocation and how we use that to drive the business.

This could be investing in our sales engine, talent pool, M&A, new markets, new products, technology or strategic partnerships. My role is to work with the rest of our leadership group in making those decisions, which not only brings value to our clients, but also, ultimately brings a return to our shareholders.

My challenges: tough decisions

COVID-19 is not the only challenge we have had to face in recent times. Broader political and trade challenges abound. With the sharp curtailment of global travel, we had to act fast to secure and stabilise our business, so that, as things evolved, we would guide ourselves through the current pandemic.

We had to make tough decisions for the business to survive and remain stable. Corporates tend to be very poor at reacting to situations because, when times are good, discipline can sometimes wane.

Those who adapt quicker to economic cycles, or have planned for it, tend to do better. The decisions that we took had been about ensuring that we would be in a position to ride through COVID-19 and out the other end successfully.

Cash flow is the biggest financial challenge. When you see business virtually evaporate overnight, you need to react and model out what you can do to preserve cash.

This has involved tough negotiations with suppliers, when they also are doing it tough. It also means prioritising where you will spend.

The other big challenge is forecasting. Australia is a prime example. Unless you are in New South Wales, you slam the borders shut in the blink of an eye to any state with a case of COVID-19.

Ultimately, you are dealing with daily moving pieces. We have built extensive models to try and adapt to changing scenarios.

CPA Library resource: The agility factor: building adaptable organizations for superior performance. Read now.

Game changers: international exposure

When I was in my early 20s, my manager asked me, “What do you want to do?”. I told her I wanted to be a regional CFO by the time I was 28. She replied, “OK, so how do we make that happen?”.

We talked about what that would look like, but ultimately – and this is a lesson I give to my staff all the time – it’s your life and your career. I got there when I became the regional CFO and COO with Aon in the Middle East.

I am an Aussie and British expat who came from an expat family. I was always going to move to spend a vast majority of my time overseas.

I moved to London when I was 26 and started working for insurance broker Mitsui Sumitomo UK and EMEA. It was the start of the acceleration of my career. London is one of the true global financial services hubs. You will not beat working in what is the heart of the global financial centre.

After London, I moved to the Middle East (Bahrain, Dubai), the US (Chicago) and finally Singapore. Each has brought its own challenges.

Having this exposure allows you to integrate and better understand how to be a regional or global leader. I have been fortunate to end up in an industry that not only fulfils one of my passions, but is also one where I can really drive aggressive growth.

Lessons learned and best advice

  • Be bold, brave and confident: People look to their CFOs to guide decision making and to bring confidence to the overall decision making and strategy.
  • Understand your customer base and what drives their decision making: This helps you to understand what is important to your customer and how your business decisions can align to meet it.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: I don’t mean wear a ski suit in a sauna for an hour or two. Put yourself out there and lead from the front.
  • Keep focused on your long-term goals: The world is full of twists and turns in your personal and professional life. Strong long-term goals will help keep focus.

December/January 2022
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