An Interview with
Founder & CEO
CFO Consultancy (M) Sdn Bhd
After having served three different business conglomerates as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), I took early retirement in Dec 2011 when I reached 50.
In Jan 2012, I set up CFO Consultancy and started helping friends oversee Business Support Functions for their companies. Soon it became full-time work again - the difference was that this time, it was not for a single employer but for multiple clients. And I really enjoyed doing this, the switching across clients and companies, fully using my knowledge and experience to where they really made a difference!
In 2013 and 2014, I worked exclusively for a client in Norway. Upon my return to Malaysia in Nov 2014, I realised that providing consultancy services for a range of clients is what I want to do as opposed to working exclusively for the next client.
Tell us about your background, and what are you most passionate about?
I grew up in Penang and I chose Accountancy for my career because I believe that all stages of the economic cycle require good accounting and financial stewardship.
Unfortunately, I was not accepted by our local universities for Accountancy so in 1982, I moved to Kuala Lumpur to take up Accountancy Studies at TAR College.
Those of us who studied at TAR College also had to sign up for the very challenging professional qualification ACCA. So we spent long hours studying and hard work became a habit, something that has stood us in good stead ever since.
On 9th Aug 2020, The Star Newspaper featured an article on TAR College naming it as alma mater to Malaysia’s Top Accountants.
How has your industry been changing in recent years? What are the biggest challenges you think your industry will face in the next 3-5 years?
In Nov 2014, I re-activated CFO Consultancy and was soon consulting for multiple clients. In Mar 2016, I was headhunted again for another CFO Role and I had to decide if I wanted to go back to corporate life (similar to Norway 2013) OR do I expand my CFO Consultancy business?
Corporate life provided me with stable monthly income, and is my comfort zone of the past whereas in managing my own business; I take the risk of fluctuating income, office overheads, more competition and even being rejected. I decided that I should not let my clients down as they needed my help; hence I continued my consultancy business. The hours are longer than corporate life but the rewards of being able to help others gives me the energy.
Today, CFO Consultancy provides a wide spectrum of services, including outsourced Group Internal Audit services for a client in Europe and performing work on their subsidiaries worldwide (most recently in Mexico). In Sept 2020, our training division signed up a COO to expand that unit. We are inviting more CFOs to join our team to expand our business to more diverse industries – however finding quality personnel is always a challenge.
What personality traits make you such an effective or influential leader? In a few words, how would you describe your leadership philosophy?
During my corporate days, I kept a distance from my subordinates as it makes firing them easier. Since starting CFO Consultancy, my communication style has slowly evolved to becoming more open and friendly as I now deal with fellow senior associates who are experienced professionals.
As I grow older, I also realise that sometimes it is more important to do the right thing than to do the thing right. It is important to challenge directly to achieve the desire results but also do not cut others off just because we think that they are wrong. By listening to the voice of the team before we make a decision will win them over and they buy into the idea because they know that we have taken into consideration their ideas and appreciate their contribution.
How would others define your communication style? Do you prefer to be close to your employees or maintain a healthy distance, and why?
Business and industries are constantly evolving and one of the toughest roles for a CFO is to adapt within these new industries trend. A CFO is not just a number person, but a business partner to the CEO (who more likely are Millennials) and have to understand about the past, present and especially where the business is heading.
The biggest challenge would be keeping up with the changes in technology edge, and technology training for staff would be a high priority within the next two years. As I can foresee, clients will also be asking for tech solutions to traditional accounting problems.
Globalisation, Regulation, Governance & Anti-Corruption will have the greatest impact on the profession in the years to come
Can you describe a time when you had to make a tough decision (e.g. budget cuts, organizational restructuring, market withdrawal, etc.)? What did you do and what was the result?
The essential qualities of a good leader would be :
1. Demonstrate Integrity
2. Communicate Effectively
3. Motivate and Inspire
4. And most importantly, the Leader must Walk The Talk …
What does the future hold for your company after the COVID-19 pandemic? How will the “new normal” look like in the next 1-2 years?
The opportunities are enormous, and future is great – however, forming strategic alliances with others is a challenge for our growth.
Without a famous brand and an international network, CFO Consultancy’s biggest challenge and also for the other SME Firm is that our clientele is limited.
Our strength is that our experienced CFO does all the work from A-Z whereas when clients engage the large consultancy firms, the experienced senior partner spends less than 5% of the total time on their case.
What is your advice to other leaders on how to ‘thrive, not just survive” in the face of economic difficulties and tough business environment?