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12 CFO interview MADE TO MEASURE Having worked in many Asia-Pacific countries and across many industries, Vic Tan, FCCA and CFO of Ralph Lauren Corporation, Japan, is using his experience to transform financial strategy at the luxury brand. Here, he shares the key attributes that are needed for success I n a 19-year career to date, Vic Tan has worked in more than a dozen Asia-Pacific countries and in half-a-dozen business sectors, but he believes that there are a number of critical skills that are applicable across the board that need to be mastered by any finance professional with ambitions of climbing the corporate ladder. And as chief financial officer of the Ralph Lauren Corporation, Japan, Tan’s insight into what marks out the best in the business from the rest is telling. Sitting in his bright and spacious office in the swish Nagatacho district of Tokyo, where the heavy police presence on the streets outside indicates just how close we are to the prime minister’s official residence and the Japanese parliament, Tan, 43, sits back and ticks off the attributes that are required on the fingers of his left hand. Quickly it becomes clear he needs to re-use his hand more than once. ‘Dealing with ambiguity is the first that comes to mind,’ says Tan, replete in a dark grey, pinstripe suit and tie. ‘From my experience working in advanced and developing countries, I have developed a capability to deal with ambiguity and am able to shift gears comfortably, to effectively cope with change, to comfortably handle risk and uncertainty, and to structure things for my teams to break down and then to create a vision for them to get rid of any ambiguities.’ He moves on to another requirement. ‘Having the perspective as you go up within a company, having a “helicopter AP_F_Tan.indd 12 view” of the whole business and the ability to discuss multiple aspects and impacts of issues – and then project them into the future,’ he says, folding another finger into his palm. ‘You need good problem-solving skills to add value, to look beyond the obvious and not stop at the first answer, to be able to see hidden problems and probe all fruitful sources for answers, and then use rigorous logic and methods to solve difficult problems with effective solutions.’ Another digit folds. ‘You have to learn on the fly, to learn quickly when facing new problems, you ‘I HAVE DEVELOPED A CAPABILITY TO DEAL WITH AMBIGUITY AND AM ABLE TO SHIFT GEARS COMFORTABLY, TO EFFECTIVELY COPE WITH CHANGE’ have to be a relentless and versatile learner, open to change and with the ability to quickly grasp the essence and the underlying structure of anything. ‘And – last but not least – having the drive to achieve results is critical. You need to be counted on to exceed goals successfully, to be very bottom-lineoriented and steadfastly push yourself and others to achieve results.’ He pauses. ‘In my position, you also need to be able to size people up very quickly and be a good judge of talent,’ he adds. ‘When I started with Ralph Lauren in Hong Kong, I had to recruit 45 people in my first four months, all of whom I met personally. But to select those 45 people, I had to meet three times as many candidates, and for each of those interviews I had to look at 10 resumes. ‘I did the interviews and I had already looked at the people’s attributes, but it was also a feeling. These people had to be flexible, they had to be ambitious, demonstrate good commitment, and they had to have perseverance in overcoming obstacles. ‘Most of them were CPAs and with master’s degrees – and believe me, there are a lot of people like that in Hong Kong, where they all seem to have a hunger to succeed,’ he said. ‘So they were all qualified, but some lacked the “X factor” that comes down to personality, the ability to deal with ambiguity and a clear sense of perseverance.’ Tan knew what he was looking for in the 45 people that he did hire, because he has a very exact idea of the people who can make a positive difference to the business. ‘I was 16 when I chose what I wanted to study in university and decided that I wanted to be a CFO,’ says Tan. ‘I was attracted to the possibilities of this profession.’ After completing the mandatory two-and-a-half years of military service in his native Singapore, Tan studied a Bachelor of Business Administration at the National University of Singapore. To add to an already heavy workload, 11/04/2013 15:22

AB China – May 2013

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