For a panel focusing on the professional development of the CFO in the Indonesia, the tone from the star cast was decidedly clear: You’re accountancy qualifications are not enough for what it takes to be a CFO today.
Held at the Hotel Mulia in Jakarta on February 20, the emphasis of this particular panel discussion was on what it takes to survive as a CFO.
All the panelists agreed that an ability to network and lobby key political decision makers was an essential ingredient for the role of CFO. Being able to read an interpret regulations is critical.
“We have a good relationship with economists, government [officials] in order to know the impact and to connect it to our industry, to our company, our financials, and so we can forecast better,” remarked Willy Adiprahana, CFO of ABM Investama.
For Pandu Sjahrir, CFO of Toba Bara Sejajtra, an Indonesian mining company, it’s about going one step further. “We are not only analyzing policy, we are also changing it. You are taking an extending role.”
This diplomatic quality is more in demand in a place like Indonesia where the government still plays a large hand in determining who wins key strategic contracts and has a reputation for throwing out some arbitrary fiscal policies*.
Prawira Atmadja, director of finance and corporate functions at BASF Indonesia, said he has had success working through lobbying bodies such as the International Chamber of Commerce to make changes to policy that he believed were disruptive.
“We sell vitamins that are produced in very few places in the world,” he said. “When the government said we couldn’t import vitamins, we lobbied to make the rule more flexible. It is impossible to produce vitamins locally, there needs to be some economies of scale.”
The background of the panelists also reflected this new world view. No longer is it a shoe-in that every CFO will be an accountant by trade (although many still are).
Sjahrir, who also serves as Vice-CEO of ABN, the largest operating company in Toba, worked as an investment analyst at a private equity firm and was also an investment banker at Lehman Brothers in Hong Kong.
Joel Hess, CFO of Microsoft Indonesia, is an IT programmer by trade and presently sits on the board of a handful of non-profit companies. For him, he networks extensively to meet people who can help him in areas such as treasury where he lacks the experience. “it’s important to meet people who you can share your experiences with,” he said.
Even for Dasrul Chaniago, CFO, GE Indonesia who once served as an auditor with Deloitte, the last 18 years has been spent managing business development projects for large companies across the globe.
For Chaniago, number crunching still matters, but if you cannot come up with ideas that will increase the top line, then you’re in for a hard time at the top of the finance tree. A sentiment echoed by all.
*A January announcement to force miner to process raw materials domestically combined with a 2017 ban on ore exports has caused controversy, to take a live example.)