The good news is that as the business world’s attention shifts to Asia, some CFOs report having a more receptive audience. “Three or four years ago, it was hard to get senior management to come to India,” says ICI’s Batra. “But now, when India comes up in a board meeting or a management-committee meeting, people will look foolish if they don’t have a first-hand perspective on the country. That makes them want to come here.”
Don Durfee is editor-in-chief of CFO Asia.
With demands on Asian operations escalating, some local CFOs there are brushing up on an old skill: expectations management. David Hui, senior client partner with talent management firm Korn Ferry in Hong Kong, says the ability to be persuasive when speaking with superiors at the home office is one of the defining features of a successful local finance chief. “You have to be able to argue your case,” he says.
That requires regular communication. Most of the CFOs interviewed for this story speak with their boss at headquarters at least once a week. Rebecca Norton, vice president of finance, Asia Pacific, at Business Objects, makes it a point to participate in global conference calls as often as possible, in order to “wave the Asia-Pacific flag.” That’s necessary to ensure that her overseas colleagues understand the conditions under which the Asian business operates, she says.
Be careful, however, of appearing to make excuses. “A possible downfall is that you can start saying that Asia’s different,” says Norton. “And the more you say it, the less people appreciate it.”
One solution is to encourage frequent visits from headquarters. “I’m a passionate advocate of making sure that the head-office people are given every opportunity to be exposed to the issues we face in our market,” says Simon J. MacKinnon, president, Greater China, for Corning, a U.S.-based maker of specialty glass and ceramics. “You have to get them out of the five-star hotels and into the plants and out in front of customers.” — D.D.