In 2020, AFP announced the formation of its APAC FP&A Advisory Council (FPAAC). The networking and advisory group meets three to four times a year to discuss best practices, common challenges and innovative initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region. We’ll be profiling individual members of the council every month. This month we spoke with Xin Gan, China finance controller for Valeo Service China.
AFP: Tell us about you — who you are, where you are, just to get to know you a little bit.
Xin: I have been working in Finance controlling for over 10 years now. It was a self-discovery journey to find my passion. At first in China, I first studied French and English literature in college, then moved to Paris to study international business at Université Paris Dauphine. This experience helped me to see the business world as a global opportunity and helped build my vision for the future.
After Paris, I came back to China and worked for two years in consumer finance for COFIDIS, which also gave me experience with market development and project financial management.
In 2010, I joined the French group, Saint-Gobain Investment Company somewhat by chance—they were looking for someone with project management experience to work on mergers and acquisitions. It was a great opportunity for me to get into finance with a focus on project management, and that’s really where my career in finance started.
After four years in mergers and acquisitions, helping with external and internal projects across China and the Asia-Pacific region, I moved to the business unit to work on Asia specific topics such as credit management and internal control. Working on-site with financial controllers in Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan and Thailand provided me with a global perspective.
From there, I transferred to the position of Asia finance controller for our SBU business in Solar Gard. I spent two years in this position, and nearly eight years building the finance portion of my career. At this point, I knew I needed to broaden the scope of my finance and leadership skills development, especially because I wanted to help drive better business decisions with management; I found that opportunity at Valeo Service, an automotive supplier, as the China finance controller.
Now, I have the opportunity to lead a team of five people in information systems, finance and accounting. It’s an interesting opportunity that allows me to expand my scope in terms of management and finance. Together with our team, I navigated the organization for four years throughout business turbulence, Covid-19 and now inflation.
AFP: What have you learned from FP&A that has helped you in all these other parts of finance?
Xin: The day that I really realized the real importance of FP&A is when I was analyzing data for a complex product portfolio. I saw the impact it had across different products and for different customers, and that’s when I got it — that you cannot just integrate your business from the superficial or from the first layer of the business. You need a deeper understanding and systematic thinking on the business relationship across different products.
For example, what would the cannibalization risk be across your customer channel? And what impact would a change to your pricing policy have? We had this rich portfolio in an uncertain business context and had to think about how to do better data analysis and visualization, to tell a better and more relevant story for business decision. This is something I have been trying to learn and exploit. I'm on the journey for communication with impact.
AFP: On your LinkedIn profile, underneath your name, you have a phrase: "Finance leader turning purpose into performance." What does that mean?
Xin: The business world is so complicated that you need to have your North Star; you need to fix your target and know your values. When we talk about finance, we need to talk about integrity, principles and ethics. All these values match my personal expectation to be a principled and strategic leader. What values, mission or purpose do I want to communicate to my teammates and colleagues that a finance professional should represent? This is the starting point from which I deliver performance and create value
AFP: You mentioned that you lead a team, how would you describe your management style?
Xin: I've been working on a style that I learned as distributed leadership. I don't want to impose my leadership. I want to share, and I want to learn from them as well, while helping them grow. This means giving them opportunities and coaching their success.
AFP: How about in your interactions with others outside of your team? How would you describe that interactive relationship or partnership?
Xin: With the non-finance team, I have a dual role. One role is that of partner, providing recommendations and guidance to help them deliver on the company objectives. The other role is that of challenger. You have to be able to challenge issues or people, with respect, to work on root causes, state your arguments and be firm in your position. As partner, you give rational comments; as challenger, you should be firm about your proposals and steadfast in your positions.
[To do this,] you need to be sure about your values, and they need to be in line with the company's fundamental values and objectives. If you don't have this high benchmark set for yourself, then you will not be able to challenge for performance and ask people to follow your lead. Once you set up your own benchmark, then you are in a better position to communicate, lead by example, and deliver the results.
AFP: How did you connect with AFP?
Xin: I knew that I needed to develop my skills in FP&A, and I saw that AFP has a very specific focus on FP&A that does not exist in other areas, which is fundamental for today's finance perspective. It took me six months to persuade my team to try the FPAC, the Certified Corporate FP&A Professional, because the growing importance of these FP&A insights. Indeed, AFP offers something valuable that could be good for their future and their daily jobs. Finally, they decided to go for the learning journey of FPAC certificate and are studying for it now! Good luck for them!
Read more profiles of APAC FP&A Advisory Council members here.