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CFO Interview Questions for Kemmy Koh

  • By Ira Apfel
  • Published: 9/25/2018

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Being chief financial officer is challenging enough. But Kemmy Koh, Group CFO of Chinese Global Investors Group, also is founder and managing director of Kglow SkinLab. Koh spoke to AFP for the latest edition of CFO Interview Questions.

AFP: What are your current job responsibilities?
Kemmy Koh: I am Group Chief Financial Officer at Chinese Global Investors Group, an investment holding company listed on the Singapore Exchange Securities. As a member of the executive management team and the risk management committee, I am largely responsible for the strategic financial management of the group, including corporate affairs and investor relations. I am responsible for developing business strategies, as well as pursuing and evaluating business opportunities in Asia. This includes acquiring, structuring, due diligence and the documentation processes of new businesses as well as evaluation of development of business. In addition, I take charge of the overall planning, directing and controlling of the financial activities of the group, constituting 20 subsidiaries, including business operations, and merger and acquisition in the South East Asia sector. 

I am also the founder and managing director of Kglow Prestige Group operating Kglow SkinLab and Kglow Diamonds. Kglow SkinLab is a boutique anti-aging skin care and body aesthetics wellness clinic dedicated to offering the best science-based personalized treatments while Kglow Diamonds is a bespoke jeweler and designer for gemologist certified conflict free lab grown diamonds. 

This includes:
- Planning, implementation, managing and running of all the finance activities of the group, including budgeting, forecasting and negotiations 
- Providing leadership, direction and management of the finance accounting team
- Providing strategic recommendations to the chairman, board and members of the executive management team
- Managing the processes for financial forecasting and budgets, and overseeing the preparation of all financial reporting
- Advising on long-term business and financial planning
- Establishing and developing relations with senior management and external partners and stakeholders
- Reviewing all formal finance, HR and IT related procedures.

AFP: What is your biggest challenge right now?
Kemmy Koh: As the traditional role of finance has evolved because of new technologies, we are now looking into a cloud-based solution to help automate processes and overhaul business models and operations. We are also exploring using integrated data and analytics to help us identify opportunities for profitable growth which sorting the adoption of digital technologies to help us make better decisions. Another challenge is driving growth strategy from mergers and acquisitions to geographic expansion and organic growth over the next 12 months. And, despite the return of economic growth, controlling cost is also a constant challenge. 

AFP: What do you like about your role?
Kemmy Koh: I love being a finance leader. I am involved in every project, every strategy session and every critical decision the company make. It gives me great job satisfaction that significantly outweighs the hours, the stress and the hard work. They are all part of my life, but the payoff is having an impact on the accountability and responsibility for the company.

I enjoy seeing the financial aspect of things, I like knowing how well the company is doing financially. Providing feedback and offering insights to process improvements. Being a CFO allows me to see the technical side of accounting as well as the operational side of business. Being a valued resource gatekeeper, I get to not just interact with the CEO and the board but with other stakeholders of the company. 

AFP: How did you start your career?
Kemmy Koh: I started my career journey as an external auditor before progressing into commercial accountant. It was a decision to venture into the capital market that led me to change my focus to exploring a fund accountant position with a private equity firm. It was at that time that the PE firm which I was interviewing for was on the search for a financial controller for one of its pre-IPO companies. By a turn of events, I got the financial controller position instead. It was my very first listed company role and I was thrown in the deep end immediately handling pre-IPO, listing and post-IPO and eventually de-listing of the company. It was a steep learning curve, but it came with great exposure. I was based in China for a few years before deciding to return to Singapore to take on my current position. 

AFP: What is your next big career goal?
Kemmy Koh: I have been in the C-suite for more than 10 years and having the exposure to roles such as internal audit, corporate finance, management accounting, company set up and implementation of software, there is a strong desire to pursue my own vision and agenda having delivered the agenda of others for so many years. My experience as a finance professional has set the stage for me to incubate my own aesthetics wellness business—Kglow SkinLab. I wanted and needed a new challenge and I felt I had enough under my belt to make a bigger impact out of the corporate landscape. I am fortunate to have a very good team of therapists to assist me in the running and operations of the business while I am juggling my CFO role and business-owner role at the same time. My future plans would be to expand my aesthetics business overseas and scale up within the next three years. 

AFP: What was the most important lesson you have learned in your career?
Kemmy Koh: Finance is a powerful function. Business decisions often hinge on our financial acumen and analytical skills. However, in today’s challenging landscape, the ability to influence, collaborate and communicate effectively with others is just as important. My journey as CFO has taught me the importance of emotional intelligence to help me be bolder in my decision-making as it gives me the framework to understanding the consequences of decisions and how they might impact people, and for incorporating that understanding into decision making itself. 

The second lesson is self-awareness—understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses and acting on that knowledge. CFOs are defined by the teams they build. I build my team with the skillsets that supplement my abilities. I then rely on their abilities, delegate responsibility and allow them to do it their way as by delegating, it makes them more effective as they respond by working hard to live up to the responsibilities entrusted to them. 

Lastly, my career has forced me to develop my business acumen and a greater understanding and appreciation of business and how business works. Finance to me is no longer just reporting historical facts but setting the direction of the business. 

AFP: What is your favorite book or publication that you recommend?
Kemmy Koh: Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, on how to get more women into business leadership roles.

AFP: What is your favorite quote?  
Kemmy Koh: An idea is only one thing; execution is everything.

AFP: How has your forecasting and planning process changed in recent years?
Kemmy Koh: We are now leveraging real-time information that underpins decision making through concise reports and easy to understand visualization. This includes the ability to instantly model what ifs as well as scenarios based on risk awareness. 

AFP: How do you manage through volatility?
Kemmy Koh: In a changing world it is not the fittest who will survive; it is the most adaptable. Hence, we must build in resilience. With this mindset, I adopted a resilience strategy in volatile times: defend, diversify, decentralize and define. We have a team trained to respond in times of crisis on top of having insurance against any form of catastrophe. 

In addition, diversification is something the company looks at every day. We started as a waterproofing business and have since diversified into funds and investments. Our operations, infrastructure and solutions are all kept in different location to enable us to cope with unforeseeable disruption. Lastly, we define our strategy to ensure every team members’ goals are aligned with what we have.

AFP: As the CFO, you are responsible for financial controls and capital integrity, but companies today are focused on a “bias for action” and “moving fast to break things.” How do you balance these opposing forces?
Kemmy Koh: Do not get lost in translation—meaning, translate the numbers but do not tell people what happened. Tell them about the trends, what the impact of those trends is and how they can be used to grow the business or manage risk. As CFOs we influence people in everything we do, we need to think about being consistent and reliable.

AFP: What source of data is your finance team under-utilizing?
Kemmy Koh: My team is currently using accounting software whereby too many hours are spent pulling together the monthly financials. We are looking at alternative enterprise resource planning systems that will meet our needs. 

AFP: How are you training and “upskilling” your team?
Kemmy Koh: I believe intelligent technologies will lead to a better and more productive future. As these changes unfold, we must take a people centric approach to supporting the team, which includes re-skilling and helping them adapt to newly shaped roles because of Artificial Intelligence. 

AFP: What do you think will be required to become a CFO in five years?
Kemmy Koh: CFO roles have rapidly evolved with the rise of automation as well as the complexity of globalized capital and markets, regulatory and business drivers. Financial function used to be charged with protecting enterprise assets by maintaining accurate books and guarding against financial risk. That role has expanded to include providing insight and direction for decision-making across the company’s functional and market-facing areas, as well as increasing support in strategic and operational decision making in business in addition to fulfilling traditional stewardship responsibilities relating to governance compliance and control and business ethics. In summary, future CFOs will have to spend more time on strategic leadership, organizational transformation, performance management and big data and technology trends.

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