At first glance, Jeffrey C. Lim seems to be the stereotypical Asian CFO: low key, modest, a silent worker who shuns the limelight.
But being the chief finance officer (CFO) and executive vice president of SM Prime Holdings, Inc., the country’s largest mall developer and operator, Lim has been known to scale new heights and conquer new territories that helped propel the company to its current stature. In a sense, he has acquired the ability to transform at will and carry out groundbreaking initiatives without calling attention to his role, which makes him a good CFO and a CEO’s partner.
His boss, SM Prime President Hans Sy, could attest to this. He thinks that Lim’s being named the 2012 awardee of the annual search for the ING FINEX CFO of the Year has been overdue. “I look at him not only as a CFO, (but also) as a partner. Every time we have a project, we would sit down together and we would look at the financials of the project and that has helped me make all the decisions,” Sy said.
The 51-year-old Executive Vice President and CFO of SM Prime now joins an elite circle of CFOs that counts Delfin Gonzalez, Jr., who won when he was CFO of Globe Telecom in 2007; Sherisa Nuesa, who got the award when she was CFO of Manila Water Company in 2008; Jose Sio of SM Investments Corporation in 2009; Ysmael Baysa of Jollibee Foods Corporation in 2010; and Jaime Ysmael of Ayala Land in 2011.
Lim admits that landing the prestigious title was like another vertiginous climb throughout his 31-year career as a financial executive since starting as an auditor at SGV & Company in 1981.
“I will not want to go through it again,” he says of the screening and evaluation process of the ING FINEX CFO of the Year search, which is now on its sixth year. “It’s very thorough and secretive; I didn’t even know who the other nominees are. I didn’t really expect to win. When I got nominated, I actually didn’t let a lot of people know about it because I thought if I lose, it will not be difficult because there are only a few people who knows about it.”
Being silent but efficient got Lim to where he is now. A graduate of the University of the East with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Major in Accounting, and a certified public accountant, Lim served as SGV auditor for seven years before joining Unisys (Philippines), Ltd., the local unit of the multinational IT company. After nearly three years in Hong Kong as regional manager of Unisys’ financial planning group, he was invited by a long-time colleague at SGV to come back to the Philippines and become vice president for finance of SM Prime. The company was then just starting to flex its financial muscles and preparing for an initial public offering.
“I have known him for almost 20 years now since we worked together in SGV. He contributed a lot in the development of SM Prime, not only in the Philippines, but also in developing the malls in China,” said Jose Sio, executive vice president and CFO of SM Investments Corporation, also an ING FINEX CFO of the Year awardee.
From having just four malls in 1994 when Lim joined the company, SM Prime now operates 50 malls, including four in China and one, which will be the biggest, due to open in 2014. In this conquest, his global exposure came in handy.
He worked so hard in developing the malls in China because we are in a new territory, we don’t know the tax laws there, the accounting rules, and all the investment regulations. Jeffrey, as CFO, was able to handle these issues efficiently and until now they are expanding in China,” Sio said.
SM Prime’s four malls in China now account for 10 percent of company revenues. In 2011, net income grew by more than 100 percent to P889 million from 2010. Strategic partnerships with global retailers such as Walmart to serve as anchor tenants in its malls in China significantly drew visitors to SM Malls.
Lim is also credited for making SM Prime one of the most active and closely tracked players in the market. By establishing its presence in both domestic and foreign capital markets, the company was able to raise a total of P49 billion and US$615 million in capital at lower-than-sovereign debt rates since he became its CFO. He also played a key role in the initial public offering of SM Investments Corporation, parent company of SM Prime, which raised P26.25 billion, making it the largest IPO in 2005.
Regional publication Finance Asia recognized these achievements and named Lim a second runner-up in its annual CFO of the Year search in 2011.
While being the company CFO confines him to numbers in performing his multiple roles in financial planning, treasury, business development, risk management and investor relations, Lim has always been known as a “people person.”
Diana R. Dionisio, SM Prime vice president for finance and in-charge of the projects in China, attributes her 10-year loyalty with the company to Lim. “I couldn’t have stayed this long with the company if it weren’t for Jeffrey,” she stresses. “This kind of culture extends even to China where loyalty is not a common trait for people there because of the vast opportunities and the need for talent in the industry.”
Coming from a brood of seven and raised in Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga before setting foot in the city may have armed Lim with the survival instinct that he has adeptly used in the corporate finance world, as well as the “X factor” that conquers the hearts and minds of people in his organization. His people skills inspire a sense of loyalty, hard work, and teamwork that make his employees shy away from more lucrative job offers, Ms. Dionisio adds.
For his staff, Lim may have made a lot of conquests, but none as lasting as the one he has imprinted on them.
“For me, he’s like a kite flyer. He’s still in control of the string, steering it lightly with one hand, allowing us to fly back and forth to the window, allowing us to achieve our fullest potentials. But you know that he’s still there and if he sees that you’re losing control… he won’t hesitate to pull the string or tug it just to put you back in the right direction,” said Teresa Cecilia Reyes, vice president for finance of SM Prime.
To be this year’s ING FINEX CFO of the Year may be one big career conquest for Lim, but for his colleagues at SM Prime, it is that and much more.
“It is a source of pride to be working with someone who is now being widely acknowledged as the country’s best CFO,” said Christopher Bautista, SM Prime’s vice president for internal audit and a long-time colleague.
The award not only raises the bar for finance professionals to aspire for. For CFOs like Lim who work behind the scenes to get things done, the mercurial growth of the company, its people, and its contributions to the Philippine economy, are the true rewards.
The 2011 ING FINEX CFO of the Year Award recognized another ‘Super CFO’ in the person of Jaime Ysmael, the Chief Finance Officer (CFO) of Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI).
The 51-year-old CFO of the country’s largest real estate developer now joins an elite circle of CFOs that counts Delfin Gonzalez, Jr., who won in 2007 when he was CFO of Globe Telecom; Sherisa Nuesa, who got the award in 2008 when she was CFO of Manila Water Company; Jose Sio of SM Investments Corporation in 2009; and Ysmael Baysa of Jollibee Foods Corporation in 2010.
This is the fifth year that Dutch financial giant ING Bank’s Manila branch and the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) have been honoring heroes of the boardroom.
The Award recognizes “super CFOs” for their excellence, strong leadership and stewardship that have helped steer their organizations toward financial stability, benefitting not just their stakeholders, but also the Philippine economy.
The award also raises the bar for those who go beyond the numbers. “More than the business acumen, regulatory and communication excellence, and financial expertise, we are looking for CFOs who make a difference, both in their professional as well as personal capacities,” said Consuelo Garcia, country manager of Dutch financial giant ING Bank in Manila, which has been sponsoring the award since it partnered with the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX) in 2007.
This criterion makes the search for the ING FINEX CFO of the Year tougher every year, Ms. Garcia added. “While we have many exceptional CFOs, we’re always looking for someone who has that ‘X’ factor to make things happen, not just within their corporate walls, but in society. This year, we are fortunate to have found these qualities in Ayala Land CFO Jaime Ysmael.”
During the awarding ceremony held at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula Manila on November 16, 2011, Mr. Ysmael urged his fellow finance professionals to live up to the new expectations and new roles of today’s CFOs “and at the same time search for that higher purpose that allows us to share our many blessings and give back to society in whatever shape or form. This way we can be effective stewards, not just of our own companies, but for society as a whole for the good of future generations.”
The road to being ‘Super CFO’ was long and hard for Mr. Ysmael, who came from a public school and lived on stipends from scholarships to finish college. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of the East with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Major in Accounting. As a CPA board placer, he caught the eye of SyCip, Gorres, Velayo & Co. (SGV), the country’s biggest auditing firm, which eventually sent him on a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania where he earned two degrees: an MBA degree (Major in Finance) from The Wharton School, and a Master of Arts degree in International Studies (Concentration in Latin America) at the School of Arts and Sciences of the University of Pennsylvania, as a Fellow of the Joseph H. Lauder Institute of Management and International Studies.
As CFO of ALI, which has over P200 billion in market capitalization and more than 100 subsidiaries and affiliates, he has gone beyond the traditional finance function and now handles other areas such as risk management, project control, business information systems and even supply chain management. He also serves concurrent operating and advisory posts in ALI, which include being the compliance officer, chairman of the board of the accounting shared service subsidiary which he formed, member and chairman of various management sub-committees, and member of the board of directors of various subsidiaries and affiliates.
This year’s Board of Judges was comprised of distinguished individuals in the academe and business circles: University of the Philippines President Alfredo E. Pascual, who chaired the panel; Atty. Teresita J. Herbosa, Chairperson of the Securities and Exchange Commission; Hans B. Sicat, President and CEO of the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE); Dr. Renato Paras, a multi-awarded accountant who has been elevated to the Accountancy Hall of Fame; Atty. Richard Ferrer, an accomplished lawyer and management man who has served top posts in the private sector and the government; and Ms. Garcia of ING Bank.
In photo at the signing of the memorandum of agreement: from left are: Loretta Mangilit, Overall Chairman CFO of the Year Awards Committee; Consuelo Garcia, Managing Director and Country Head, ING Bank N.V. (Manila), Dr. Brian Gozun, Dean, DLSU College of Business – Graduate Studies; Gregorio Navarro, Finex President; Dr. Leila Kabigting, Chairperson, DLSU Financial Management. The ceremony was held at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula Manila last June 16, 2010 and coincided with the beginning of the celebration of the 100 years of La Sallian presence in the Philippines come June, 2011.
The CFO is the keeper of the corporate flame, in the best of times, in the worst of times.
The award is given first as recognition for very high standards of individual achievement and secondly so that aspiring finance executives can strive for excellence in this important profession. This rationale was spoken by Malcolm Brown, the Senior managing Director and Head of Corporate Clients –Asia of ING China and Hongkong during the first CFO of the Year Awards Ceremony.
The result of a year-long search for the year's exemplary CFO. It is also the product of the evergreen partnership between ING Bank N.V. (Manila Branch), an acknowledged world leader in banking, insurance and investment management services, and FINEX, the prime professional organization for finance and financial services executives in Philippine business, government academe and professional services.
It is an award rendered by one's peers in the industry. FINEX counts amount its members the country's top CEOs. The criteria for selection are fundamentally based on the IAFEI CFO Study (German and Philippine editions), in particular the skills, ethics, and standards of a world-class CFO.
The Search is open to all companies, local and foreign owned,
privately held or publicly listed, operating in the Philippines
and registered under the country's laws. FINEX members in
good standing are eligible to submit nominations. However,
relevant officers and/or Directors of the Sponsors and the
Co-Presentersare not eligible to join the Search.
From the FINEX Secretariat or downloaded from the FINEX website. They can also be obtained during monthly GMMs. All nominations shall be based on events that took place during the financial year-end 2010 (calendar or fiscal) including compliance with BIR and SEC filings on April 15, 2011.
He is the key officer responsible for steering a highly integrated, effective and efficient Finance Control Unit that provides the company quality services in financial information management business planning and analysis, accounting, cash management (treasury), regulatory compliance, and internal control procedures aimed at contributing to the achievement of the company's strategic objectives.
He or she reports directly to the CEO.
Values of integrity, leadership, effective stewardship based on the highest standards of business and professional ethics and specific instances of wealth creation and finance and financial services that are worthy of recognition by his peers.
To be eligible to enter the Search, the nomination process is:
The Board of Judges is convened upon invitation by ING and FINEX. Each one of the four Co-Presenters shall nominate one Judge, who enjoys high recognition and esteem of his peers in the Philippines and/or international economy.
Among the members of the Board of Judges, a Chairman will be elected.
It was on November 29 2007, the first CFO awards ceremony. The preparations had been belabored on diligently for at least a year. The invitations had long been sent out, the stage, the venue, and the sumptuous dinner were already set but a rebellion led by Senator Trillanes and Brigadier Gen. Danilo Lim broke by 11AM at the Peninsula Hotel Manila.
Hotel guests made their exit by the employees' gate. All functions in the hotel were cancelled, including a dinner wedding reception which had to be rebooked to another hotel.
Due to the stand-off and the potential violence that it may cause, the first CFO of the Year Awarding Ceremony booked at the Shangri-la Hotel Makati was cancelled by mid-afternoon.
Billows of smoke from tear gas filled the second floor of the Manila Peninsula, as the rebels did not heed the warning of surrender. The military then used an army personnel carrier which forcibly entered the hotel's main lobby doors and positioned itself ready for an attack at the hotel's main lobby. It was only then that Senator Trillanes surrendered to the authorities at 6:00 in the evening of the same day.
After the surrender, the esteemed CFO Awardee gave the go-signal for the awards ceremony to push through that evening. Family, friends, and guests of the awardee and Finex members hurdled through several military checkpoints on the way to Makati City.
Then President Arroyo declared Metro Manila under a state of emergency, a midnight curfew was imposed.
In the following excerpt from his speech during the 1st ING-FINEX CFO of the Year Awards Night, Malcolm Brown, Senior Managing Director/Head of Corporate Clients-Asia, ING China and Hongkong described the various roles that the 21st century CFO has to play, based on Jeremy Hope's book, Reinventing the CFO.
Finance and accounting people are trained to handle huge loads of data and information that people perceive to be absolutely necessary for internal controls and business information ---. As " freedom fighter ", the CFO is tasked to rescue the company from unnecessary information overload, to lead the way for simplication, and to provide the CEO and business heads with concise, timely reports that can be digested and analysed without consuming inordinate management time.
While the budgeting and planning session is necessary for annual business plans, the CFO needs to be able to guide business CEOs in the context of changing scenarios, watching out for trends that should lead to changes in forecasts and business strategies. The CFO should also be able to spot opportunities and threats in the environment such as those in regulatory, tax, and accounting fields. By being proactive rather than reactive, the CFO can provide invaluable inputs to the different business groups within the company.
More and more, companies today look at their CFOs as also being the Chief Risk officer. This goes beyond the establishment and implementation of internal controls but extends to the CFO having the authority and scope to be involved in determining the company's risk profile. [ Examples of these are weak ethical standards, and unrealistic short term revenue or profit targets or perhaps overambitious synergy projections from an acquisition. Each of these could lead to overly aggressive business strategies which can compromise reputation and long term profitability ].
… Today's CFO needs to possess a working knowledge on new ideas, products, and services that address both sides of his balance sheet. The new CFO will not hesitate to question the merits of a product and cross check with other bankers for alternative products that might serve his purpose. Through relationship banking, he learns that an effective and meaningful relationship can only be achieved within a circle of trusted financial providers, in the different areas of treasury and structured products, capital markets, and mergers and acquisitions.
… Where decision making is entrenched in a very dominant CEO or through a closely knit family board, a true mark of a good CFO is his ability to present his independent views, in a very professional manner. According to David Johnson, CFO of the Hartford Financial Services Group, " The CEO connection is the single most important thing a CFO must understand and maintain." From a governance and accountability point of view, current and emerging trends are forcing this bond to be indispensable.
From the Financial Executive, a publication of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines.
ING Bank N. V. ( Manila Branch ) is a foreign bank with an expanded commercial bank license. It was set up in the Philippines in 1990 as a full banking branch of the ING Group B.V., a huge global financial services company with headquarters in the Netherlands and operating in more than 50 countries in the world. ING is involved in banking, asset management and insurance. In the Philippines, ING was voted Best Fixed Income House by the foreign bank in terms of total assets under management and 4th overall in the industry.
FINEX, with over 700 members, is the premier professional organization of CFOs and finance practitioners in the Philippines. Founded in 1968, FINEX is at the forefront of wealth creation in the new global environment of the 21st century.
Analyn V. Viloria
Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX)
Unit 1901 19/F 139 Corporate Center,
Valero St., Salcedo Village,
Tel. (632) 811-4188/4052
Fax. (632) 811-4185
Visit us: www.finex.org.ph