Hillary Chua: A Proven High Ranked Financial Manager With Over Two Decades Of Experience & Accomplishments

Hillary Chua: A Proven High Ranked Financial Manager With Over Two Decades Of Experience & Accomplishments

Hillary Chua, Chief Financial Officer

Hillary Chua

Chief Financial Officer

Profitability issues and the accompanying financial strain were front and center in the economy during the COVID-19 crisis. In response to the widespread of the coronavirus, borders were closed and hundreds of businesses were forced to temporarily shut down. The disruption to their supply chain meant that customers and businesses had less disposable income and business budget, therefore making fewer impulsive purchases and nice-to-have business spending. Given the unpredictability of the crisis's severity and length, the finance chief had to prioritize increasing the company's profitability and cash on hand. The Chief Financial Officers had to devise a strategy for internal and external communications, as well as conduct a liquidity and profitability analysis of the firm and set up a "financial operations zone". CFOs, along with other executives, played a crucial role in keeping the ship steady through these times of upheaval, setting the company up for success when the economy recovered. In light of this, Hillary Chua, who serves as the Chief Financial Officer at UEM Edgenta, is an exemplary representative of this phenomenon.

Hillary began her professional career in auditing and business assurance at PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1999. Then, she worked at American Express and Citibank, where she honed her skills in control and process implementation, strategic planning, and financial analytics. Her subsequent years were spent working in the Telecommunications and Information Technology sectors. While at Maxis and thereafter Axiata, Hillary worked on enhancing corporate profitability via strategic financial management, planning and business strategy. Furthermore, Hillary's primary areas of expertise as CFO include mergers and acquisitions, fundraising, financial management, and business transformation. Since she has experience in a variety of business environments, including startups, public listed firms, and multinational multi-billion-dollar organizations in Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia, she is a valuable asset to any company.

Below is an excerpt of Hillary Chua's exclusive interaction with the CEO Insights ASIA magazine.

How has been your journey so far with UEM Edgenta and what drives you today?

I joined UEM Edgenta as Chief Financial Officer at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. This means that my journey so far has been nothing short of challenging. There were several challenges that the company had to overcome, including rising costs, disruptions in the worldwide supply chain, and operational issues. We were forced to transform our business and improve our operational efficiency; without compromising the service quality to our customers.

After two long years of battling through the pandemic, the company has learned to operatein the 'New Normal', and as a result, we are stronger fundamentally and are more robust and resilient to any form of external shocks in the future. In addition, we are shifting the focus of the company towards sustainable growth, pivoting on digitalizing our core business and expanding into new markets.

You possess more than two decades of experience, how has your path to success and what is your success mantra?

My secret to success is straightforward: "Be highly passionate and love what you do". Without a doubt, the path to success will be littered with obstacles and challenges. You need to love what you do, stay focus and persevere, no matter how difficult the situation is and how many times you fail. Passion is where you will stay dedicated and committed in delivering uncompromising high-quality output at all times.   

In my perspective, a CFO's role in a corporation is multifaceted, requiring them to serve as a strategic partner to the CEO and the business while simultaneously keeping an eye on the risks and opportunities behind the numbers. Strong leadership abilities, effective communication, and a supportive team allowed me to climb the ranks of the CFO. To be a great leader, you need to be able to see potential in your team members and inspire them to reach their full potential. This is how we will be able to work together to not only overcome challenges but also to creatively achieve outcomes that will contribute to the Company's profitability and growth.

How would you define UEM Edgenta as an organization and its current position in the market? What is the unique proposition that your organization offers to clients?

When it comes to Asset Management and Infrastructure Solutions, UEM Edgenta is unrivaled in its area. Together with our customers, we create innovative solutions that capitalize on our expertise in asset life cycle management.

'Edgenta of the Future 2025' is our company's vision for the future, and it highlights our commitment to expanding our presence in the healthcare support and asset life-cycle management through the use of technology and digitization. By incorporating new technologies and re-imagining our asset management business solution that offers cutting-edge services like Smart Integrated Facility Management and solutions that enhance the smart cities concept, we are undergoing a 'Tech-based transformation'.

As a CFO, how do you determine the profitability of the investment of the company?

Investments will be based on a variety of well-established profitability criteria, but whether we aim for short-term or long-term gains for shareholders ultimately relies on the company's strategic direction. The pursuit of short-term profits is within my purview as CFO, but it may not be in the best interest of the company or its shareholders in the long run.

In my opinion, profitability of an investment should be measured by its capacity to generate long-term wealth for its shareholders, which is directly tied to the performance of its investments.

When it comes to creating long-term sustainable profit, I wholeheartedly support the 3Ps concept: Profit, People, and Planet. Purpose and profitability shouldn't be opposite ends of the company's success spectrum. We need to come up with a fresh strategy that allows us to help others while also generating financial gain.

Could you reflect on some of the toughest challenges you have encountered in your journey so far? How did you overcome them and what did you learn from them?

When I first started working at UEM Edgenta, the company was in the middle of a digital and organizational transformation. Working from home as a result of the pandemic added another layer of complexity to the significant change. After implementing an ERP system, users discovered several system related flaws that had an impact on certain financial processes. However, these issues were quickly identified through a structured post-implementation assessment, and through this exercise, the various impacted business users came together to thoroughly examine the issues and develop a list of fixes and enhancements to be prioritized and implemented within a constrained budget. All major problems were solved when the adjustments were put into place. I'm delighted to recognize that my team weathered the transition to a new ERP system, organizational changes, and out-of-office work, all with flying colors. A business needs to make the most of its resources to achieve maximum or optimum output.

Even as we undergo this digital transition, UEM Edgenta remains dedicated to our customers and vendors. The pandemic strained the cash flow of our SME suppliers, therefore we worked with HSBC Amanah to introduce the 'Supplier Financing Programme', a strategy that enables the supplier to secure early payment through an extremely cheap financing interest rate. Both UEM Edgenta and HSBC Amanah are making the Syariah/Islamic financing initiative accessible to Malaysian SMEs for the first time.

Be highly passionate and love what you do- stay dedicated and committed in delivering uncompromising high-quality output at all times

The SMEs we work with have shown immense gratitude and interest in our plan. With this financing programme in place, UEM Edgenta is freed from the burden of approving the requests of its many suppliers who seek to enroll in external factoring programme, which typically have much higher financing interest rates. Having our own supplier financing programme allows for more oversight and accountability in the manner in which supplier payments are handled. Both UEM Edgenta and our SMEs benefit from this arrangement.

Going forward, what are the changes in market behavior that you anticipate, and what are the opportunities that you foresee?

To be prepared for future crises, the world critically has to strengthen its supply chains after the COVID-19 outbreak, diversify its employment force's skill set, and enhance its financial controls. The next step is to create an ecosystem that would enable UEM Edgenta to consistently develop solutions for our customers, based on our strengths in technology and ESG. UEM Edgenta's goal is to maintain its current core services and develop new market prospects while maintaining a presence in six countries through strong connections with its customers.

To take this concept and apply it to the Finance department, we need to build a strong team of subject matter experts in the field who can serve as a strategic business partner to the company as it scales new heights. While a solid foundation in finance operation and control is essential, more attention and focus have to be channeled to financial planning and management. The provision of real-time data and analytics to aid business and senior management in making data-driven decisions is of paramount importance. As a result, Finance should play a strategic role in collaborating with the rest of the business to strengthen the company's bottom line.

In light of your strong experience within the industry, what advice would you give to budding industry leaders?

In the current digital world, the necessity to establish new ways of thinking and executing has never been more important. Because conventional methods of doing business have been proven untenable by the advent of better insights and the advancement of technology-driven initiatives, companies are compelled to undergo a dynamic process of evolution.

Your role as a leader does not exclude you from the need to promote business and digital transformation, no matter what field you operate in. To this end, leaders should promote the concept of lifelong learning. To become a leader, you need to be open to learning, unlearning, and relearning, asking for help, and accepting support when needed, and be comfortable with taking calculated risks that test your limits. More importantly, as leaders, you must cultivate your succession pipeline and provide your chosen successors more authority over time. Ultimately, this will help you develop into a more effective coach and make meaningful changes inside your organization.

Hillary Chua, CFO, UEM Edgenta, Malaysia

Hillary is a senior financial management professional with a strong track record of success. She has been working in the fields of mergers and acquisitions, fundraising, financial management, and company transformation for over 23 years, with expertise ranging from start-ups, privately held businesses to public listed companies, multinational conglomerates.

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