Sim Siew Shan, Group CFO of AirAsia Aviation Group, talks to The Ortus Club’s Ali Noelle Sy about the role of the Group CFO as the visionary of the company and their experience as they work closely with top-level executives, aiding them in strategic financial decisions and mitigating risk factors.
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Can you give us a one-sentence description of your company?
AirAsia Aviation Group is the largest and the world’s leading low-cost airline in the ASEAN region. Our mission is to become the most significant airline player in Asia. We fly to over 35 countries in the ASEAN region and have made our marks in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Can you describe the role of a Group CFO in one word? Why?
‘Enabler’ because everything we do should always translate to profitability and value creation. Many people, departments, and businesses have their functions. It is up to me to bring them together to understand the bigger picture of value creation. I spend a lot of time talking to them, connecting the dots and bringing everyone together on one platform. This way, we can understand why every action has a specific reaction. Hopefully, it produces a positive outcome for the financial aspect of the group.
What challenges are Group CFOs facing right now? What solutions are you exploring?
As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, our efforts are focused on putting aircraft up in the air and maintaining and properly sanitising the planes. At the top of the agenda, we want to bring everyone put on furlough back because it’s not their fault that we had to let them go. Another challenge is the ongoing Russian war that does not help anyone. We hope that we can identify solutions for all of these. I think that we can expect a miracle to happen soon.
We can analyse the data, develop the best solution, and move forward. Acknowledging these troubled times can help in recovery and find better solutions. There is no perfect solution, so don’t waste time and think fast to react to that problem and change what you need to do next.
How do you explain the success you’ve had in your career?
I don’t think I’m very successful. I just always ask myself, ‘Is this all that I can do? Can I do better? Is this it?’ I can always do better. I personally believe that I’m in the right place, at the right time, with the right experience.
The right experience has a lot to do with things you’ve worked on throughout life. For example, what do you do when faced with a challenge? Do you run and hide? Do you fall down and get hurt? Or do you dust yourself off and get up? I think it has partially to do with my personality.
If you put a problem in front of me, I will say, ‘Okay, I’ll give it my best shot.’ Do I have scars to show? Yes, plenty. But I think that made me stronger to tolerate and take up more challenges.
On the flip side, they say that a good staff member who does good work is rewarded with more work. So, sometimes, people would choose not to do their job correctly. It’s all up to that person, their preference, and their priority. Your success is not determined when you compare yourself to others. Instead, it’s what you believe you should be achieving.
“Growing in your career is not about limiting yourself instead it’s opening your eyes to the world, challenging yourself and embracing discomfort.”
Can you tell us about a time you took a major risk in your career?
I started in finance, spending a decade working with the Big Four (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler). So, when I left my work as an auditor, it was the biggest risk I’ve taken. I didn’t know whether I would successfully step out of my comfort zone, but I was determined that I could do it. I did it because I wanted to prove to the naysayers and improve my core skills.
In doing so, I climbed up the corporate ladder in three years, landing a job that I never thought I could reach so fast. Growing in a career is not about limiting yourself instead it’s opening your eyes to the world, challenging yourself and embracing discomfort.
How can you see your role evolving in the next two to three years?
I think we should focus on putting together a team of people that will be strong enough to uphold and continue the company’s plan in the future. I see my role evolving to put together more governance and policy strategies and bring the business back to normal.
I want to, hopefully, train a group of people where I can bring out the best in them. I want to teach them to the best of my abilities to make them realise and look back after a year on their growth and how much potential they have.
What career advice would you like to share with Group CFOs?
I think we should think of our career as a journey of self-discovery, constant learning, and unlimited opportunities. Think of how you can learn from your mistakes and how to not be afraid of failure.