Interview: John Jin
PayPal, Greater China
"As a CFO, you must have interest in people, and know how to engage with them."
The career path
John Jin knew that he wanted to become a CFO at the very beginning of his career. After completing his Master’s degree in the United Kingdom, John returned to Mainland China to work in GE, and joined their Financial Management Program (FMP). The program allowed him to undertake different module trainings and rotations, which opened his eyes to a wide variety of roles and responsibilities.
John eventually spent over ten years in the company, working as a Corporate Audit Staff, FP&A manager, and finance manager. He eventually became the regional CFO, and then took a leap to transition to PayPal as the CFO and Deputy General Manager.
Unlike GE, PayPal plays in a fast-paced service industry with a more flat organisational structure and a more open culture. In his newly assumed role as Deputy General Manager, John is responsible for a multitude of business aspects outside of finance, such as corporate governance and compliance.
“My challenge in my new role is to prioritise my work, build up trust with the key players in different functions, and get to learn all the new areas as soon as possible,” John said.
The ingredients of a CFO
For John, there are two main requirements that all future CFOs must check.
First, you must have the prerequisite technical skills. These include basic foundations, like accounting, reporting, controllership, corporate governance and more. Future CFOs must know how to influence to achieve the business targets, as well as drive strategic partnerships towards achieving company goals.
Second, aspiring CFOs have to clearly set out their goals at each stage of their careers. “You need to be clear about your short-term and long-term career goals, and then find the right job opportunity to practice yourself,” John said.
Once you have the technical skills, and the career path largely laid out, the next stage of development should focus on developing your soft skills, and commercial depth. This is particularly important for people that seek to work for corporations, where industry knowledge is key.
Partnerships and people
Like many other CFOs and survey respondents, John agrees that knowing how to work with other people is a critical factor for a CFO’s success. “EQ [emotional intelligence] is key,” he said. By this, he means a wide range of interpersonal and communication skills that help to unify a team, clarify a goal, and foster a sense of unity and cooperation.
Beyond the main skillsets, however, John also believes that CFOs must be interested in the people that they are working with, have insight into how they work, and then have a good method of engaging with them and cooperating between them.
This also means that CFOs need to be flexible and open-minded. In stressful situations, an open mindset can help resolve the issue at hand.
Those that are more open minded are better adapted at knowing how to respond to emergencies and communicating it to the right people.
Given the importance of people for the position, John thinks that retention is an immediate to medium term challenge to many organisations. According to John, it is core to the single most cited challenge facing CFOs within the next 12 months – achieving company objectives.
“The key thing I am now paying attention on is to develop my next generation leaders,” John said, “Currently, the Mainland China platform may not be big enough to create enough opportunities for good performers who do not currently have regional mobility. In the next few years, I believe the situation will improve as the business grows.”
In order to best position yourself for these opportunities, John suggests being open to all feedback you receive, and then using that feedback to learn and practice.
“Networking can be a source of feedback and industry insight. Through my ex GE staff network, I got connected to several executives from the same industry. It’s a great way to know more about the industry and the economic environment,” John said.
Finding career fulfillment
For most CFOs, job satisfaction is high. For many, fulfilment comes from knowing that you have an integral understanding of the company and being able to influence the business in a profound way.
“For me, as CFO, it is the sense of achievement which means I do have the necessary skills and experience at executive level and be able to influence the company’s operations and future.” But while John is happy as a CFO, he admits that it may not be the best option for others. “It’s not necessary for everyone to become a CFO,” said John, “You must find the career you fit best.”
In order to keep up with the responsibilities of the position, John offers one last suggestion. “As a CFO, you need to learn to release yourself from pressures and tensions,” he said. This includes taking time to exercise, read books and relax in order to keep yourself calm and your energy level high. “These helped me to get out of pressing situations, remain positive, refresh and recharge myself.”