CFO interview series: Breaking it down with Sharon Chen

CFO interview series: Breaking it down with Sharon Chen

September 21, 2016 by Stella Petrou Concha

Sharon Chen makes leadership look easy. So we sat down with her to understand what it takes to be an effective leader in the financial sphere.

As a seasoned financial expert, Sharon Chen has over 16 years of experience working at GE in a range of finance positions. From strategic planning and analysis, through to transformation and controllership, Sharon has a broad range of experiences to match her in-depth knowledge of the finance industry. We sat down with Sharon to pick her brain and ask her seven questions about the issues facing leadership, talent and finance today.

Sharon Chen talks to us about the leadership qualities she looks for in her staff.

Question 1 – What does leadership mean to you?

To me, leadership covers three main areas:

  1. The combination of a vision to shape the future and the ability to translate the vision into reality.
  2. The ability to cut through complexity and make tough decisions.
  3. It also means “people leadership”. Great leaders bring the best out of the people around them, regardless what their ambitions might be. An engaged team is an effective team and is critical to the success of delivering the vision.

Question 2 – What have been the behaviours of the best leaders you have worked with?

I am fortunate enough to have worked with some amazing people and leaders throughout my career. They might have diverse backgrounds and travelled through different journeys in life, but the ones who have influenced me the most have these two common traits.

Firstly, they bring positive energy to the team, including inspiring their team to go above and beyond, leading by example on how to be resilient and how to deal with rejection and setbacks at times. Secondly, they are great at communication. Concise and energetic communication goes a long way to engage both internally and externally, to drive culture change and promote company’s brand.

Question 3 – What are the three attributes you believe characterises talent?

Attitude: A can-do attitude has always been the number one attribute for me

Learning capacity: How much and how fast one can learn, adapt and adopt. Continuous learning and expanding horizons enable people to stay on top of the latest development and prepare for the unforeseen

Business acumen: The ability to understand business and appreciate risks and opportunities sets people apart

Leadership ideas

Leadership can make all the difference in the finance world.

Question 4 – When you meet with people in an interview, what do you value?

I found exposure and experience to diverse industries, cultures and disciplines are very valuable. Candidates such as these bring fresh perspectives to a stable business and team, and most likely they’re well versed in learning a new business and building rapport with other people.

Some of my best hires do not have an accounting or finance degree, but they do have a huge learning capacity and good business acumen.

Question 5 – How would you describe the culture of your team and do you take any specific actions to nurture it?

Collaborative, positive and result-driven are some of the key attributes of my team. I found that putting a framework in place together with my team has been very helpful, which typically includes the followings:

  • Behaviours – Respect, as every idea counts
  • Performance – Set clear goals and objectives at the beginning of each year and keep track of it
  • Communication – Timely and regular catch-up and feedback drives productivity and enhances employee engagement

Working as a team

 Working as a team requires quick and effective communication.

Question 6 – What tips can you give other people in the finance industry on how to build a successful team?

On one hand, you should be consistently following the agreed framework mentioned above. On the other hand, try to understand each team member at a personal level, show genuine interest in what matters to them provide individualised support.

Question 7 – How do you think the career of a Finance professional will change over the coming years?

More than ever before effective Finance professionals need to be an effective business partner, have their eyes trained more on external customers and at a global scale. Accounting technical competence is a given, so the future belongs to those who can actively learn and adopt the new digital technology and drive business growth and improvement.

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