One Minute Interview for FCCA Gabriel Low
Mr Gabriel Low FCCA Regional Finance Controller, CFO (SEA) GEA Westfalia Separator (SEA) Pte Ltd
You work for a German MNC. Could you tell us a little more about what it’s like?
The German working culture is very unique. It is one where open communication and open interaction with colleagues across the organization is a norm. There is a high degree of autonomy given to staff, to take ownership of work, exercise creativity and intelligent judgment. Because of this, you will find that the staff is able and willing to work hard and finish work rather than work just a 9-5 day. They are also happy to be valued, and then to work long years in these companies.
Your job also requires some amount of travelling? How does this benefit your career?
Singapore is an island nation that serves a large ASEAN hinterland. Experience in interacting across borders is invaluable and necessary. Understanding, working with and respecting different cultures defines how successful you are in getting your job done. It is also something that is necessary for an island nation like Singapore to partner the countries in this region for a win-win approach. It helps give depth to persons aspiring to do regional roles successfully – it is not all about contracts and rules and guidelines.
Could you share an anecdote of a recent trip that has left a positive impression on you?
It is to see that the ideas you bring across are logical and plausible and happily accepted by colleagues in another country, who see it as something done for the common good and not a one sided agenda coming from “planet Singapore”. It is running through business, staffing operational issues, commercial challenges and exchanging ideas. It is satisfying that time and time again I have the privilege to see the “understanding glow” in their eyes, and final conclusions to matters that may be going round in circles due to the interaction between different countries and different departments.
What are the traits which you think have led to your success?
Trust and empowerment – Two of the most important traits that I value. Cultivating and building open relationships with staff and colleagues in the region, valuing their opinions and fostering a culture of trust is important. This will lead to empowering them to make smart decisions by themselves. I am mindful and conscious that it is important to be interacting in a relaxed and sincere way with people “on the ground” regardless of their job titles or rank. In this way colleagues are always open to share issues and problems when they crop up and there is also a lot less of “hiding” and politicking that harms an organization. In addition, there is a higher level of ownership as well.
What has been some of the best career advice you have received?
I received this very early in my working life, in Coopers (6 months in work), in audit. I remembered an occasion when I made a careless mistake of missing out an invoice that had a material effect on an audit of an entity. Honesty is something important to me and upon spotting this I flagged it. I was totally and absolutely trashed by the manager and supervisor for not being thorough enough. I learnt my lesson, took it to heart and from that very moment on, I was and am very thorough in everything that I do. I am eternally grateful to my former manager, Seow Chiang, that very early on, he steered my work values in such a way.
You have spoken at ACCA’s Conference in the past and you have also spoken at other conferences. How has this helped in your career progression?
Speaking at events allow me to interact and learn from my peers. It helps me to keep up to current events, and in this way remain relevant and in tuned to the latest ideas. Participating in such events helps me to take a step back and refocus – it gives perspective and breadth and helps in career progression.
What are some of the biggest work challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
People and their personalities – dealing with people of differing personalities and speeds of working can be a challenge. I tend to think quickly and work fast and have very high expectations of myself and others. Convincing people to make wise choices for the benefit of the whole company and not for their little area of responsibility, with limited resources is important. This can only be overcome by soft skills and good communication skills.
The new regulatory framework in accounting – since the onset of Enron there have been a never ending deluge of rules and rules and rules, some of these crafted by lawyers, some by fellow accountants outside of Asia and some by the local regulators. There seems to be heavier weightage on the compliance / auditing / legal aspects of regulations, and lesser amount of inputs from the majority of accountants – who are by and large working in commerce and sometimes left wondering why and when did such ideas come from.
And finally, with such a demanding schedule, how do you manage balancing work and family? What advice can you offer fellow members?
I am a believer that a person’s approach to work should be one where he loves his job and is fully committed to the job. He works because he enjoys it and does not work merely for the money or “self” agenda. This means that one does not follow 9-5 rules but exercises flexibility to be contactable when necessary. Having said that, I am a strong believer in working smart and doing big picture planning of work, so that you can still achieve the end result without burning late nights at work. As an example, I arranged for early cut-offs for our monthly closing for the subsidiaries so we would still have sufficient time to do a quality close without having to camp late nights with the normal month end dates. By looking at the big picture and not being lost in the trees, I have managed to do for my staff and myself a much better work life balance that that possible in the a lot of companies who mechanically chop the trees one by one every month end. Family is important and we have in our hands the ability to try to influence the amount of time we have with them by smart “planning”.