CFO Interview: Rick Tan of Vista Land

Rick Tan
Rick Tan

We recently had a chance to interview Mr. Rick Tan, CFO of Vista Land based in the Philippines. Mr. Tan was recently voted as best CFO in the Philippines by investors and analysts through a recent FinanceAsia poll.

In this interview Mr. Tan shares some tips and insights on being a CFO:

What are your top three challenges in your role as a CFO?

Mr. Tan: Probably as with any executive, “managing” the following:

  • Information
  • Interpersonal relationships in the office setting
  • Expectations

How are you handling these challenges?

Mr. Tan: By understanding that in today’s environment, where you have numerous sources of information beyond traditional newspapers or direct face-to-face contact (e.g., internet – email, facebook, twitter, etc..) and devices (computers, blackberry, TV, I-pad, mobile phones, etc..), you have to be both aware and adept at using technology and dealing with potential information overload. Equally important of course is being able to properly sort, analyze, prioritize, and effectively utilize the data.

Handling interpersonal relationships depends on a myriad of factors and I believe people improve with experience (and patience). Having worked for several companies (with distinct corporate cultures), across different industries, and having lived in different countries, I am beginning to “appreciate” the nature of the corporate jungle and individual.

Managing expectations – of bosses, peers, customers, subordinates – stakeholders – is a continuous learning experience. Attempting to imagine yourself in the shoes of others helps, but at the end of the day, being realistic and keeping one’s perspective will keep you sane because it is not possible to meet (or even really know) all expectations.

If a brand new CFO approached you for advice, what would be the top three tips you could offer them?

Mr. Tan:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Keep learning – and explore beyond your supposed area of expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or stay too long within your comfort zone.
  3. Appreciate the CFO position, but do not take the “chief” part of your title too seriously. At the end of the day, it is still a team effort.  One caveat – in many cases, you will be there to solely take the blame for errors, and to share credit for achievements.

What do you feel are the key factors in being a top CFO?

Mr. Tan: I do not know what makes a top CFO.  However, beyond having a solid grasp of one’s area of expertise, a good executive should be able to handle the challenges enumerated in question one. Most people already know what strengths a good leader should possess (intelligence – IQ/EQ etc.., empathy, wisdom, values, patience etc..) – much depends on whether the leader fits into the specific organization/circumstances – success is not always portable. If you believe you do not have a weakness, or are unaware of any, I just found at least one for you.

One of the themes we’re looking at this year is hiring & retaining top finance talent and developing a top notch finance team. Can you offer any tips and challenges you’ve faced in this area?

Mr. Tan: If people can look good in pictures, they can look even better on paper.  After interviewing the candidate, go with your gut, and be fully aware that, just like marriage or the NBA draft, you won’t know if it will work out… until it does or doesn’t. Understand that every individual has his or her own reasons for wanting to stay or leave, and it may have nothing to do with what you can or cannot offer.

What is your opinion on the current market? Why?

Mr. Tan: Cautiously positive on Asia, negative on Europe, neutral on the US.

Why? Apart from the barrage of news – I believe that the market signals are fairly accurate.
Thanks to Mr. Rick Tan for taking the time to share with us his experience and insights.  I hope you’ve find this useful.

About Rick Tan
Mr. Tan, 47, is a professional with extensive experience in various fields including the airline, telecommunications, finance, and real estate sectors, and is currently the CFO of Vista Land. He worked for the International Finance Group of the Department of Finance and Philippine Airlines early in his career. He was also a vice president at the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT)  and a consultant for the Asian Development Bank. Mr. Tan obtained his BSc. in Monetary Economics from the London School of Economics in 1986 and an MBA (Finance/International Business) from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 1991.