Business As Usual

Being the best 'pound-for-pound' CFO

- The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - If you had to save only one item, which one would you take: margarine, a shampoo, soap, or a detergent bar?

The question is timely in the light of recent events that left major parts of Metro Manila and nearby provinces inundated with water and thousands of flood victims scrounging for material possessions. Ysmael Baysa, the chief finance officer of fast food giant Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC), had to confront the same question in a different plane while working at Procter & Gamble during the severe debt crisis in the mid-eighties.

The multinational giant’s margins and earnings then were fast eroding; “We had an acute dollar shortage as foreign investors fled and the peso plummeted. Each of our products contained at least 120 ingredients mostly imported; even if only one ingredient was missing, the company would not allow a product to be made because it was below specifications. So we had to choose which brand to let go,” Baysa related.

Life lessons

Personal computers were not yet available so crunching the numbers was an arduous task. “Every day, my forecast changed because the peso kept on falling. It was a difficult and stressful time,” he said.

But for Baysa, it was also a time to thrive and learn. He saw the crisis as an opportunity to derive the greatest learning experiences. Among them was the priceless lesson that it’s not about the brand profit, but the people.

“We realized that our most profitable brands did not necessarily employ the most number of people. People could lose their jobs if we let a brand die. So P&G decided to keep the brands that employed the most number of people. Management said: ‘This crisis will pass; if we keep this organization alive, we will outlast the crisis and recover the business we lost.’ That’s when I understood the meaning of ‘corporate values’,” he added.

When he joined P&G, Baysa thought he was just fulfilling his boyhood dream of seeing the world. Little did he know his 23-year stint in virtually all aspects of its global operations was also a real-life immersion into the world’s problems. This is why Baysa was battle-ready when the Asian financial crisis struck in 1997. “Even though import costs skyrocketed, inflation rose, and consumer demand weakened, we in the Philippine operations decided to keep our profit commitment in US dollars. We did not lose market share,” said Baysa, who was P&G’s finance director in the Philippines at the time.

Pursuit of a dream

This CFO learned tenacity from working at one of the world’s largest companies, but it was the pursuit of fulfillment that brought him to Jollibee. “I had always dreamt of coming home and joining a Filipino company,” he said.

The man from the small town of Sariaya, Quezon found a personal affinity in the Cinderella story of Jollibee, which began as a two-branch ice cream parlor in 1975 and has now transformed into the country’s well-loved food service leader that is fast emerging as a global brand.

He oversees the “business unit CFOs” of the nine brands under the Jollibee Group, which includes Jollibee, Chowking, Greenwich, Red Ribbon, Mang Inasal, Burger King, and Chinese stores Yonghe King, Hong Zhuang Yuan and San Pin Wang. He is also part of a management team that sets the strategy for JFC acquisitions locally and abroad.

Testing times

Baysa, who now carries the distinguished title of “ING FINEX CFO of the Year” after besting his peers in the 2010 search for the country’s best CFO, admitted there has never been a more exciting and challenging time for company CFOs. For one, the ‘battle’ is no longer just in the home court; it’s out there. “Our focus should be on global competitiveness because competition will be more intense. Many will be fighting for jobs, exports will become more competitive because demand from major markets is soft, and economic downturns usually result in more competition,” he said. “There will certainly be pockets of uncertainty, but there will be more opportunities as well.”

For Jollibee, it’s a great time to spread its wings. By 2017, the group expects its overseas business, which accounts for about 20 percent of worldwide sales, to become as large as its domestic operations. Baysa said the share was just at three percent when he joined the company in 2003. Aside from China, the group also has a presence in the United States, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Brunei, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai and Oman.

“At Jollibee, we always compare our strengths with both our local and foreign competitors. We ask ourselves: ‘What is a world-class fast food company like?’ We are focusing on this and not taking anything for granted,” Baysa said.

Being CFO of a Philippine company taking on big-name brands in the global arena, Baysa could not help but feel like a sportsman. “Just like Manny Pacquiao, we may not be able to match their number of stores, but we can match them pound for pound, in (financial) ratios,” he added.

(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on the awardees of the ING FINEX CFO of the Year search, now on its sixth year to honor the country’s best chief finance officer. Aligned with this year’s theme, “The Philippine CFO: Rising to Global Challenges,” the series features insights from the five awardees on how today’s CFOs can tackle unique and unprecedented set of circumstances in these uncertain times. The deadline for nominations to the ING FINEX CFO of the Year 2012 search is on September 27, 2012. For more information, go to www.finex.org.ph.)   

vuukle comment









  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

Get Updated:

Signup for the News Round now

or sign in with