Jason Wang has won many accolades in his career. He was the first finance chief in mainland China to be awarded as Asia’s Best CFO for three consecutive years, in 2017, 2018 and 2019 in the consumer goods sector, by leading international finance magazine Institutional Investor.
He also collected the award for ‘China CFO of the year’ in 2011 and again in 2015 by a national judging committee affiliated to the Ministry of Finance.
So, what makes a good CFO?
‘As a financial and accounting leader, we are enablers of a company’s smooth daily operation, providing an end-to-end solution for all business activities, ranging from procurement of raw materials to production and sales,’ he says.
‘Our mission is to make millions of people and their pets healthier and happier’
Short for Health and Happiness
To make millions of people and their pets healthier and happier through premium nutrition and personal care solutions, and by supporting whole-of-life wellbeing.
Number of international flagship brands, including Biostime, the household name of infant milk formula and probiotics in China, Australia’s top health supplement brand Swisse, and US leading pet nutrition brands Zesty Paws and Solid Gold.
Revenue in 2021
Listed on Hong Kong Stock Exchange
‘At the same time, we are gatekeepers as regards financial control and risk management, and mitigating risks in areas such as foreign exchange, tax, custom clearance or rare scenarios like Covid-19.
‘Financial leaders help shape a company’s future with strategic planning in the optimisation of the global supply chain, financing, and mergers and acquisitions to build a solid launchpad for the business to grow further.’
Wang credits his success to an ‘untypical’ career path from public sector and investment banking before joining corporate finance.
His first job after graduating from the China Foreign Affairs University in 1996 was at the Ministry of Commerce, which was then leading mainland China’s negotiations to join the World Trade Organisation.
Recalling his early years, Wang says the experience gained in the public sector enabled him to develop a full understanding of the macro economy, as well as a perspective on regulatory thinking.
After gaining an MBA degree at New York University Stern School of Business, Wang began his new career on Wall Street as an associate at JP Morgan in 2000. ‘That experience enabled me to learn how capital markets operate, which has proven invaluable in corporate finance.’
Between 2006 and 2016, Wang worked at Henkel as financial controller, regional treasurer to CFO Greater China and global director of business development and M&A, corporate vice president and then CFO Asia Pacific.
When joining H&H Group in 2016, Wang says the decision was prompted by both personal ambition and a desire to promote wellness.
‘After more than a decade at Henkel, I was wondering if I could help build a Chinese consumer company into a global one, like Danone and Nestlé,’ he says, and saw an opportunity when H&H Group (formerly known as Biostime) acquired Australia’s top health supplement brand Swisse, with the goal of becoming a global champion in health and nutrition.
Fast forward to 2022 and H&H Group has conducted a series of mergers and acquisitions, and is now the owner of eight flagship brands across the world. These include Biostime, the household name of infant milk formula and probiotics in China, Swisse, US pet nutrition brands Zesty Paws and Solid Gold, and the leading French baby accessory brand Dodie. All have been folded into the three major business segments of nutrition and care for babies, adults and pets.
Over the past two years, H&H Group has steadily expanded its global reach, including emerging markets such in India, Malaysia and Vietnam.
‘As financial leaders, we help businesses make well-informed decisions’
‘Our mission is to make millions of people and their pets healthier and happier, through our premium nutrition and personal care solutions, and by supporting whole-of-life wellbeing,’ he says.
However, building a global company while ensuring team cohesion after mergers and acquisitions can pose great challenges, Wang admits. The key is to keep a long-term perspective.
He recalls a major discussion with the Swisse team was about whether or not Australia’s No.1 health supplement brand should pursue an ‘active sales’ strategy in China.
Back then, many Chinese consumers made purchases through overseas buying agents. An active strategy would entail initial costs for marketing campaigns and building proprietary sales channels.
‘Growing an evergreen business would have required us to focus on the long-term view,’ says Wang. ‘We agreed on maintaining omni-channels that include both online stores and offline sales points at pharmacies and high-end supermarkets,’ he says.
‘Although it may incur costs, it can increase the resilience of the overall business, and has proved crucial when Covid-19 caused buying agents to drop sharply and consumer outreach continued through live-streaming and community channels.’
Wang cites another example of pursuing long-termism when Swisse discontinued the weight-loss product category; a decision that considered the merits of including slimming products in a range of goods focusing on well-being. ‘Upon evaluation, we pulled out from the category, as we didn’t think it was a right fit with our mission of making people healthier and happier,’ he says.
A good CFO
Wang adds that to become a well-regarded finance leader in the C-suite, you need to complement strong financial knowledge and skills with good business instincts and an ability to become a hands-on partner.
‘As financial leaders, we help businesses make well-informed decisions, whether it’s devising a pricing strategy, expanding sales channels or product innovation,’ he says.
The finance team works closely with the business team in new markets, he adds. ‘Before entering in a new market, we would do a financial feasibility study and set up a break-even target within a period of time,’ he says.
‘A good CFO does not just take care of business within the company, but can go outside and rally all necessary resources’
Executive director and CFO, H&H Group
Corporate vice-president and CFO Asia Pacific, Henkel
Head of global corporate finance and Greater China treasurer, LG Philips
Associate, JP Morgan
Officer at Ministry of Commerce, mainland China
‘After the rollout, the finance team would closely monitor to see sales, spending and operation are on track, and make necessary adjustments, without impacting the overall profitability.’
H&H Group has tapped into various financial tools, including syndicated loans, senior notes, zero-coupon bonds and convertible bonds, over the past six years to bankroll its global M&A and expansion.
Being able to articulate a company’s ambitions with myriad stakeholders and generating support from the capital markets to accelerate growth are important attributes, Wang says.
‘A good CFO does not just take care of business within the company, but can go outside and rally all necessary resources by communicating with investors, regulators and other stakeholders with clarity and certainty. The capital market is averse to surprise. It wants the performance of a company to be consistent and predictable, and so the finance team needs to reflect this.’
A keen supporter of finance talent within H&H Group, Wang encourages young professionals to gain as much exposure to the business as possible and to relish the prospect of taking on challenges. ‘Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone,’ he says.
Hiring decisions within the finance team take into account an individual’s career journey and how they might develop as an accounting professional in the longer term. ‘We hire the person for his or her career prospects, not for the job or certain role.’ He adds that career cultivation can be a win-win, as individuals appreciate long-term career planning and nurturing, and companies receive a higher level of loyalty and a bigger talent pool in return.
‘ACCA offers a great training in both finance and business,’ he says. ‘It can broaden the horizons of young professionals.’
One question Wang asks everyone he has interviewed is: ‘Where do you expect yourself to be in 10 years’ time?’ It’s a question that Wang has asked of himself in his long and successful career; his ambition to be a reliable and trusted CFO has been at the core of all that he does.