The GBS Adventure: What do you want to be when you grow up?

In a corporate jungle obsessed with hype, office politics and the never-ending race for promotion, position and power, textbook leadership skills are failing to bridge the gap between management and their most precious commodity: people. 

From her humble roots growing up in a Malaysian kampung, Boonsiri Somchit shows what it takes to truly engage and lead from the heart. Taking inspiration from her childhood adventures with her rag-tag gang, kite season, rusty Raleighs, ghost hunting and the Carpenters, Boon brings her hilarious insights to leadership, life and dealing with rogue chickens in her best-selling book on GBS Leadership: When the Chicken Dies, Everybody Cries. This column is based on the book.

I truly believe that things always happen to you for a reason, and if you go with the flow and look at things positively this may actually take you on the adventure of a lifetime. That happened to me many years ago and it led me down the path to finally finding my passion.

At the turn of the new millennium, I was promoted to finance director of Advanced Micro Devices’ (AMD) Manufacturing Services Group, one of the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers. I thought I had it made. My career path till then had been a pretty straightforward one, I graduated with a degree in Management Accountancy, I cut my teeth working in the tech industry, and now I had reached the top of my professional career ladder. What more was there to prove? All that was left was to slowly ease into my new role, play my cards right and receive a lucrative golden handshake in about a decade or so, right? I was so wrong. Only a year later, a series of events would trigger a major change in my career path.

In 2001, with a new CFO, Bob Rivet, at the helm, AMD embarked on a much needed transformational journey. Bob came from Motorola where business partnerships and shared services were a way of life. At AMD, we had been so focused on developing our product line in the face of extreme competition that we never really focused on the efficiency of our finance processes and systems. We hadn’t thought about how we could consolidate and streamline these operations to become more productive and support our business partners and customers better. Bob’s arrival was a wakeup call for many of us.

When I met Bob for the first time in California, he didn’t waste any time laying out his vision for the future. Very quickly and without any malice he said what needed to be said – the finance organisation was too manual, because of that we worked too slow. He wanted us to get speeding tickets, not parking tickets. It took us weeks (sometimes even months!) to close the books, this was unheard of in the rest of the industry that now consolidated accounts in 48 hours. As each global site had its own system, this meant that leadership was also siloed with little kingdoms in place. When we worked in siloes it made it difficult for information to flow freely and this was ultimately detrimental to critical strategy development and decision making.  

The finance organisation was too manual, because of that we worked too slow.

Bob’s plan was simple, AMD needed to move its back office into the 21st century and fast. ERP would be implemented organisation-wide and AMD would set up a shared services organisation that would handle all the accounting functions. We would have standard formats and standard global policies, much more efficient than the hotch-potch Excel reports, internally built systems or the random off-the-shelf software that we were used to. His final question to all of us at the meeting, “Do you think we are ready for the new millennium?” and we all knew the answer to that: No.

He wanted us to get speeding tickets, not parking tickets

Back in my office in Malaysia I let Bob’s words sink in properly. He wanted change (my favourite word!) for the better and he wanted to create something new – a shared services organisation or SSO – that would make us work smarter, faster and leaner. It sounded exciting…even though I had no idea what an SSO was or looked like. I initially thought it had something to do with offshore call-centres. 

Something that Bob had said that really stuck in my mind was when he turned to the finance leadership team and asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” At the time I thought that this was such a strange question to be asking all of us – finance leaders with so many years of experience. I later realized that he was right. No matter how many years of experience you have, there will always be something new to learn, to develop, to improve on and to build.

As it happened, the very idea of change and building an SSO from scratch was just too tempting to ignore, so I did what any rational finance director would do: I woke up at 2a.m., called Bob and told him that I wanted to head up AMD’s first SSO.

This was the beginning of the biggest risk I would take in my life. It was that one fateful call that introduced me to the world of SSO and GBS and led me to my dream career.

Why am I sharing this story? Well, the moral of this tale is that even if you want to succeed in your career and your life, you must be prepared to take risks. Sometimes you may not have all your plans lined up or all the facts and data available. Sometimes you may be totally clueless but my advice is to go with your gut.

Don’t wait. Grab the opportunity and learn along the way. If it doesn’t work, find an alternative, pick yourself up and continue on. Remember: never give up.

To be continued…

Boonsiri Somchit (Boon) is a highly accomplished finance and operations professional with over three decades of experience. She has held senior leadership positions in several multinational companies including, Motorola, Komag and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and is recognised as a world-class leader in Global Business Services (GBS). In her 18-year career at AMD she spearheaded the set-up of its very first accounting and financial shared services organisation. Under her stewardship, the AMD shared services rapidly expanded to become AMD’s only Global Business Services company servicing all of AMD’s entities around the world. From a team of only 13, AMD’s Global Business Services currently employs over 300 staff based in Malaysia. From AMD Global Business Services headquartered in Penang, Malaysia, Boon managed and led teams in North and South America, EMEA and the Asia-Pacific. The culture that she built at AMD Global Business Services achieved the highest employee engagement scores for three consecutive years, not only within AMD but also when benchmarked with other high performing companies within the industry. AMD’s Global Business Services Organization has been recognized as a global industry benchmark and has been featured in shared services articles and academic white papers in Malaysia and in the UK.

Boon is writing a regular column for SSON, adapted from her book, “When the Chicken Dies, Everyone Cries” available on Amazon.