The GBS Adventure: The Gamble Begins & the Team Takes Off
Assembling a Team for the Shared Services Gamble
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 seasons, 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.
When AMD embarked on its finance transformational journey in 2001, under the capable leadership of Bob Rivet, our new CFO, I was the Director of the Manufacturing Services Group Finance. Bob’s message to the finance leadership team was that we needed to move into the new millennium and we needed to add value to the company through business partnering and the adoption of a shared services model. Of course, back then none of us had any idea what a shared services was. The thought of creating something from nothing, got me all excited so I did what any clueless risk taker would do, I volunteered with a grand strategy and what I thought was an amazing executable plan and timeline for the implementation.
When I got the job, I was excited and my first order of duty was to go talk to the Big Four consulting groups who had a wealth of experience in SSO start-ups. Most importantly, I needed to know how long it would take and how much it would cost. The figures I presented back to AMD were in the multi-millions and I was told that we didn’t have the budget to spare. I have to admit that a part of me was very disappointed that we couldn’t afford one of the Big Four consulting companies to help us with our start up. Back then, I felt that their contribution would have been enormous. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Luckily there wasn’t enough time to ponder this with my biological clock ticking down towards my due date (Oh! did I forget to mention that I was pregnant?). We had to move fast. As I sat up at nights re-reading all the books I could find on SSOs, during the day I focused on recruiting a team.
I was incredibly lucky that a number of finance managers from the Penang site stepped up to the plate to support my project on top of carrying out their day jobs. Based on our implementation plan, we aimed to launch the SSO in nine months and bring in the costs at just under half a million USD. The corporate heads were impressed, I just needed to rope in my dear friend CI as our part-time consultant and we could move on to the next battle.
CI had taken early retirement after many years at the top of another major tech firm and naturally she was very reluctant to join me on my new project. She was travelling the world, spending more time with her kids and husband – would she really want to give all that up? Our first few conversations didn’t go anywhere and she made it very clear that she didn’t want to have anything to do with my crazy scheme. Finally, I had to come clean. I sat her down over a coffee one morning and admitted that I had already signed her up. My big boss in the US had already agreed on her remuneration package – talk about jumping the gun! Luckily she didn’t slap me and she gave in. I was ecstatic. CI was going to be vital to help direct and coach the team when I was off on maternity leave.
My core team eventually consisted of me, my part time consultant and full time friend CI, my two managers, Hafiz , Eric and of course, Zahara (my very first hire when I first joined AMD). I decided that we needed to give our new SSO a proper name, something to hang our coats on. I felt that a name would give us direction and purpose. After all, if we could pull this off, it would be our legacy. In the end we decided on Asia Accounting and Financial Services or AAFS for short.
As the news of AAFS spread throughout Malaysia’s finance community we received plenty of CVs from many capable young accountants. I felt that at this stage it was best to bring these new recruits in as contractors rather than as permanent staff. My thinking was that SSO was still something completely new in Malaysia; it was a whole new work culture and a whole new way of thinking. Everything I knew about shared services I had only learnt from books – Shared Services: Mining for Corporate Gold – Barbara Quinn, Robert Cooke and Andrew Kris; Shared Services Adding Value to the Business Units – Donniel S. Schulman, John R. Dunleavy, Martin J. Harmer and James S. Lusk … that was all fine and dandy in theory but I didn’t want to take risks with the professional careers of these young accountants. I decided to bring in nine young CPAs as contractors; it was like getting engaged before getting married and either side still had the option to call it off if it did not work out (we gave them the same benefits as permanent staff though).
The very first day the fourteen of us met was in the departure lounge of the Penang International Airport. We were flying off to Bangkok for our very first ERP integration test. This was the first of many such trips for the team. Personally, I was excited but when I told the nine new members what we were off to Bangkok for, I detected fear, hesitation and apprehension in their eyes. It was understandable, they had no idea about the new ERP system or about shared services and now they were going to fly in to test the ERP system. I reassured them that it was okay, that we were all in this together and that we would have ERP consultants helping us.
As we settled into our seats and I listened to the team’s conversations drift in and out around me I thought to myself, this is it, we’re really doing it. That was the moment that our mission really sank in for me. I was surrounded by a small team willing to take on an insane challenge that plenty of naysayers said just couldn’t be done in a compressed timeframe and on a shoestring budget. I was lucky that this crazy gang were willing to put their careers on the line for me, they saw something in me which convinced them that this was the right career move. These thirteen people had put their trust and their future in my hands and I knew then that no matter what happens, I must never let them down.
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 writes a regular column for SSON, adapted from her book, “When the Chicken Dies, Everyone Cries” available on Amazon.