The GBS Adventure: The Contingency Plan that Wasn’t
What About the Shared Services Contingency Plan?
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.
"I started the AMD Shared Services with a team of thirteen amazing people and we were a prime example of what a small, committed team could accomplish with the “Can-Do” spirit. We were called the Asia Accounting and Financial Services group or AAFS for short. We knew nothing about starting a Shared Services Organisation (everything I knew I had learnt from books) but that did not stop us – we studied processes, looked at resources, examined policies, local laws, local taxes and everything and anything accounting-related for the sites that we would be consolidating. As the leader of this gang, and with a baby on the way (yes, I was pregnant at the time), we had only nine months to set up the SSO and go live (by January 2002).
If I had to choose two words to define the AAFS team these would be teamwork and drive. Before joining AAFS most of the team members didn’t know each other; we all met in the airport on our first day of work, flew off to Bangkok together for the ERP system testing and got to know each other while learning a new system and running test cases. It did not matter because we were all driven by a common goal and a real desire to prove the naysayers (who did not believe that we could pull off the first AMD SSO start-up) wrong.
Those nine months were not a smooth ride by any means. We were constantly overloaded with work, had to travel extensively and were always battling the clock. We even had to face resistance from colleagues who were not interested in sharing information and were more focussed on making the lives of my junior team members miserable. There were plenty of days when the tears would flow and I would have to step in to mop them up and get us back on track.
There were also days when we struggled with reconciliation, language barriers and time zone issues. It was extremely challenging working with our other Asian counterparts via emails and over the phone as we just couldn’t afford to be on-site all the time. Because we couldn’t see their body language or read their facial expressions there were plenty of initial misunderstandings.
Through it all, it was always the “Can-Do” attitude that kept the thirteen of us together – and we took pride in everything we did. The day finally arrived when we needed to give our final presentation to the executive team in the US. This was it. The go/no-go decision would be made during this call. We were gung-ho. We had it all carefully laid out from top to bottom and, best of all, we had planned our SSO start up to integrate seamlessly with the on-going ERP implementation. This way, our AMD colleagues only needed to adapt to one major change instead of two. In our minds, we had either to go big – or go home.
Our presentation went smoothly until my boss, who was the AMD Corporate Controller, asked the fatal question:
“A lot of good work and thought has been put into this proposal and plan. You have all done so much in such a short period of time. This is a herculean effort but we are not there yet. I need to ask: What is your contingency plan?”
I looked at my team and they looked back at me. We were taken by surprise because we were so busy focussing on what needed to be done that we hadn’t even thought about coming up with a contingency plan. With the seconds ticking by and everyone looking more and more confused I had to speak up. I cleared my throat and thought to myself: This is it. Just say it.
“We don’t have a contingency plan because we are not going to fail.” There I said it. It was out there.
The Executive Committee was shocked. AMD was only one month away from the ERP and the SSO start-up going live on the same day and here was the SSO project team admitting that they didn’t have a Plan B because they didn’t think they could fail. It didn’t go down well and we were given 24 hours to come up with a contingency plan. Time was running out and too much was on the line. The Committee needed an answer fast.
I cried for the very first time, since the project started. We had gone through so much and had come this far only to come up against a wall of doubt. Sobbing my eyes out in the bathroom cubicle wasn’t helping anyone, though. I quickly washed my face and got back to the team. We decided that Plan B was just to do what we had always done – to close the accounts manually. If we couldn’t get the SSO up and running when the ERP was turned on, well, we’d just do it the old-fashioned way. We presented it the next day and the Committee signed off on it, much to my relief. After the meeting the contingency plan was quickly thrown into someone’s desk drawer and locked away. We never looked or talked about it again.
Like I said, failure was not in our vocabulary and was never going to be an option. We were not going to fail."
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.