FOR a day in October for the past 10 years, a select few of the country’s top financial executives each get summoned to a room to face a panel that scrutinizes their contributions to their company’s success and transformation.
Some liken the Search for the ING Finex CFO of the Year awardee as the “Oscars” or the Ms. Universe of the world of chief finance officers (CFOs). But those who have experienced going through the entire nomination process and made it to the final judging say the Search is more than just a show-and-tell contest, but a test of endurance like the Olympics or an Ironman triathlon competition.
And for good reason
For a decade now, Dutch financial institution ING Bank, N.V., Manila Branch and the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), the premier organization of top executives in the country, have been trying to raise the bar to shine the spotlight on a CFO who could demonstrate his excellence in being a strategist, a catalyst, a steward, and an operator in his organization.
The country’s longest-running search and award of its kind has recognized the following CFOs: Delfin Gonzalez Jr., formerly with Globe Telecom and currently with Ayala Corporation; Sherisa Nuesa, formerly of Manila Water Company (MWC), now president and director of ALFM Mutual Funds; Jose Sio of SM Investments Corporation; Ysmael Baysa of Jollibee Foods Corporation; Jaime Ysmael of Ayala Land, Inc.; Jeffrey Lim, formerly CFO and now president of SM Prime Holdings, Inc.; Felipe Yalong of GMA Network, Inc.; Jose Jerome Pascual III of Pilipinas Shell; Luis Juan Oreta of MWC; and this year’s title holder, Danny Y. Yu of Philex Mining Corporation.
While almost all of those who won the title “CFO of the Year” came from publicly listed companies in the country, the Search is also open to the CFO of any local or foreign-owned, or privately held firm operating in the Philippines and registered under the country’s laws.
Raising the bar
“The process of selecting this year’s awardee is again very tedious,” said Philippine Veterans Bank Judith Lopez, who co-chaired the 2016 Search and Selection Committee. “It naturally gets more difficult each year as we try to cast the net wider on Philippine companies and as the business environment gets more competitive.”
Sifting through the nominations — a process that usually takes nearly half a year —entails meticulous work. The Search and Selection Committee searched and identified potential candidates, wrote to the CFOs’ companies, interviewed the nominees, conducted due diligence, and validated the results through interviews with the CFO’s superiors, peers and staff.
After a rigorous deliberations/wrap-up/summary session, the Committee produced a short list of successful nominees, which were then interviewed face to face by the Board of Judges. The Search and Selection Committee and the Board of Judges (BOJ) combine their ratings, with the former focused on the competencies while the latter focused on the outcomes.
A strict covenant on confidentiality bars any member of the Award Committee, the Search and Selection Committee, the BOJ, and even the FINEX Secretariat from disclosing the identity of the nominees and the finalists before the CFO of the Year awardee is chosen.
This adherence to confidentiality not only encourages CFOs who did not qualify to join the Search every year, but also “helps make the Search free of controversy in the ten years that it is running,” said Sherisa Nuesa, who earned the title in 2008. She said the search and selection process, as well as the final judging processes, are “very thorough, and this elevates the level of prestige and credibility of the Search.”
For a CFO to qualify, he should at least meet the selection criteria focused on the end-results of the company’s financial performance and other initiatives that he introduced. The criteria are accompanied by a proposed set of performance indicators to guide the judges in their evaluation. These performance indicators are gleaned from latest audited financial statements. “However, there are other indicators which are qualitative in nature that the judges will need to surface during the personal interviews,” said Flor Tarriela, chairperson of the Philippine National Bank, who sits in the BOJ.
SEC chairperson Atty. Teresita Herbosa, a long-time member of the BOJ, said judges “also looked at unofficial information because they affect the integrity of the CFO. After all, you cannot separate the person from the job.”
Valentin Araneta, member of the Monetary Board of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, chairs this year’s BOJ, with the following as other members: Consuelo Garcia, Country Manager of ING Bank, N.V. (Manila); George Chua, FINEX president; and Gregorio S. Navarro, president & CEO of NavarroAmper & Co./Deloitte Philippines, and past FINEX President.