ING FINEX CFO of the Year 2017: The Search for the Agile CFO

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The Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX), the industry association of finance professionals and practitioners, has been recognizing the country’s premier Chief Finance Officers (CFO) since 2006 with its annual search for CFO of the Year, done in partnership with ING Bank.

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The theme for its 2017 search is, “The Agile CFO: Enabling Change.”

In the preface to its paper, The Agile CFO, IBM Senior Vice President and CFO Mark Loughbridge wrote, “As the demands on finance continue to expand, CFOs are challenged with the paradox of delivering a stable, highly effective finance environment, while also providing the agility to respond and react to rapidly changing business climates.”

Who in the Philippines would be an example of the agile CFO?

Felipe Yalong

The agile Kapuso
GMA Network, Inc. Executive Vice President and CFO, who is also ING FINEX CFO of the Year 2013, Felipe Yalong, obviously sets a good example.

Broadcast industry giant GMA Network is undoubtedly stable, with an excellent organization and the right systems in place, as well as a clean balance sheet with no long-term debt. It’s stable enough that Yalong can afford to now be more genuinely excited – and passionate – about the changes happening in his industry.

But just as we slide into the interview proper, Yalong lets out a declaration that throws the whole conversation interestingly – and happily – off-course:

Content is king. Really.

“We are a content company.”

But hasn’t GMA been always described as a media company?

“First and foremost, we are a content maker/producer/provider,” he explains, adding that content is what GMA is good at – it has writers, directors and talents to come up with compelling content – and that is its core offering.

Yes, GMA Network has a broadcast platform of its own, but whatever platform becomes available, GMA will be there – and the platform doesn’t have to be its own.

“Companies like Globe and PLDT have laid out fiber; we can supply to them,” he says.

Or to any other platform for that matter. GMA network supplies, repurposes and repackages content – earning money off multiple revenues from the same show, from the different platforms the content is consumed.

Reigning in – and monetizing – content
Switching back to his CFO role, Yalong says most of GMA’s content, with notable exceptions such as Eat Bulaga, Wowowin and its Koreanovelas, are produced in-house.

“We have an internal system in place. Each (program) is a profit venture, (like) a company of its own with individual hurdles: either rate, or earn the target net income before taxes,” he says.

No show is sacred
Some of GMA’s shows are also now airing in foreign markets – no, not targeting overseas Filipinos there, but locals – as dubbed programs, aired in the Asean region’s Cambodia and Myanmar, and even Africa.

Ten percent of the company’s income now comes from international and OFW-based revenues, off programs already aired and maximized locally. And that’s barely scratching the surface of its potential, as Yalong admits they are still weak in Europe, for example.

The non-death of TV… and radio

Of course, I had to ask him: is TV in its deathbed? Dying?

“I totally disagree with it.”

Degradation is not happening in the TV segment of the media industry, unlike in other platforms, such as print, he observes.

TV will continue to be here because of the state of the economy – and of connectivity. “Streaming will not happen [here]yet.”

And what about radio? Yalong reveals that at GMA, radio revenue has been constant.

Today’s Entrepreneurial CFO
Back on the subject of “The Agile CFO,” he notes that the role of the CFO has changed.

In the past, the CFO’s concern was purely financial, ensuring the company’s stability. These days – without risking stability, the role now also calls for looking after risk, governance and guiding companies in looking for opportunities for growth. Today’s CFO has to be more entrepreneurial.

Where will growth come from for GMA?

He cites pricing. (“We are behind,” he admits.) And regional expansion. (“We are testing the market with dialects; for example, I Heart Davao.”)

And, of course, digital.

Digital next
Yalong is still young in years, and even younger in his outlook: he seems almost giddy in anticipation of TV going digital.

With digital broadcasting, GMA believes its content will find its way to the audience’s mobile phones – not necessarily on TV screens and not via set-top boxes. That’s a view diametrically – and perhaps, philosophically – distinct from what his neighboring competitor from a few blocks away seems to be espousing.

Still, the agile CFO in him keeps the balance. Speaking with his own brand of CFO Zen, Yalong is certain: We are a content company. We should be the preferred content, in all platforms.

Stability. And the agility to respond and react to changes – and opportunities. Yalong provides both to GMA Network.

The hunt is on!
Who else embodies the agile CFO?

ING and FINEX invite companies operating in the Philippines and registered under Philippine laws to submit their nominations for the “2017 ING FINEX CFO of the Year Award” by August 31.

Apart from Yalong, and last year’s ING FINEX CFO of the Year, Danny Yu of Philex Mining Corporation, the previous winners of the prestigious award were Delfin Gonzalez Jr. (2007, Globe Telecom); Sherisa Nuesa (2008, Manila Water Corporation); Jose Sio (2009, SM Investments Corporation); Ysmael Baysa (2010, Jollibee Foods Corporation); Jaime Ysmael (2011, Ayala Land, Inc.); Jeffrey Lim (2012, SM Prime Holdings Corporation), Jose Jerome Pascual 3rd (2013, Shell Philippines Exploration, Inc.); and Luis Juan Oreta (2014, Manila Water Corporation).

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