Since he joined the company 17 years ago, Komson Kajorncheeppunngam has seen a raft of changes at True Corporation. But despite this transformation and meteoric growth – to the point where the group reported revenues of $2.95 billion in 2013 – True remains focused on its domestic market, and plans to grow its business into the AEC region in the near future.
Treasurer, Group Treasury
One of Thailand’s strongest and most recognisable brands, True Group is the only fully integrated, nationwide telecom operator providing services to over 29 million subscribers. The Group seeks to promote the development of the country through innovation and technology. It works to bridge the digital divide and build a sustainable knowledge-based society by delivering the possibilities and opportunities offered by digital technology to every household and especially the youth of Thailand. Four key brand values – credible, creative, caring and courageous – guide its work as True Group seeks to enhance value for shareholders, customers, the organisation, society and employees alike.
One of the most important skills a corporate treasurer can possess is the ability to adapt to change. Given the advances that have taken place in treasury practices and technology, and a rapidly evolving regulatory landscape, treasurers unable to evolve with their environment can find themselves in hot water. This ability to adapt is doubly crucial in high-growth industries. An organisation that has undergone rapid growth could be virtually unrecognisable now compared with how it was 20 or even ten years ago.
Komson Kajorncheeppunngam, Treasurer, Group Treasury of True Corporation and Treasurer of TrueOnline, knows precisely what it is like to have a business grow up around you to the point where it is virtually beyond recognition.
Komson joined True Corporation in 1996, as a senior finance officer – his second job after graduating. When he first came to the company, its principal business was fixed-line tele-communications in the Bangkok metropolitan area. A great deal has changed since then, and it has been a busy time for True’s treasury function.
“Since I arrived 17 years ago, we have undergone several transformations, as well as a few critical situations, including debt restructuring with local and international lenders,” says Komson. “We have gone through mergers and acquisitions in the cable TV business, obtained a mobile operator licence, which allowed us to expand into the mobile business, and effected a leveraged buyout to re-acquire our cable TV business.”
Indeed, from starting up as a Bangkok-focused fixed-line operator in the 1990s, True Corporation now has commercial interests in a variety of spaces, ranging from a mobile phone network operator to an artist management group; it even has an entity that operates and manages a football club. In 2013 the group reported revenues of THB 96.2 billion ($2.95 billion). Despite its growth over the years, True has continued to concentrate on its home market. “Our business is almost 100% focused on Thailand, and we are planning to grow our business into the AEC region in the near future” he says.
True Corporation’s operations are essentially split into three main businesses: TrueOnline, including fixed-line telecommunications and internet services; True Mobile Group; and TrueVisions, its pay TV business. True Mobile Group is the biggest contributor to the overall group’s revenues, recording revenues of around THB 63 billion (approximately $1.9 billion – 65.5% of overall revenues) in 2013. TrueOnline contributed around THB 23 billion (approximately $704m – 24% of overall revenues), while TrueVisions made up around THB 10 billion (approximately $306m – $10.5% of overall revenues).
The group’s treasury function is also separated into three distinct groups, one for each business segment. Each business section has its own treasurer and CFO, who in turn report to the group treasurer and CFO. Komson has a dual role within this structure – he is both Treasurer of the Group Treasury, as well as the Treasurer of TrueOnline.
“The role of treasurer is a crucial one in our company,” he says. “Decisions made in the treasury at a group- and business segment-level can have a huge impact across the company. The treasurer needs to rely on other finance professionals for support, and that support is really important for a business as highly dynamic as ours. In treasury and the wider finance function, adaptability and the ability to learn quickly are key to thriving in this dynamic environment.”
One of his key responsibilities is to ensure that the group’s cash is utilised efficiently and appropriately, and that its cash flows run smoothly and without interruptions. He also procures and prepares sufficient sources of funds, on both the debt and equity side, as well as seeking out short-term investments with competitive terms when True has excess cash.
On top of this, his role requires him to oversee the day-to-day operations and transactions of the treasury and from his position in the treasury, Komson has a high-level view of the greatest threats to the group. One of the key threats True faces is that of competition.
|Consolidated financial results
|Results from ongoing operations
|Results from ongoing operations before deterred income tax
|Net profit (loss) to equity holders of the Company
Unit: Baht million
Source: True Corporation’s Annual Report 2013
Thankfully, True Corporation was not hit as hard by the global financial crisis as some other firms during the period. This was more down to the fact that the company operates in a high-growth sector, rather than any resistance of the Thai economy to weakening global conditions.
Indeed, True is fortunate to be operating in a sector that is currently undergoing rapid growth, with mobile data usage in particular rocketing in Thailand. According to combined data from Thailand’s mobile operators, the total mobile phones in use in the country rose from 61.8 million in 2008 to almost 90 million in 2013. To put this figure into perspective, Thailand’s population is around 67 million.
But with a high-growth industry comes intense competition. Competition has particularly intensified in the Thai telecommunications market, as a result of liberalisation in the space. “It’s fiercely competitive in all three of our core markets, and this is one of the biggest threats to our business,” says Komson.
It is financing this growth that is one of Komson’s biggest financial concerns. “We need continuous funding, from both internal cash and external sources of funds, to finance our growth and stay one step ahead of our rivals, and we need to make sure that every baht is utilised in the most efficient way and the cash we do have is secure. “What is more, laying the groundwork of infrastructure for growth in the fixed and mobile telecommunications industries can be a costly business. “Investing for the future is an ongoing challenge as we have to seek new funding every year. There are a number of expansion projects going on at any one time as this is a growth space. One of the biggest challenges for me is ensuring we have sufficient credit facilities and financial resources to enable that growth to continue,” he says.
As it pursues new business opportunities, True Corporation’s search for funds is likely to be more equity-focused in the future. Komson says the company could well issue shares this year to tap institutional and retail investors for its financing needs.
In terms of day-to-day processes, Komson says that analysing the group’s cash flows is the part of his job that consumes the most time. However, he adds that this is the aspect of his role that he enjoys the most. He is also a big believer in the benefits of close collaboration, and dedicates part of his schedule to providing individual support to members of his treasury team.
Komson believes that the faculty of analysis can be trained. His advice to young people who aspire to a career in corporate treasury is to focus on developing the basic skills that are key to the profession. “Firstly, you need to work on your standard of financial intelligence – the ability to analyse financial reports and cash flow statements, for example. After this, communication skills are important, as you need to clearly communicate what you have analysed,” he says.
In order to be able to spend more time on this analytical part of his role, he would like to further leverage new technology. Like many treasurers, Komson is often on the move. He says one way technology could make his life easier would be the ability to approve payments on his mobile device, which his team does not currently have the capability to do. He would also like to have improved integration between True Corporation’s online banking system and its internal ERP, SAP. Indeed, he and his team are already looking into whether this would be possible.
“Technology has an important role to play in the treasury function,” he says. “It should be exploited so we can work more efficiently and focus our efforts on the areas where we can really add value.”
Despite the transformation the group has undergone since its inception, True Corporation is a firm believer in the value of continuity in its banking relationships. Since the company was established in 1990 (it was originally called CP Telecommunication Co.), it has kept the same primary relationship banks. “Our banks provide us with the service and support we need at a price we feel is reasonable,” says Komson.
In addition to managing True’s relationship with its banks, another of Komson’s key responsibilities – indeed, of almost any treasurer – is the management and mitigation of risk.
From a risk management perspective, True Corporation is in the enviable position of having minimal foreign exchange risk. Although in the past the group had been subject to exchange rate fluctuations, that is no longer the case. In 2011 the company repurchased its outstanding USD bonds, significantly reducing the group’s foreign exchange exposure and refinancing risk. At 31st December 2013, less than 3% of the group’s consolidated non-current borrowings were denominated in foreign currencies.
Furthermore, given that the vast majority of True’s operations are currently within Thailand, provided it does not issue more foreign currency debt, this FX risk is likely to remain low.
The company is subject, however, to a certain amount of interest rate risk, given its balance of floating- and fixed-rate debt. At the end of last year, around 54% of True’s consolidated debt (THB 47.2 billion, around $1.4 billion) was subject to floating interest rates. A significant rise in the interest rate in Thailand would therefore have a significant impact on the group’s cost of debt.
Going forward, Komson would like True Corporation’s treasury to continue to implement technology solutions that can make the function more streamlined and efficient. He also feels that should True seek opportunities beyond its core home market, its treasury department would do well to also add an international dimension, by becoming more diverse in its make-up and striving to attain best practices set by its contemporaries abroad.
And it is with contemporaries in mind that Komson offers his parting word of advice – about the importance of combining knowledge and collaboration. “In order to be successful, you need to know how to use your knowledge in the most effective way,” he says. “But first and foremost you need to think about your company and your colleagues; you should think of giving, and helping them, before expecting something from them.”