Photo of Vivian Peng, Flex Group.
Vivian Peng describes the company as having “a great culture and talented people who are willing to accept challenges and cooperate in order to achieve the best”. As a woman in a male-dominated profession, Vivian genuinely feels there has been no difference to the way she has been treated. When it comes to fulfilling potential, Vivian’s advice for the treasury talent of the future is to plan their career paths “as early as possible”, taking in a breadth and depth of financial roles en route.
Vivian Peng graduated from Shanghai’s Fu Dan University Institute of World Economy, School of Economics. Her academic studies continued post-degree with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA – the global body for professional accountants). This stood her in good stead for a professional career spanning over 20 years which has seen her working in finance and treasury management in various companies and countries.
The experience and lessons learned will, she says, prove invaluable as the higher echelons of treasury beckon. She clearly listens to her own advice and is a most deserving winner of our Woman of the Year 2015 award.
The list of Vivian’s appointments include periods at Bank of China and the public listed metals mining and processing firm, Zhongjin Lingnan Nonfemet. She also stepped up to the MNC challenge, working with companies such as Duke Energy, Walmart and now of course Flex Group. Her work has seen her based in China, Hong Kong and Australia. This broad spectrum of experience earned has given her significant and beneficial exposure to different cultures, industries and management styles, all of which has enabled her to easily bridge the gap between Eastern and Western ways.
Now in her tenth year with Flex Group, Vivian has progressed rapidly since her arrival. In 2009, she took the lead of its China treasury operation, setting up the team and taking the reins as its importance within the Group continued on its rapid upward trajectory.
The importance of Asia operations to global supply chain solutions company, Flex Group, cannot be overstated. In its fiscal year 2015, the business generated $26bn of net sales: Asia delivered 50% of it. If it is further considered that China alone accounted for around 37% of consolidated net sales (by far the largest single market for the company) it is easy to see why this region sits at the heart of the business. It follows then that the finance function of Flex Group Asia – and treasury in particular – needs to be at the top of its game.
As a key function within a global business, Flex Group’s Shenzhen-based Asia Treasury Centre faces the full complexity of a regional trading environment characterised by regulatory inconsistencies and a still-evolving technical infrastructure. Successful navigation of this challenging scenario demands exceptional leadership: this is a role that Vivian has made her own.
Treasury is a relatively new area in China and it is not easy to find experienced talent in the local market. In response, Vivian diligently tracked down the right people with a finance background and, as “a good persuader”, encouraged their progression into treasury. With her leadership, motivational skills and sheer enthusiasm for the role, every team member has since become a genuine treasury talent with a passion for the role. Through equal measures of pressure and inspiration, to each she consistently imparts the spirit of creative thinking, a passion for exploration of the new, and a tenacious capacity for the execution of the work, even in routine tasks. “Sometimes with day-to-day work, the meaning of the task is lost,” she explains. “I help my team members to understand the theories and concepts behind what they are doing, to improve their knowledge, motivation and creative thinking.” As the leader of a small team, by encouraging each person to become an expert in their respective field, she has formed a whole that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. “Everyone must find and play to their own strengths, but pull together as one.”
In 2013, having more than secured the confidence of the senior executive that she was indeed the right person for the job, Vivian was promoted to Asia Treasurer. This saw her taking the lead of the entire region’s treasury management. From here, in partnership with her team and with external providers, Vivian has worked tirelessly to solve a series of professional challenges, taking treasury operations and management to a higher level.
By closely following market trends and changes within the regulatory environment, she is able to effectively communicate with key authorities (notably China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange), calling upon international treasury best practice to find solutions. In this mode, she has successfully broken through many barriers, implemented numerous innovative projects and achieved significant and lasting improvements.
Examples of her diligence in this respect may be found in the implementation of the first ever tax efficient RMB cash pool in the market and the first ever USD pool without entrusted loan in China. She was also instrumental in setting up one of the most sophisticated in-house banking structures, featuring a cross-border USD pool, a full POBO/ROBO function, centralised FX management and cross border sweeping between China and overseas centres. Her styling of Flex Group’s multi-currency notional pool in the Asia region with a two-way sweeping facility has effectively realised a cash centralisation model with minimal or zero impact on local operations – at the lowest cost.
Each of these examples is a major achievement in itself, but factor in Vivian’s ability to build up an exceptional treasury team in challenging circumstances and it is evident that she is the consummate professional. As a well-respected and effective team leader, she is constantly pushing for – and achieving – higher performance levels. And yet she can always make time for strong mentorship support of her team, providing encouragement and many learning opportunities on the way. The fact that under Vivian’s guidance, the Asia treasury team is continually ahead of the curve in a challenging environment is testament to her ability to react effectively and at the appropriate time. “She has a knack of closely following and anticipating market trends and regulatory changes, actively communicating with regulators, ensuring international treasury best practices and finding solutions to problems,” said one senior colleague.
Appreciation of Vivian’s acumen extends into the wider financial community. She has developed a reputation for professionalism with banks, regulators and other external parties alike. Indeed, one very senior banker in the Asian market said she is one of very few regional treasurers who has “a very wide bandwidth” to engage with treasury matters, possessing “an innate ability to see the big picture, as well as get into very detailed level discussions across different products and markets”.
I am truly honoured and thrilled to be nominated as Woman of the Year by Treasury Today Asia. The Adam Smith Awards programme is the ultimate industry benchmark for corporate best practice. The award is a high level of recognition for what I am trying to achieve: to be best in the class. I am very grateful for all the support from the people around me including my family, team members, group treasurer and bankers.
Just as she encourages individuals within her own team to find their own specialisations, clearly Vivian is playing to her own strengths as an outstanding leader. Although she says her perfectionist approach has contributed in no small way to her own accomplishments (adding that she likes things to be organised and to be executed “to a high standard in the correct way”), she also cites trust and support from Flex Group’s CFO, Group Treasurer, each team member and other functional teams of the group as “the key to continued success throughout the years”.
She describes the company as having “a great culture and talented people who are willing to accept challenges and cooperate in order to achieve the best”. As a woman in a male-dominated profession, Vivian genuinely feels there has been no difference to the way she is treated. “This may stem from Chinese culture where equality for women in work has been promoted in the society for a long time; we grow up as equals.”
Whilst she stresses the importance of making time outside of work for her “very happy family”, she feels lucky in that she has always been supported by them in her career, even if sometimes she feels pulled in both directions at once. In particular, she acknowledges the need to make more time to communicate and engage with her 16-year old daughter as she grows up, not least because she sees her as an “energetic, creative, open-minded and persistent” source of inspiration.
When it comes to fulfilling potential, Vivian’s advice for the treasury talent of the future is to plan their career paths “as early as possible”, taking in a breadth and depth of financial roles en route. The experience and lessons learned will, she says, prove invaluable as the higher echelons of treasury beckon. She evidently listens to her own advice.
“I am truly honoured and thrilled to be nominated as Woman of the Year by Treasury Today Asia. The Adam Smith Awards programme is the ultimate industry benchmark for corporate best practice. The award is a high level of recognition for what I am trying to achieve: to be best in the class. I am very grateful for all the support from the people around me including my family, team members, group treasurer and bankers.”