One of the major objectives for Yang is to continuously build a stronger team and improve processes. In the past, she says treasury has been characterised by its technical expertise. This will remain the foundation of the function. But she also wants to balance this, serving the business more effectively by encouraging a broader outlook.
“Connecting the dots,” she says, can be achieved either by bringing in people who have “lived in the business”, or by rotating treasury professionals out to the business, using cross-functional initiatives as a platform, building on their organisational understanding and experience, and developing a wider set of contacts.
“It’s good to be proud of our function but sometimes we can be so focused on what we do that we build barriers,” she comments. “I tell people that first we serve the good of the whole company but then our key stakeholders are the other functions.” Engaging in open discussion is vital in any cross-functional initiative because taking the narrowed view of one function can have unintended up- and downstream consequences. Yang believes treasurers with wide exposure to their business will be better positioned to examine the potential wider consequences of their actions, and better serve the organisation.
This willingness to learn is part of what makes Yang successful – and no source of learning is off limits. Throughout her career, she has carried with her a notebook. She has populated these (she’s on her third now) with the wisdom of others and also with her own thoughts, and those of her colleagues. As each role within her career draws to a close, she puts aside a page for reflection. Likes and dislikes, points for improvement and personal successes have all found their way into this review. Yang uses this to help direct her next steps.
Strength in people
Yang has a talent for making connections and better understanding the motivations of her colleagues. It helps her management style and, at the junior end of the spectrum, has helped her “take a risk on talent” to great effect.
Indeed, in her view of millennials as “more vocal, more open to learning, and more willing to challenge” than her own generation, she recognises in them the need for encouragement, offering it in the form of genuine ownership and independence. But she also knows to set clear parameters to offset their lack of experience.
Yang recognises vaulting ambition in herself and admits that in a previous role, she wasn’t quite ready. Although recognised as an emerging talent, she felt she lacked the “maturity and experience”. Surrounded by vastly more experienced people, she found the environment slightly intimidating.
As an Asian woman moving into Europe, where experience and longevity is highly valued and difficult to relinquish, “it was a struggle,” she confesses. “At times I was not assertive or artful enough. I didn’t push back or properly prioritise.” Nonetheless, she sought out opportunities and brought much-needed clarity to a complex environment. This was appreciated at head office.
Fortitude is a characteristic in which Yang excels. Having been born and brought up in China, in the one-child policy era, where almost 80% of women participated in the workforce, she “always had the impression that women were at least equal to men”.
However, in her transition to Western culture, she was “shocked” by the realisation that many women did not work. She rails against socially- or self-imposed ideas that women and men may not be equals, yet having toured many countries, she identifies a problem. “When I was expecting, the conversation always turned to my personal rather than professional life. Having had my daughter, I felt pressure to return to work early and then needed to work so much harder to prove myself.”
Yang was fortunate in having a couple of strong senior role models to demonstrate the reality of working motherhood. “They taught me not to judge by presence in the office but by the level of engagement and quality of work. It forced me to make better choices and to be flexible.”
Yang is understandably keen to impart her view to new talent that a work/life balance is possible. “It requires more prioritisation, advanced planning and higher efficiency, but it can be done. It’s not a single choice question.”