#328: Translating Stories to Numbers to Create Business Value with Jing Zhang

#328: Translating Stories to Numbers to Create Business Value with Jing Zhang

Our Guest Mentor:

JING ZHANG is global finance leader in the healthcare and manufacturing industry. As the CFO at 3D Medicines., a leading China biotech company with an ambition to go global, she is currently leading the IPO exercise at 3D, the company is scheduled to go public in year 2021.

A native Chinese, Jing has worked and studied in the US for 14 years, before returning to Asia, and she spent last 11 years at various finance leadership role in China. She is familiar with global finance, tax, and the capital markets.

Jing shared with us opportunities and challenges she sees in the finance and accounting profession In China, which is an area of interest for many of our international Audience.

Accountants in China have been playing a critical role in the transformation of China’s economy, especially in the areas of transparency and corporate governance. However, the profession is facing the same type of challenges just as all of us, with technology, such as Automation and AI taking over more traditional accounting duties, and the increasing demand for accountants with specific FP&A, strategy and FBP capabilities.

Key Quotes from the Episode:

[On the importance of continuous learning] “Continuous learning and never thinking I’m already an expert that I can stop learn. Because in every position I‘ve moved to there has always been learning opportunities.” [04:08]

[On translating the stories to numbers] “As a financial accountant from our world, we need to translate those stories to numbers so that we can evaluate whether a part of the business is successful, is doing well or any of the risks that may facing in that arena.” [07:44]

[On translating the numbers to business value] “When we partner with their business goals and objectives we need to see and how those are translating to numbers and from numbers to business value, because eventually the business value is what makes the business worthwhile.” [10:01]

[Small things can make a big impact] “Never thinking a thing is too small or we are inexperienced because definitely, I’m not experienced in that area, but some things we see from the corporate overall perspective can make a big impact.” [14:42]

[On the accountant’s role in a business] “To give a broad strategic view of the business is first of all what we need to understand the business. As an accountant we don’t have to know the details of each step. But one thing we do need to know is the overall process and how do these (details) flow and how do those bits of information get into our books” [16:31]

[Importance of knowing your market in creating business value] “We have to know the market, not to a granular level, but in a big, good overview, which is linked to the second part. How those numbers translate into business value, because then that’s how we can make a difference.” [17:58]

[On personal advise] “Life is not perfect, if it’s not that important, we can relax a little bit.” [29:58]

Key Points from the Episode:

– How Jing started her financial career moving from a US public accounting firm to a Chinese corporate and now as a leader of an Asian corporation.

– How to best support business stakeholders in meeting the business objectives.

– Translating data to numbers, to stories and to business values.

– The key habits and behaviours of finance professionals in career development.

– Actions to take on ensuring a successful IPO.

Time Stamped Show Notes

[02:43] Jing shares her journey as an accountant in US and is now a CFO of a Bio-tech company in China.

[06:03] Jing shares how she supports the business shareholders, customers and partners in achieving the business goals and objectives of the company.

[11:39] Jing discusses different key behaviours and habits of successful business leaders.

[16:04] Jing’s opinion on leveraging one’s self to the development of their career progression.

[21:25] Jing shares her priorities and actions taken to ensure a successful IPO of their company.

[26:26] Jing’s best piece of advice ever received.

[31:10] Jing shares how to connect through her in social media and website.

Resources Mentioned:

Connect with today’s guest:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jing-z-66170b2/ Website: https://www.3dmedcare.com/

Full Transcript:

[00:00:00]Wei Chien: [00:00:00] Hello everyone. Welcome to the sitnshow. We are very happy today to have Zhang Jing joining us. Zhang Jing is a global finance leader in the healthcare and manufacturing industries. As the CFO right now at 3D medicines. A leading China biotech company with an ambition to go global.

[00:00:51] She is currently leading the IPO exercise at 3D and the company is scheduled to go public in year 2021. A native Chinese Jing has worked and steady in the US for 14 years before she returned to Asia. And she spent the last 11 years at various finance leadership roles in China. She is familiar with global finance, techs and the capital markets.

[00:01:17] We are very happy to have her joining us today, sharing with us opportunities and challenges. She sees in the finance and accounting profession in China, which is an area of great interest for many of our international audience. Now accountants in China have been playing a critical role in the transformation of the China’s economy, especially in the areas of transparency and corporate governance.

[00:01:45] However, the profession is facing the same type of challenges just as all of us. With technologies such as automation and AI taking over more traditional accounting duties and the increasing demand for accountants to be equipped with very specific skills strategy and finance business partnering capabilities, and Jing having her with us today, we are very excited going to hear from her perspectives as a CFO of a leading biotech company in China. Now we’ll come to the show Jing, maybe as a start, if you want it to introduce yourself to our audience, we would like to know a little more about yourself. Your story, where did you start your career and how did you get to your role right now as the CFO and leading an IPO exercise, which is very hectic, but exciting as well.

[00:02:42]Jing Zhang: [00:02:42] Thanks so much Wei Chien for your invitation. And also I’m quite honored to speak to our audience today. So for me actually I have grew up in China, but also went to US and then studied and then living there for 14 years. So in a way that I don’t know whether I’m more like a China accountant or more like international accountant.

[00:03:08]But the way how I start is after I graduate from the college in China, so my parents like many Asia parents, they asked me to pursue higher degrees. So that’s why I went to US. And then after graduate from the business school, I then went to US public accounting firm, a regional firm to start on international taxation. Then move to Big 4 Deloitte and KPMG for auditing.

[00:03:33] And then from there I moved to corporate world. First from the U S corporations and then Asia corporation, and also to now, to the China corporation. I think in a way that this is a long journey I won’t trouble everyone for listening to my 20 plus years of all the cities I have lived in.

[00:03:52] But, there’s one thing I do want to say it is, the way how I started my career, it is because I want to go to the public accounting to know more. And how do I get to where I am is also because of continuous learning and never thinking I’m already an expert that I can stop learning.

[00:04:14] Because then every position I moved there is always learning opportunities. And taking on that learning opportunity for granted. And I think that’s how it’s quite important and how to get where I am now. And even now I’m still learning, learning the capital market.

[00:04:36] And this attitude matches with China domestic needs, because rapid growth also demands learning attitudes and learning fast. Now I am still learning the China capital market.

[00:05:01] And eventually moving to as a CFO I think that’s all because how to treat learning opportunities.

[00:05:14] Wei Chien: [00:05:14] Thank you for sharing your story Jing. You’ve been very humble, and the message around learning and that continues growth mindset, I think is very consistently, the speaker that I’ve spoken with, from China, Asia, or from the West as well.

[00:05:29] But the other thing I think, our listeners can take away from you is for sure that courage that you have in terms of working in the West and then take that, then move. Back to Asia when you see the opportunity is right for people with your talent and capabilities as well. So with the past roles that you have done both in the US, and then in China, describe how did you support your business stakeholders? Including the customers and partners in meeting the business objective, therefore creating

[00:06:01] Jing Zhang: [00:06:01] Yeah, that’s a great question, actually. Because I have done field roles in terms of the financial world, I have been in the external public accountant.

[00:06:15] I also have worked in internal audit. So looking at the corporate process and the corporate financial reporting process in the internal audit world, then from there, I moved to the

FP&A which I oversee the, all the Asia FP&A activities, which allowed me to have stronger ties with the business stakeholder. And from there, I eventually moved to other roles as a CFO in different companies. So I think how do we support the business stakeholders and then the customers and partners it is using our specialties.

[00:06:55]What’s the accounting or accountant specialties. is numbers. So when we need to know while we’re learning quickly their business, we also need to pay attention to how to translate the numbersto stories. I think that’s quite important because many department can say a story for example, the business development, the marketing, they all have a lot of stories, but only we can translate those stories to numbers.

[00:07:29] That is important to the stability of the company. When comes to translate to how good a part of the business is doing, only accountants can do. So I think as a financial accountant from our world, we need to translate those stories, to numbers so that we can evaluate whether a part of the business is successful or doing well or any of the risks that may facing in that arena. But at the same time, I also wanted to say we also need to know how those numbers created values. That’s another side of the business.

[00:08:15] We all have many numbers, but then how those numbers are linking to the business value. And that’s also a different requirement for a lot of the financial related works. So also there is a two stage, one stage is translate the stories into numbers and another stage is how to use some of the important numbers for the business value. Maybe I think I can give the audience an example. So first of all, talking about the stories and then so which stories and it can translate numbers. So then I think we all know that in our numbers and know what’s the sales number and how do you reach those in sales number eventually into the profit. And a lot of times the business knows that the top line, the sales number, because they are taking money in but for the accountant and also the financial workers,We know how to translate that into profit. So that’s the important stories that we need to share with the business leaders, which business line makes more money overall and which one is making less.

[00:09:29] So stories into numbers, I think that’s quite important. And then from the number then to the values, and that’s alsohow do we translate in term of that capital markets, such as cash flow and then using those cash flow to create more businesses opportunities.

[00:09:48] So that’s another side of the story. So I think if we can partner with business goals and objective we need to see and how those translating to numbers and from numbers to business value, because eventually the business value is what’s, the business is worthwhile.

[00:10:17] Wei Chien: [00:10:17] Wow. Okay. Thank you for a very comprehensive answer. and thank you for supporting our show because have mentioning like numbers for many times, because that’s the name of our show strength in the numbers. It is indeed about the numbers, but the way that you have articulated the importance of numbers and how that then translates into values. And we as the profession that are in a unique position, to be able to explain narrate that story to the business stakeholders, so that everybody’s on the same page, then we can then go ahead and capture those values and opportunities. Thank you so much again, thank you for supporting our show

[00:10:56] so the ability to link in number to business value and tell a stories. Maybe let’s just continue on that particular line of thought to look at the value proposition for accountants, at the individual level. At an individual level, as an accountant, sounds like storytelling capabilities, but it’s quite key.

[00:11:18] But if you were to look at some of the qualities and practices what do you see as one key behavior or habit or insight that you did or develop yourself and, or if you have observed some of the business leader over the years as well, and that has contributed to your career success.

[00:11:38] Jing Zhang: [00:11:38] Wow, that’s another great question.

[00:11:40] Wei Chien, from my side I have worked both in the international MNCs and also worked in the China domestic company I think in terms from the value proposition from accountant and financial professions. I think one important fact is I see the good ones giving a complete story rather than already make up your mind.

[00:12:06] And then don’t open to the business world. I think that’s something we always need to pay attention to. Maybe it is from my background. I have observed many accountants, many auditors. And then like for example, from internal audit perspective, they see a lot of risk. They see a lot of inefficiencies.

[00:12:28] I think that is a great, because the business needs someone to examine where it needs to be improved. However, I think what we’re looking for in a business leader is a balanced view.

[00:12:46] Because there is no perfect story. Everything developed is because there is limited resource or limited knowledge. So from that perspective we need to let the business leader know how they can improve. Even though sometimes we may not have the solutions to improve, but even just a suggestion or ideas, I think from the business leaders perspective they would quite appreciate that.

[00:13:17] Because then sometimes they’ll always say, Oh, this business line that they have a really bad margin or they’re not making profit. But then how do we improve those margins? Even we don’t have a complete solution.

[00:13:35] that is fine. But then from the business perspective, they do appreciate that, we step over our border or our boundary and try to solve the problem. I think that’s something that’s a good quality and a good practice.

[00:13:51] One thing that I think I can give one example in our internal audit project and during that time I have find one thing that, some product codes were not consistently used in two departments.

[00:14:07] And then this is because of the system rules keep changing and no automatic in sync, we need to do even better on this job. But. From that perspective, I have given the management a suggestion saying, Oh, you should tie in this code this department and then to another department.

[00:14:26] So that way those two department can see the same thing and they can collaborate better, which is a small suggestion. But eventually that actually has saved the company $300 million. So never thinking a thing is too small or we are inexperienced because definitely, I’m not experience that area, but some things we see from the corporate overall perspective, which can make a big impact.

[00:14:55] That’s something I always remember.

[00:14:59] Wei Chien: [00:14:59] Very good example and story as well in terms of what you have done, connecting the dots and bringing everybody together and work together in a collaborative manner. But I really liked the way that you talk about, the need for the profession to have an open mind, and also to be able to provide a balanced perspective and view constructive suggestion as well for business, not just from a risk angle, but also from a profitability perspective. So you talk about,

from the example that you gave earlier, this product code upgrade, you said one of the strain that we have is that broad view that we have for the business, for the organization as well. And early on, you also talk about numbers. So we are indeed as an accountant, very good with numbers, data analysis as well.

[00:15:47] We can run very complex financial model, but with the ability to also access the very broad view. How should our listeners then capitalize and leverage on all this training and help themselves for their development as well as your career progression.

[00:16:03] Jing Zhang: [00:16:03] Yes, that’s quite important because earlier we have talked about in our world we are full of data.

[00:16:11] So how best to use those data? To show to the business and how should we talk with them more? How should we best talk with them to make sure that we can all work towards a company goal rather than just the numbers or just their department goal.

[00:16:28] I think that’s quite important. So how to give a broad strategic view of the business is first of all we need to understand the business. The business is based on different functions, different department. As an accountant and a finance profession, we don’t have to know the details of those.

[00:16:50] But one thing we do need to know is how do this flow and how do those information get to our books and then the reports. Iif we don’t know how those numbers are gathered, the input of the number and the output of the number of the each department. Then I think there is a major link missing, because then some of the numbers when you see the numbers is may not be right, or maybe having some reasons, then you don’t have a way to analyze that.

[00:17:21] So I think that’s a first step that we do need to know the numbers inflow and numbers outflow. And how do those numbers aregathered and collected. So I think that’s a first step. The second step of how should we develop this insight? It is understanding the market. Whenever I say this I always heard different perspective saying, Oh, we’re not marketing.

[00:17:47] How do we know the market? This is actually the business development the sales need to do, not our job. In a way that’s correct. But in a different perspective, we do have to know the market, not to a granular level, but into a big, good overview, which is linked to the second part

[00:18:08] I was talking Earlier How those numbers translate into the business values, because that’s how we can make a difference. And also when we analyze, because a lot of times we showed our balance sheet to business leaders, they maysay, Oh, so this is just the accountant numbers, but no, actually that’s not correct what they have not got is how those numbers could translate into business values. Like for example I’m not so sure how many of our audience has shown their cash flow to the business leaders because oftentimes the business leaders pay attention to sales and to our income statement, which is in sales and then the profit margin and then the profit, but with the cash flow is actually, what I see from the capital world.

[00:18:59] It is that adequate cash reserves, then there’s many things you can do and can add a good value to the business. So I think, Overall, when we doing the analyses to business leaders, we need to let them know what’s to pay attention. So that’s the income statement and then, the profit and loss, we also need to highlight to them some of the process inefficiency and risk in terms of our account receivable, our payable, and balance sheet. And then that translate those numbers into values. And then we can link our cashflow statement into the business values and what they can do in terms of the, the investment, what they can do in terms of merge acquisition.

[00:19:45] So those are some things that are good from each of our accountant and finance profession, when we analyze something, we also need to pay attention to, first of all what level of business leaders they are and what information they might need, e second of all, we need to give a complete picture because otherwise they would say I know sales and profit.

[00:20:11] You can say there are more than what you know, other than the margin and then the profit, we need to pay attention to the complete storys rather than looking from just one side.

[00:20:28] Wei Chien: [00:20:28] Very good advice, indeed. Your message has been very consistent from, when we first started the conversation in terms of the profession needs to have the ability to understand the numbers translate, explain that numbers.

[00:20:40] And here you also talk about individual one or two progress to career, they must have the ability to educate the business leader or the relevant stakeholders in terms of, what’s important to look at, you give a cashflow example. I think that’s key. COVID-19 definitely highlighted the importance of cashflow and that complete holistic view to the business leader and to the stakeholders so they make the right decision. I think with those in place, then individual will be able to make a very good progression in their career. So very good advice. And thank you for that. And again, early on, we talk about you right now, leading the IPO exercise, I know is a very hectic time for you. Maybe share with our audience, what are some of the priorities over the next 12 months?

[00:21:24] Of course, other than the IPO to make it a success, which I’m very sure will be one. What are the other priorities? And what sort of actions are you taking to achieve those?

[00:21:34] Jing Zhang: [00:21:35] Great. So for the priorities, I think overall I’m a simple person. So first off all is definitely conduct a successful IPO.

[00:21:46]Because that iPO can bring the business to a different level and will give us enough recognition in the capital world. Also most importantly, cash abundance from the IPO can support our rapid business development

[00:22:02] And then the future of the expansion. So that’s my first priority and in terms of the actions that we’re taking. First of all, making sure that I understand how those business value was communicated in the capital market. So that’s quite important because need to communicate complete message to the capital market.

[00:22:29] From the product and business activities perspective, I need to make sure I can link their value to our overall business value. Like for example, when we getting a new product in, how does that match with our strategic view and how do that product support our business development in the future.

[00:23:09] And to clear communicate those values, there’s a lot of learning. I’m doing learning from every one of the company, from our CEO, from our medical officer, , from our strategy officer and from each side of the business functions just to know more about, their advantages and then their opportunities and also their weakness.

[00:23:37] So that’s the first part already. The second priority that I have, is making sure the finance team are well-developed. So we can support this business activities in the future. So that’s why I’m quite really happy today we can have this communication here, because in the past I’m talking to our own finance team so they can support the business development in the future. Each of us has different backgrounds and has different, advantages. But we need to set up a whole team to make

sure that the business finance team is well aware of the company’s development and what’s important to the companies and how do we making sure the detail process are setting up correctly.

[00:24:27] So that’s what I’m, working with our whole finance team. To make sure that, we have a team to support business views and not just myself, because I know I can’t do everything by myself. So how to train the team and then lead the team. So we all know the business and I can have their support.

[00:24:49] And I think that’s quite important for us. That’s the second priority.

[00:24:53] Wei Chien: [00:24:54] Set off that two priorities. Both will keep you very busy. Personally, I really liked the second priority in terms of developing your team and making sure the team went together as one, they have the right capabilities to be successful.

[00:25:09] And then if the whole team is successful, the business will be successful as well. So that is indeed a very good priorities and all the very best for that priority as well. And Jing thank you so much for taking your time to share with us. The advice that you have from how you start your career, that learning growth mindset that has taken you from, first at a public accounting firm, and then all the way advancing to where you are right now as a CFO taking a company IPO. And you also keep emphasizing on the importance of translating numbers, data to stories and values. I cannot agree more if we, as an accountant can do that we will be able to be ready into the future and also be able to adapt to the changes and transformation that is happening across our profession at this point.

[00:26:04] We talk about a lot about work, about, your IPO and other than work. Our audience also very much wanted to know you a little more as a person. So I’m going to switch gear over to some of the questions about yourself. The first one. Looking back, your career, your life, what is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?

[00:26:24] And how did that advise actually help you? It does not need to be a work advice. It can be an advice that helped you grow and develop as a person as well.

[00:26:34] Jing Zhang: [00:26:35] Yeah, of course. actually, when you ask that question, there’s two people come to my mind. The first piece of advice that I have received is from our Asia President. During that time, I was just transferred from the internal audit department to the FPA department, which, I think that adjustment is a little bit rough and because first of all as auditors everything we see we need evidence.

[00:27:02] But then here I’m in a row looking into the future, so there’s not much can support future at least that’s how I felt. So at that time, when I asked our Asia president and he just reminded me, in a funny way, my role has changed. He said, you’re not auditing a project anymore. So I think, that’s a good reminder to me that, in every position we have a different perspective, but then , how do we make sure that our perspective are not just towards my personal perspective, but then into a good well-developed business overview.

[00:27:55] So I think that’s, it’s always, thinking from others’ perspective and that we need to switch perspective. To me that point has changed my view. So that’s first advice I have received.

[00:28:08]The second best advice I have received is from my mentor. And she is quite successful VP and she has served a really good position in our company, which is a great big MNC. And then she know me in many ways, because I share all my fears , my thoughts and also my plans with her.

[00:28:32] And then, I thought her position, her success shows she is definitely balanced and then taking everything into good cares. But then one night when I talk with her and then she has told me one thing, which gave me a quite good relief.

[00:28:51] She said to me:”Jing you don’t have to be perfect in outlook. Sometimes I can’t find that email in outlook.” That is because I was telling her that, I lose the one email which kind of making me quite obsessed trying to find that one.

[00:29:13] And at the same time, trying to blame myself for not doing a good job. We sometimes not sure how we face our stress. And how we should demand ourselves?

[00:29:20] Wei Chien: [00:29:20] falls into that perfectionist mode so

[00:29:25] Jing Zhang: [00:29:25] yes. So you know that makes me laugh all night and that sometimes I think. Especially for finance professional, we work hard, we deliver every number to a perfection level and we put a lot of stress to ourselves and also sometimes to the whole organization probably.

[00:29:46] But then I also want to say, life is not perfect. sometimes important things we definitely make sure up to a 100% standard, but then something else, if it’s not that important we can relax a little bit.

[00:30:01]So that’s why I think that’s best advice I have received.

[00:30:05] Wei Chien: [00:30:05] Thank you for that, indeed. I cannot agree more sometime we, as a, maybe because of the training of this profession, we do tend to be wanting things to be perfect as well. So yeah, very good advice.

[00:30:18] To our audience as well in terms of managing the expectation and also the stress as well, especially during this time COVID-19 with so many changes going on as well. Thank you so much Jing for all your advice to our audience in terms of, reminding all of us to continue to handle our ability to translate data into numbers and numbers into a stories and values and, the ability to communicate that to all our stakeholders and the growth mindset that we all need to have so that we can be ready and prepare for the future. I’m very sure, many of our listeners will love to continue, especially our international audience to continue the conversation with you. And what is the best way for our audience to continue to talk to you and reach out to you?


[00:31:08] Jing Zhang: [00:31:09] Yeah, definitely welcome those opportunities. And then, so we can share more at each other’s perspective and then can learn from each other. And then the best way you can reach me is first of all is LinkedIn. So you can find me Jing Zhang with my name and also the company.

[00:31:26]So that’s probably the best way, the easiest way, because right now I’m living in China. Some of the social network not quite convenient in here, but the LinkedIn I can see it. So I think that’s the best way you can reach me.

[00:31:42] Wei Chien: [00:31:42] Thank you for that. And again, we will love to have you come back to share with us how the IPO progress as well, and continue to hear from you the China perspective of the profession, how they evolve and how, all of us as the profession can support and help each other to be a better finance business partner.

[00:32:02] So all the very best for the IPO Jing. And I look forward to speaking with you soon.

[00:32:07] Jing Zhang: [00:32:07] Thank you. Thank you so much Wei Chien, for this excellent interview. And hopefully, I can share more with the audience.

[00:32:16] Wei Chien: [00:32:16] I’m very sure we will speak again. So thank you Zhang Jing. Have a good day.

[00:32:19] Thank

[00:32:19] Jing Zhang: [00:32:19] you. Thank you.



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