#348: Being Bold in Your Career Choices with Cecile Francais

Our Guest Mentor: 

Cecile Francais is currently the Head of FP&A of Cartier China. As the Head of Controlling, she provides performance analysis and key financial indicators to support right decision-making and Business planning to Executive management. She is also a Project Leader for financial related issues of operational projects, working in demanding and multicultural environments, with strong finance background, and has developed specialized financial and analytical skills in Automotive Industry and Luxury Goods. Moreover, Cecile has acquired international experience and business exposure from living and working in North America, China and Europe. 

Key Quotes from the Episode: 

[On opportunities] “So I think everything is, in my journey, and my career here is about keeping an eye open to the opportunities that’s come around and be brave enough to seize them when they come because they come once and that’s the right thing for you. So just be bold enough to look at them and take them.” [7:15] 

[On engaging with people] “And the key thing is to stay humble in front of them because you don’t know their jobs, you don’t know exactly what their field is, but what is key that you have this mindset of asking what they need, what is their pain point and how you can help them? So for me, one of my rituals would be to engage with people every day, engage with new team members every day.” [10:00] 

[On asking questions] “Another ritual I think I have is about questioning, why is it like this? Don’t take for granted that the historical way of doing things is the best. Maybe it used to be the best, but things are changing and now even more and more quickly.” [10:49] 

[On training and development] “So this is key that we keep that in mind. I think it’s part of our daily job to keep on training ourselves. So we need to dedicate some time during the week, maybe a few hours a week or a few days per months, whatever is more suitable, to take the time to train ourselves because sometimes company may provide, sometimes may not provide, but still we have to do it. It’s our own responsibility to take our own development and training.” [13:38] 

[On intuition] “So my key learning here is that you should always have a sense check and trust your intuition about the data. You should have by knowing your business, by knowing the trends like knowing the evolutions of the markets then you should know what the data should be or a sense what you’re expecting and then be able to test it if it’s the right direction or not.” [14:41] 

[On career advice] “Everything is about thinking ahead, looking ahead where you want to go, before you actually go to that meeting or meet that person or take that action. So always be prepared and look ahead.” [18:25] 

Key Points from the Episode: 

  • The importance of seizing opportunities 
  • How finance professionals can best engage with people and challenge existing practice 
  • Why we should trust not only our training but also our intuition about the data 

Stamped Show Notes 

[03:43] Cecile shares where she started her career and how she got to where she is now 

[09:23] Cecile discusses some of the key behaviour, habits or practice she has developed, that have contributed to her career success 

[13:15] Cecile explains how to capitalize on access to data and analysis into development and career progression   

[15:29] Cecile tells us her priorities over the next 12 months and the actions she will be taking 

[17:34] Cecile shares the one best piece of advice that she ever received 

[19:02] Cecile talks about misconceptions about her 

[21:34] Cecile gives details on how to connect with her 

Connect with today’s guest: 

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cecile-francais-a135685b   

Full transcript: 

#348: Being Bold in Your Career Choices with Cecile Francais 

[00:00:00] Wei Chien: Welcome to strengthen the numbers. My name is Wayne Chen, your global finance leader, that champions environmental sustainability and gender equality. It is my ambition to bring business and social movement leaders to the show, the constructive and destroys lessons learned into practical advice for as to remain relevant in accounting and finance while making a positive impact to the society with that, let’s go over today. 

[00:00:34] Hi, everyone. Welcome to the show. We very happy to have socio Francais joining us today. Cecilia is the FP and a leader for catio China. Now as the head of the FTNA, she is responsible for the business performance management processes to support decision-making and business planning. She’s also instrumental in company-wide strategic. 

[00:00:57] Providing insights, analysis and perspective on financial related issues. So the CEO comes with a very strong finance background having developed those specialized financial and analytical skills in the automotive, as well as the luxury goods industry or international experience and exposures are gained through living and working in north America, Europe, and now in China. 

[00:01:21] So we’re very excited to have CCO joining us today. Welcome to the shows.  

[00:01:26] Cecile: I wish I thank you very much. I am so pleased to be on the show with you today, and so honored to be participating with you.  

[00:01:35] Wei Chien: Yes. Then happy to have you as well. Now, as a start, let’s get to know more about your story. How did you end up in China? 

[00:01:42] Of course, before China, where do you start your career and how you get to where you are?  

[00:01:48] Cecile: Okay. Sure. I think what is very interesting when I was reflecting about my whole journey is to see it as a journey or as a flow, because I would have never imagined I would be here now, today in China, when I started my career. 

[00:02:02] So when I first started, so my first internship was in consulting industry because it was like very common for young people, not knowing exactly what to do to start in that field so that you would develop your own understanding of the business. And you would then have more ideas of what you want to specify in. 

[00:02:19] I started my first internship and then I realized, wait a minute, how come I can be a consultant where I don’t know anything. The business. I don’t know anything about how the company goes. I have no experience, so how can I be consulted? And so I said, okay, well, my next internship, I need to go on the field. 

[00:02:39] So then I said, okay, then I will go into controlling on projects. And that’s where I started my second internship as a controller on a project on Dominican Republic, on the construction of the Metro lines. So here it was very concurrent. On the field or your boss was the designer and the managing director of the implementation for the Metro station. 

[00:03:04] And I was with him on the field. I remember going to the Metro stations, measuring and counting how many cameras we had installed there. So doing my controlling work on the field. And then when I came back finished school and that I started as a controller because I really thought. That way I could really help and bring insights to the business. 

[00:03:25] And there wasn’t, it was given to me to start in the automotive industry. And as a controller, it is known to be the best practice to start with because automotive industry has very low margin. So you need to be very detailed. You need to be very careful about what you’re doing and understand very precisely all the business around and all the interaction that you have with commercial teams, purchasing teams, and of course, manufacturing and I was quite happy there. 

[00:03:51] I started in Mexico. And was given the opportunity to travel to the U S and be in charge of those two manufacturers plans for two years. And another part of the journey continued when I was asked if I wanted to go to China. So again, it was just about following my intuition. And say, okay, why not? Let’s go to China. 

[00:04:13] And that’s how I ended up for the first time in China for the automotive industry, taking care of several industrial zones in China. So took me to the north of China, west and central areas where discovery meeting great people and helping business be more relevant. So every time I met a choice in my career, it was really linked to the feeling I had, where I could be more. 

[00:04:39] Helpful, provide more insights to the business and where I could also satisfy my curiosity about new places in the world and keeping an open mind on everything that’s going around me. So after that opportunity in China, then again, changing my carrier came through an opportunity that was raised to me saying a why about working in luxury in pseudonyms. 

[00:05:04] And I said, oh, well, that’s interesting. So after being based in Shanghai, Switzerland seems like a very extreme move, but again, it was the intuition I had that it was the right moment to go back to Europe and for personal reasons as well. And then I chose this opportunity. So I think everything is in my journey. 

[00:05:25] And my career here is about keeping an eye open to the opportunities that’s come around and be brave enough to seize them when they cope because they come once and that’s the right thing for you. So just be bold enough to look at them and take them. And after a few years in Switzerland, I finally again was asked, okay. 

[00:05:44] You’ve been working in China before, or would you like to go back to China and to be working as the head of controlling and of FTNA focaccia in Shanghai? So I said, yeah, of course. That’s sounds good again, let’s go. Let’s go again, following my guts and my intuition and that’s why I’m here. What  

[00:06:01] Wei Chien: a fascinating story. 

[00:06:03] I think the common theme that really comes through from your career and the progression, as much as you’re saying that is by intuition. But I think just the fact that the curiosity, the courage that you have demonstrated, and the other thing very important as it. A P and a leader is that business partnering mindset. 

[00:06:23] And you have that since day one. And as an intern, you always want it to help business always thinking about how can you provide more insights to help businesses make better decision. So I guess that combination is interesting because it comes down to a bit of who you are as a person, but also some of these quality attributes that you continue to develop. 

[00:06:46] As you progress in your careers, less from controlling and then a natural transition into X DNA. And it’s interesting because it’s from a very low margin business. Suddenly you’re getting into a luxury business. . Very comfortable, but I wanted to dive in a little more the value proposition for all of this as an accountant, the quality that we all can learn from, especially true your experience. 

[00:07:12] So what are some of the key behavior and habits or practice that you have over the years that you’ve developed, or you may have observed some of the other leaders as well that has contributed to your career success? I think those will be very helpful for our audience.  

[00:07:28] Cecile: Sure. Sure. I think it did. It’s a question of developing some rituals or some like routines that you do a little bit every day in that day after day, it builds your strength, builds your confidence. 

[00:07:40] So for me, as I mentioned, and as you rightly picked up, it’s was very key to know that and to stay humble. So for me, since the beginning, my key concern is to meet my goals. I’m not a commercial or a sales person. So my clients are not external. Mainly it’s internal people, assuming my managing director, commercial teams, marketing and communication teams. 

[00:08:05] And the key thing is to stay humble in front of them because you don’t know their jobs. You don’t know exactly what their field is. What is key that you have this mindset of asking what they need, what is their pain points and how you can help them? So, for me, one of my rituals would be to engage with people every day, engage with new. 

[00:08:26] Team members every day, for instance, here in China and whenever possible, I have some mentors and connections with other departments have other over lunch or coffee moments, then try to engage with them to know daily work. And by talking with them and having these maybe informal conversations, you know, a lot about the business and better how to help them. 

[00:08:49] And they will provide information to you as well to make your job even more fun. Another ritual. I think I have is about questioning. Why is it like this? Don’t take for granted that the history call way of doing things is the best. Maybe it used to be the best, but things are changing and now even more and more quickly. 

[00:09:09] So assuming that the past way of doing things is still the best is I think is wrong. Let’s question everyday about why do we do that? Why couldn’t we do it another way? Why? So at the beginning, some people, they might feel a bit concerned. Why are you challenging me? And why are you asking so many questions? 

[00:09:28] They might feel uncertain, but when they understand that you ask them why you’re not challenging them, but to bring up more live in questions, then they will more happily. Coming into your conversation with you and try to answer this themselves. The question why? So I think that that’s those two areas, meeting your clients and with a humble attitude, ask them the questions. 

[00:09:52] That’s key for understanding how the things work and how you can better support them as a finance person.  

[00:09:58] Wei Chien: Well said, I cannot agree more. These two are very much interconnected as well, because when you ask that why like the five whys or even more wise, you need to have that humble kind of outlook and behavior as well. 

[00:10:13] Therefore you are able to then connect. With all the stakeholders and the routine of engaging everybody, I think is a wonderful habit. We should all do that. I think a lot of the accounts and finance people do have a tendency. Of course, right now we can’t really go into the office per se, in most of the places, but in an office environment, most of the accountant tend to. 

[00:10:32] Focus on their work. And sometime may overlook a little bit about that human connection and the way that you say it in terms of having these two habits and do it consciously on a daily basis, I think is a great advice for audience. Thank you. Thank you so much for that. Now we talk about, or this behavior, that mindset. 

[00:10:50] I wanted to switch gears a little bit to talk about data. Again, we got all traditionally very good. The numbers, the data analysis, very complicated Excel spreadsheet and the SAP system, whatever that you have that access that we have allow us to actually view a much broader strategic view of the business from your angle. 

[00:11:09] How should our listeners capitalize on those access to data, to analysis into the development and their career progression? Yeah.  

[00:11:20] Cecile: Indeed. It’s key. They are more and more tools available out there. And as key partner to the business, we need to keep on learning skills and developing our own talent and competencies. 

[00:11:32] So we can. Put that aside and forget about it because we need to always be updated on the state of the art on all those visualization tools, assimilation, et cetera. So this is key that we keep that mind. I think it’s part of our daily job to keep on training ourselves. So we need to dedicate some time during the week, maybe a few hours a week. 

[00:11:54] A few days per months or whatever is more suitable to take the time to train ourselves because sometimes company may provide, some times may not provide, but still we have to do it. It’s our own responsibility to take our own development and training. Now, the other thing I wanted to say about that, huh? 

[00:12:12] As with the experience, it’s key that we develop our own intuition about that topic, because that’s how you will be able to crunch numbers have so many pivot tables, clouds, et cetera. But what is key is in the end, you need still to challenge the results and to be able to have a sense of if the data is correct or not. 

[00:12:32] Because sometimes whenever you crunch, sometimes the formula is wrong. And if you don’t have any sense of what you expecting or what direction you are. Looking at, then you can come up with something totally wrong. So my key learning here is that you should always have a sense check and trust your intuition about the data you should have by knowing your business, by knowing the trends by knowing the evolutions of the markets, then you should know what the, that I should be or a sense what you’re expecting, and then be able to test it. 

[00:13:11] The right direction or not.  

[00:13:13] Wei Chien: I do like this very unique, but very powerful piece of advice about institutions. You’re absolutely right, because sometimes the data is as good as it is that human intelligence at this juncture can not be fully replaced with either machines or data. So thank you for that intuition advice. 

[00:13:32] Definitely. One of the biggest takeaway for me. So now we are still very much in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic. What are your priorities? 12 months. And what sort of actions are you taking to achieve those?  

[00:13:46] Cecile: My priorities is the people, my staff. Last year, I have the feeling I have been. Yeah. Running after the train, trying to catch up with the running forecast, we had to do the new requirements that we had to face coming from the group, asking more, reporting, more visibility on the business in a context that is even more uncertain, even more volatiles. 

[00:14:08] So means a lot of scenarios, a lot of simulations, rounds, and rounds of numbers. So I have the feeling and we’ve been trying to catch up the train. And this year, now that the train is. There for me. I need to develop my team now. So need to spend time with the training, them onboarding them. Cause I have new joiners coming recently to exactly pick up those new tasks and new scope that the situation and the pandemic situation. 

[00:14:37] As a new requirements. If PNH develop my team meeting, I need to be able to provide them with the right training, with the right inspiration as well. So we have been through difficult times and it’s not over. So I need to be the leader that inspired my team to go beyond. And continue, whatever is coming at us again and again. 

[00:14:58] So for me, it would be a lot about coaching, helping them to know what they are good at and encouraging them in developing their own skills and competencies to face the future. The business and the future of SPNA function as a new set of skills and competencies are required from us.  

[00:15:17] Wei Chien: Thank you so much for putting people first Cecile. 

[00:15:20] I think that’s what true leadership is about. And just on that note, maybe let’s get our audience to know you a little more as well as who you are as a person. Fun questions about you. If you were to look at your past career, what is the one best piece of advice that you’ve ever received and how did that advise actually help? 

[00:15:39] Cecile: I think the best piece of advice and the most inspiring one is be prepared. But when I look at the athletes, when I look at the artists, musicians, all those people that are very inspiring, it’s not only about talent. It’s not only about luck. It’s all about the hard practice they are doing everyday, everyday, everyday. 

[00:15:58] It’s about practice and preparation. So nothing comes as a surprise. And when you need to face situation, whatever is coming, you need to be. So you cannot sometimes be prepared on what’s coming, but you need to be prepared of the possibility of what might be coming. So just keeping in mind, find that you need to work on yourself and try to anticipate on what the things that may be coming or rehearse your presentation or prepare your numbers, or exactly define where you want to organize the meeting. 

[00:16:30] Everything is about thinking of. Looking ahead. Where do you want to go before you actually go to that meeting or meet that person or take that action. So always be prepared and look ahead.  

[00:16:42] Wei Chien: Yep. We’ll say this is saying fortune favors the bowls. I think it’s not just the goals. It’s the one. Prepare, I am totally with you on this. 

[00:16:51] So thank you for that piece of advice. Now, something a little different you’re right now, living in China as a foreigner, you’ve been living in different parts of the world as well. Is there any, some sort of misconceptions about you as who you are when people look at you? I think this is very interesting. 

[00:17:07] Yes.  

[00:17:07] Cecile: I’m very happy to share it with you. Might be inspiring for many of us. It is true that as a finance person arriving in China from the headquarter people here in China was thinking I’m a finance person. So I’m only a thing. Um, very cold looking at numbers, taking decisions, but that’s a very big misconception about myself. 

[00:17:28] I am also a feeler and I think that’s why I’m good at what I’m doing, because I can have this rational thinking. But I also have this link with the people, the connection with the people, the empathy, the compassion, and the care for the people that really bring numbers and relationship together. To make the best out of it and provide the best piece of advice to my stakeholders and my business partners. 

[00:17:54] So it is a misconception that finance people should be only thinking oriented or rational oriented. There will be all the more efficient and best business partner. If they open up a little bit to their feelings, to their intuition and to the emotion, to have this additional layer of empathy and compassion with their business partner to make it more relevant. 

[00:18:17] Wei Chien: Okay. I love this misconceptions that you’ve got from people, because sometimes I got in the same thing again, totally with you on this as a good leader, not just a FP and a leader or whatever we do in life. That element of compassion, the element of empathy. So important again, there’s only so much data and numbers can tell us, can guide our decision, but ultimately we are all dealing with human beings so that emotion, that feelings will drive either the adoption or the effectiveness of whatever that we will do. 

[00:18:49] I think COVID-19 changed that as well. People really look into what a good leadership should look like. It’s exactly to all this that you described earlier about you’re putting our people as a first priority over the next 12 months. Well, thank you so much for that. It has been a wonderful conversation, Cecile I’ve really enjoyed it. 

[00:19:06] And the advisor. Are quite different from some of the guest mentor that we have on the show as well. I’m very sure a lot of audience want it to continue to have that conversation with you to understand, to hear a little more about your story. It isn’t, it very inspiring the choices that you make throughout your career, and some of the advice that you have taken and also the habits that you have developed as well. 

[00:19:31] So in case our listeners want to get in touch with you, what will be the best way for them to get in touch?  

[00:19:38] Cecile: Sure. Absolutely. It will be my pleasure to continue the conversation after the show. So please don’t hesitate to reach out on LinkedIn. I think it would be the easiest platform to reach out to is my  

[00:19:49] Wei Chien: LinkedIn. 

[00:19:50] Okay. Yes, we will have that posted on the show notes as well. So again, thank you so much CSL for joining us today. Have a very good and safe day. Thank  

[00:20:01] Cecile: you. It was my pleasure to be here today with and with all of our listeners. Thank you very much. Thank you. 

[00:20:10] Wei Chien: So there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the show today. If you’d like to know more of a guest mentor today to bio and resources, you can find all that@asitnshow.com. You will also get access to early show. Block also for subscription to our newsletter for activities and resources that are going to help you continue to be your strengths and capabilities along the journey of finance and accounting and just. 

[00:20:41] We really appreciate your feedback and suggestion, or if there’s a guest mentor that you’d like to hear on the show, drop me a message and Lincoln, I will love to connect and hear from you. Let us keep building a strength in the numbers we’re growing and finance community that contributes positively to the society. 

 

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