What’s your remit? I joined L’Occitane in April last year, a month ahead of the company’s IPO in Hong Kong. Although I’m based there, my responsibilities are for the finance, IT and supply chain functions across the entire Asia Pacific region. I’m often the first point of contact for investors and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
How important are emerging markets for L’Occitane? Between 1995, when L’Occitane was still very much a French-centric company, and 2010, annual sales have grown 70-fold to €612m. This growth has been driven by expansion across Europe, the Americas and Asia.
Today, Asia Pacific accounts for around half of our revenues, while Japan is our number one market in the world. We also have other subsidiaries around the region: Korea, Taiwan, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, Thailand, India and Australia. Looking further afield, we are also well established in Europe – in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, the UK and Ireland – and across the Atlantic into the USA, Canada, Mexico and Brazil, where we have significant subsidiaries. We also have one in Russia. Elsewhere, we primarily work through distributors.
The future looks bright. The market for natural, organic cosmetics is growing by 11 to 12 per cent annually – and by about 50 per cent in emerging markets. By contrast, the global market for standard cosmetics is growing by just two per cent.
What challenges has moving into emerging markets presented – and how has your business overcome them? The biggest problem when entering a new market is getting known. Fifteen years ago L’Occitane was relatively unknown outside France. So when we arrived in Hong Kong just over a decade ago, we had to build brand awareness and persuade shopping mall operators to provide us with good retail space. The same was true when we moved into Japan ten years ago. Here, we focused on setting up retail outlets in railways stations in major cities where we benefit from huge volumes of traffic, as well as in traditional department stores. In emerging markets across Asia Pacific, loyalty card programmes are also important for building relationships with consumers.
As a small company in new markets, recruiting talent can also be a challenge. We overcame this by offering share options. Considering the 70-fold growth in revenues since the mid-90s, this has proved to be a success.
Legal constraints on ownership structures present further challenges in some emerging markets, which means we have had to build joint ventures to enter some territories. Just like a marriage, these partnerships have to be tended, with different ideas and strategies reconciled.
There are other country-specific challenges. In China, it can take up to nine months to receive a hygiene permit in order to sell a new cosmetic product, which obviously needs to be factored into our marketing and distribution strategies. In India, the lack of a comprehensive retail infrastructure and issues such as power shortages can present problems. Shopping malls remain few and far between – though more are being built.
In any market, the key to success is to build scale. Once you’ve done this, everything becomes easier.
L’Occitane floated in Hong Kong in May last year. What issues did this present for the finance function? L’Occitane is registered in Luxembourg and listed in Hong Kong. It has to comply with both Luxembourg law and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange listing rules, so the IPO introduced a new raft of compliance and reporting requirements. We’ve brought in a professional company secretarial consultancy and lawyers to help us.
Organising an AGM also presented a challenge. Luxembourg law requires AGMs to be held in Luxembourg, despite our Hong Kong listing. We decided on a compromise – holding a management presentation in Hong Kong with a simultaneous telephone connection to Luxembourg, then an official AGM in Luxembourg with Hong Kong-based shareholders having a proxy present to vote on their behalf. Following our flotation, we’ve also had to introduce a hierarchy of “who gets to see what” within the organisation when preparing price-sensitive reporting information.
How has the role of CFOs changed during your career? Finance is increasingly about being a solutions provider rather than simply a scorekeeper.
In the 1980s the finance function was often highly departmentalised in large organisations, so you didn’t necessarily feel that you were at the sharp end of business. But this has changed – especially for those in senior financial roles. Today, management accountants at a senior level are expected to be a team player, a leader, an adviser, a counsellor and a decision maker. They also need to challenge their colleagues as well as listen to their ideas, and above all take on a high level of responsibility for results.
How have the skills you have learned from CIMA helped you in your various jobs? They have helped considerably. I studied accountancy not because I wanted to be an accountant, but because I wanted to master finance in order to be a better manager.
If I recall the year I spent on my MBA and the studies during my undergraduate days, the accounting element was interesting, but with hindsight it was also probably academic. Completing the CIMA qualification requires a good degree of discipline and commitment, and that stays with you. Having an in-depth understanding of balance sheet, income statement and cash flow is essential to being a good financial manager, and they are precisely the skills that one learns and hones at CIMA.
If you can master the intricacies of income statements, and particularly consolidated statements, balance sheets and cash flow statements, you have a lot of information at your fingertips to help you understand the business very quickly. Beyond that, because the skills are transferable, you can bring a lot of the know-how from previous assignments to the current one, so it makes things much easier.
In terms of your own staff, do you encourage them to consider CIMA? In Hong Kong we have a number of certified public accountants on board: the regional financial controller, the Hong Kong financial controller and two accountants. As we develop the head count in Hong Kong and throughout the region, I certainly would like to give preference to CIMA students or members, not necessarily because I am a CIMA member myself, but because I need those skills.
While I am happy with the quality of staff, we probably miss not having one or two extra well-qualified CIMA staff around the region to not only manage the books and the scorekeeping, but also to involve themselves more proactively in the analysis: people who question the numbers, who analyse and explain why something has happened rather than simply saying something is five per cent more or less than budget or forecast. It does not help me if I cannot see the context and the bigger picture.
In that respect, I have arranged for our office in Shanghai to offer internships to any winners of the CIMA Global Business Challenge in China this year. We hope to be able to place one or two people. I am also looking at offering internships here in Hong Kong to CIMA students or to people considering CIMA. While I am happy with the accounting skills that we have, they will be greatly enhanced by having additional CIMA managers onboard.
What’s your advice for today’s CIMA students? Be diligent in your studies. Do not give up. Think of the business and what makes sense. Do not be too put off by numbers – they are simply a language for interpreting what is happening. Try to focus on the business and to understand what is happening around you. Try to predict what may happen in the future and prepare for those eventualities. If you feel you are becoming rusty, go back and take some more courses. Never forget the income statement, balance sheet and cash flow equation, and become really good at these three functions, particularly the more complex ones. Always try to evaluate cost in relation to revenues and profits, both current and future. If you do that and have a business focus, develop good leadership and interpersonal skills, along with self confidence, you will be an excellent management accountant.
Coming soon… Sir Alec Reed, philanthropist and founder of Reed... on business, charity and the future of recruitment in a globalising world.
Aidan Goddard Q&AAidan Goddard, CFO AND COO
1983-84 MBA at Trinity College, Dublin.
1986-87 Finance graduate, Grand Metropolitan (now part of Diageo), UK.
1987-89 Management accountant, Argos, UK.
1989-1990 Controller/commercial manager, Wandel & Goltermann, Hong Kong.
1990-97 Head of finance, Festival Filmproduktion and Media United, Germany.
1996 CIMA ACMA.
1997-99 Controlling manager, Leica Microsystems, Switzerland.
1998 CIMA FCMA.
2000-03 Company secretary and portfolio controller, AMIL Pty Ltd/CHAMP Pty Ltd, Australia.
2000 – 2004 Completed L.LM and received PhD in philosophy from University of Technology, Sydney.
2004-07 FD and global controller, surgical division, Danaher – Leica Microsystems (Schweiz), Switzerland.
2007-08 Regional FD, Danaher – Videojet Technologies, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
2008 FD, Danaher – Kavo Sybron China Dental Group, Hong Kong/Shanghai.
2009-10 Visiting lecturer, Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
2010-present Chief financial officer/chief operating officer – Asia Pacific, L’Occitane en Provence, Hong Kong. Goddard is also a member of CIMA’s Hong Kong Divisional Council and the Members and Student Support Committee. Also a GBC assessor and judge.
Goddard is also a member of CIMA’s Hong Kong Divisional Council and the Members and Student Support Committee. Also a GBC assessor and judge.
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