Poranee D'Alelio is the CFO at Brand’s Suntory International. She has over 25 years of working experience in various senior finance roles, in both a regional and international capacity, and has experience working in Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia and Switzerland.
Can you tell me about your career progression to date?
What led me to my current position was my experience working with different business models, cultures and authentic leadership over the last 25 years. I have been blessed with such great opportunities and exposure, which helped me become more flexible and open-minded towards things outside of my comfort zone, like my decision to work in Cambodia during the 90s where I experienced a lot of diversity.
Can you pinpoint when you first started to notice an emphasis on diversity and inclusion?
I don’t think diversity and inclusion came on my radar during my early years in Thailand because it’s already predominantly female within the finance workforce.
I started experiencing a lot more diversity and inclusion when Nestle sent me to Cambodia in 1998 to help build their local finance team, where I worked with people of different nationalities, including Swiss, Pakistani, Singaporean, Thai and Cambodian. We had some challenges with the local talent gap and way of working, which is why we had to show them the new way of working while remaining mindful and respectful of their culture and tradition. With that in mind, we managed to maintain Nestle’s world-class standard and meet the targeted deadline in time. And within three years, I had built a strong team which remains one of the most successful in the industry to date.
Having worked in regional roles, as well as in Thailand and abroad, did the differences in culture affect your management style?
Absolutely, culture plays a big role. Both the culture of the country and cultures of the people of different races help shape the corporate culture.
Therefore, managing a team in different countries requires varied approaches. In terms of leadership skills, I have my core skills and ways of working which will contribute to around 80%, with the remaining 20% being things which I’ll alter and adapt to make it more effective to each country.
Which is one factor that has helped you the most throughout your career?
Respect is a value which I have very high regards for. If you have respect, you tend to treat people fairly and are more willing to listen and be less judgemental. This will help build a more collaborative culture in the organisation, which will help make your work more effective no matter where you go and what role you take.
Have you ever had a role model or mentor?
While I do have quite a lot of people who I look up to and ones I’d reach out for consultation and advice, I don’t really have formal mentors or role models. With that being said, I always look at my peers and superiors, at their good and bad, to learn and reflect on my leadership style.
What advice would you give to the up-and-coming generation in terms of them looking for a mentor?
Young people are very energetic and eager to learn, so being open-minded would be a good start. While experience from the older generations is good input, they shouldn’t feel the need to do things in the exact same way, instead they should try and find new ways to do things more effectively.
How do you balance long hours and personal life?
The technology nowadays really helps a lot, with devices to carry around, we can work anytime and anywhere, making it a lot easier to manage. Another thing would be to have a capable team, which will help you work more effectively.
Some organisations are still asking their staff to work long hours every day, do you have any advice to help them turn things around?
I’d encourage everyone to press pause and take a moment to look at how we can work differently. At Brand’s Suntory, we are implementing the finance transformation, encouraging people to change the way we work, to look at the concept of ECRS (Eliminate, Combine, Rearrange and Simplify). Every single level within the company needs to embrace that culture and be open to change.
What advice would you give for women who are trying to progress in their careers while also managing family responsibilities?
Although we’d like to be equally treated, the fact remains that we’re the ones who’ll be giving birth and taking maternity leave. It’s a bit harder than it sounds to have a good career and build a family, which would require someone who is strong and clear about what they want. Apart from that, having an understanding and supportive manager and team would also help.
In this day and age, do you think we are moving in the right direction regarding this type of issues?
I think we are moving in the right direction but can be faster in some places. Often at times, it’s easier said than done and it really needs strong and genuine efforts to create a diverse and inclusive organisation. Our company, for example, has taken the initiative to promote internal movement by transferring our talent to different offices across the world, from short-term assignments to permanent transfers. The management’s encouragement and support are also integral in tackling this type of issues.
Do you think it is advantageous for organisations to have diversity and inclusion?
D&I is not only advantageous but imperative to an organisation’s success. Diversity in the workplace means having people with different characteristics, backgrounds, skills and experiences, which will give a variety of perspectives. These differences can foster creativity and drive innovation, faster problem-solving and better decision making, in turn generating more profit and increasing shareholder values. Employees would also feel more engaged in organisations that embrace D&I, reducing the turnover rate and hiring cost in the long run.
In terms of diversity and inclusion, what is one thing you have seen that works?
Once again, I would say being open-minded and having respect. As you have a more diverse workforce with people of different race and gender, and with different skills and experiences, being open-minded would welcome them, while having respect will allow you to treat them properly.
What advice would you give to leaders who want to create a more diverse and inclusive culture?
It needs to come from the top and they need to be sincere about wanting to drive D&I. If they only do it for the sake of doing it, it’s unlikely that it’ll happen.
What obstacles do you foresee for future generations of women and is there anything we can do about it?
Changes are happening faster than anticipated, therefore diversity and inclusion in the future is likely to be more than just gender and race. Young people have many interests and are very diversified, therefore we’ll need to understand them and what’s motivating them better.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I like having a diverse and inclusive culture and am passionate to promote it. Diversity and inclusion can happen at any level within any organisation or team, I hope people will truly embrace its spirit instead of just doing it because it’s one of the corporate values.