I came in thinking that the focus of the programme would be on accounting, but it was really more about how we can build value for a company.
The importance of people management
In his 14 years with ATR, Alessandro has seen his work shift from managing highly technical projects towards a more general management-type path. Through it all, the one thing that has held true for him is the importance of managing relationships.
“Even in my technical roles, it was important that I was able to manage well the relationships with team members and suppliers. Negotiation skills were especially important whenever there were situations that needed deconflicting.”
To make things more challenging, the nature of ATR’s services often required Alessandro to deal with people in different locations and time zones. Recounting the challenges that he faced in a project to develop freighter aircraft for FedEx:
“Our fuselage is built in Naples (Italy), our wings in Bordeaux (France), propellers in Figeac (France) and engines in Montreal (Canada). I had to communicate with all the parties and ensure that the terms for each party were reasonable and feasible.”
Today, Alessandro continues to juggle different teams of people, but in an even more multi-faceted scope. In addition to suppliers and customers, he now also has to oversee the various Heads of Departments to ensure that AES’s operations, financial performance, investments and ventures are executed according to plan.
“The one big change that has happened since I transitioned into management is that I now have to deal with a lot more multi-dimensional issues. Knowing how one decision affects other aspects such as HR or finance has pushed me to take on a bigger picture perspective.”
Seeing finance in a whole new light
In his role as MD, Alessandro spends much of his time dealing with matters of financial importance, from project financing to managing customer risk and debt.
And, while the subject of finance was not entirely foreign to Alessandro, having had to deal with P&L statements and project evaluations previously, the topic of corporate finance was something that he could not admit to being fully conversant in.
“For instance, the full role of a CFO was a little bit unknown to me. And, that was something that was very necessary, especially because one of the board directors I report to is the CFO.”
He was, therefore, pleased to hear from one of his predecessors about INSEAD’s Finance for Executives (FFE) course, which is specifically designed for senior executives such as himself to be more comfortable and fluent with the language of finance.
“He himself had gone through the same course and shared that the syllabus was very well organised, and covered a lot of the issues that I would encounter in my current role. So I happily jumped at the opportunity.”
More than just gaining a better understanding of financial terms and balance sheets, however, Alessandro appreciated how the programme focused on finance as a way to create value.
“I came in thinking that the focus of the programme would be on accounting, but it was really more about how we can build value for a company. Value creation is a simple concept that I did not think too much about before. It forces you to examine all your tasks and what your people are spending their time on, and how you can better deploy your assets to deliver greater value to the company and its stakeholders.”
A university for the real world
For a busy executive like Alessandro, he really appreciated the format of FFE. In just seven days, participants came away with a working knowledge of finance that they could immediately apply to their role and the business they represented.
“With my newfound knowledge, I am now better able to take ownership, especially in the area of corporate finance. Whether it’s talking to the board or customers, I am able to speak with more authority. For example, topics such as Cost of Money are concepts that I have already started applying to new projects.”
Alessandro believes that a big reason why FFE was able to achieve so much in such a short time frame was the way the programme was structured.
“All of the materials were conveniently stored on the portal, and many of the exercises were given beforehand so that we could maximise our time in the classroom…
…Our trainer, Associate Professor Pascal, also used concrete, real-world examples of companies and scenarios to help us understand these finance topics easily.”
Another aspect of the programme that Alessandro enjoyed was the diversity of course participants. Even with the smaller-than-usual intake due to COVID-19, there was still a good mix coming from Singapore and abroad.
“It was a very diverse profile from diverse industries. We were around the same level in our respective organisations, so we could appreciate how the same set of financial tools could be used differently across industries… The good mix of ages also gave us a chance to look at issues from different perspectives during group exercises.”
Equipped for lifelong learning
The practical approach of FFE has not only enabled Alessandro to apply what he has learnt to his daily tasks, but has also prepared him well for the long run.
“I may not be using 100% of the content today, but in the longer term, if let’s say I have an opportunity to advance in my company and take on more responsibilities, I know that I will be in a better position because of the skillsets I’ve acquired. The most important thing that I’ve gained out of this programme, however, comes back to value creation. I’m convinced that once you start to be more cognisant about where you can create value, you will realise that there is a lot of room for improvement.”