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Work smart and hard to succeed

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

This week Sunbiz talks to AGOS CEO Joon Teoh on her views of being an effective leader

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

Always ask what you can do for yourself or others, instead of what others can do for you. I grew up in an environment where we need to rely on ourselves, work smart and hard and rely on our own capabilities to succeed.

At the heart of everything we do, is the people. When we help others to grow and develop, we do as well and success will come. I learnt this from my father, who was a teacher with a ”good heart” as described by his students. However, I am demanding and can be a perfectionist; this is what has propelled me forward in my career and business, and delivered the results.

What traits do you look for in talent or how do you decide who is right for a job?

-> Strong technical skills. In finance and accountancy, this means being a qualified accountant with the relevant professional bodies with/or a degree/diploma. A strong augmentation to this is IT programming skills, with the race towards IR4.0 adoption by organisations.

-> Flexibility and high speed in learning new technology

-> Problem solving skills

-> Ability to speak up and articulate ideas and resolutions

-> Able to connect the dots and see the bigger picture

-> Ambitious and having the hunger to learn

Joon Teoh, CEO of AGOS Asia

How do you think the industry you are in will evolve?

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2018, future of job reports, role of bookkeeper, accountants or even auditors are within the top 10 declining profession in the world by 2022. We are already seeing this particularly within Global Business Services hubs of Fortune 500 companies, where the high volume, manual and repetitive work such as invoice processing, customer billing issuance have been either automated or robotised (robotics process automation). The talent will be reskilled towards higher value work such as preparation of management reports and trend analysis. Over time, these talent, if they adopt an open minded and flexible approach, will move up the talent curve to be digital transformation specialist, process automation and data analytics experts. If this is done collectively and concertedly, the same “declining” talent will be “emerging”, as indicated by the WEF. Emphasis needs to be placed on learning and development by the companies.

What advice can you offer those looking to start their career/own business?

-> Be brave and don’t over analyse despite your professional background and training

-> Trust your gut feeling, acknowledge the opinion of others but try not to listen to too many opinions

We all know about the industrial revolution, are we in for a technological revolution?

Yes, as mentioned above. As CFOs and global business services leaders, we need to prepare and convince our talent to outsource the non-value added work to a digital workforce and focus our attention on the more difficult and higher value work, which will help our organisations to grow, build competitive edge and anticipate potential risks and disruptions.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional life?

I had the opportunity to be mentored by two very experienced finance directors from multinational corporations (MNCs) where I worked in for more than a decade. Their mentorship has brought out the best values in me, allowing me to recognise my strengths and build on them, and being aware of my areas for improvement. I sometimes make business decisions by asking myself, what would these two leaders do if they were in my shoes? It’s a great “self-sounding board” for myself!

What do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

Grow AGOS by threefold. AGOS stands for “A Grain Of Sand”, an organisation which I set up three-and-a-half years ago upon leaving the MNC corporate career. My aim is to utilise the experience and best practices that I have learnt through roles such as CFOs, finance director and finance shared services leader to help transform other businesses in Malaysia and elevate our talent by helping to upskill them. We have done various finance, HR and procurement transformation projects for MNCs, global business services organisations, public-listed companies and small and medium enterprises in Malaysia across a wide range of industries such as healthcare, automotive, F&B, education, media, e-commerce and technology. One of our main focus is the utilisation of IR4.0 tools such as digitalisation, automation, robotics process automation and AI in organisations, and AGOS works to enable companies to successfully implement IR4.0, as well as utilise the available incentives. Within these five years, I am looking to expand the team, be focused on our services and build expertise particularly in the adoption of new technology, including blockchain.

Best piece of advice you received on your career.

Build a sustainable business that will give you a return on investment.

How do you stay abreast of issues affecting your industry?

-> Roundtable discussions with industry leaders

-> Work on industry related studies, e.g. AGOS has developed a digital toolkit for global business services organisations in Malaysia

-> Online content and webinars

-> Conferences and workshops

If you could have an hour with any thought leader in the world, who would it be and why?

Our own Chandran Nair, CEO of Global Institute For Tomorrow. He has shown that Malaysians are capable of competing and winning in the global platform, and is always challenging the status quo, having the courage to talk about the “white elephant in the room” and discuss what is considered “non-discussion/taboo subjects.

Most admired business leader? Why?

I don’t really have one. I prefer to look outside the business world for inspiration and think how to apply it to my everyday work. One of the personality whom I find inspiring is Lucy Charles-Barclay, a fast rising star in the world of triathlon. The sheer amount of work, precision and dedication she puts into training and how she welcomes the pressure and competition of her fiercest rivals is mind boggling. She goes at her own pace, by her own terms but yet, leads the pack. And how she turned a setback when all seemed lost, from not being able to qualify for Olympics 2012 to a golden opportunity in successfully competing in triathlon globally.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced and what did you learn from it?

During the initial phase of setting up AGOS, where I was making the turn from being a salaried worker to an entrepreneur, landing the first project was really difficult! It took every ounce of my knowledge, connection and imagination!

What man made innovation confounds you? Why?

Dyson products, bagless vacumn, bladeless fan: very innovative and challenging the norm.

Malaysia’s greatest brand.

Shila Amzah, transcends race, religion, a true and true Malaysian!

A must-read for every business owner/manager is.

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, the mind is the most powerful thing, control it well and everything else will fall into place. It’s so simple but yet so difficult to achieve

How do you expect policies on climate change to impact businesses in the future?

There is a need to understand and internalise the “cost” of climate change to businesses. This is key towards sustainability and competitive edge, if not survival in the future.

What are the top three factors you would attribute to your success?

My family, my team and my customers.


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