When JJ Ang, the CFO of Sendo, joined the company in October 2019, he hit the ground running. The homegrown e-commerce start-up had just secured US$61 million in a series C round, its largest raise to date, and was preparing to get the ball rolling on another major expansion.
Earmarked for investment in AI and machine learning, the funds were to enhance customer experience and secure Sendo’s standing as one of Vietnam’s leading e-commerce players.
Bringing years of corporate finance and operations management expertise to the role, JJ has joined Sendo at a crucial period as the company is maturing into one of Vietnam’s largest e-commerce marketplaces.
At various stages of his globe-spanning career, he lived and worked in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Peru and now Vietnam. Prior to joining Sendo, JJ served as the CFO of Tamshi Group and spent his time between Singapore and Peru developing one of the largest cacao plantations globally.
Before that he was a co-founder and partner at Emergebridge, a merchant bank in Singapore focused on cross-border capital raising transactions as well as private equity co-investments alongside family offices from Europe and Asia. JJ started his career in investment banking with Bank of America Merrill Lynch out of New York in 2007, and made the switch to investment banking with Royal Bank of Scotland out of Hong Kong from 2010 to 2014.
JJ’s dedication to establishing a socially sustainable, equitable and profitable company recognized by its high standards and ethics underpinned his work with Tamshi Group. Similarly, an opportunity to build a company that directly impacts the local community improving the lives of millions is what attracted him to Sendo.
In this exclusive interview with Vietcetera, Sendo’s CFO JJ Ang talks about the challenge of helping the team transition to the founder’s mindset, spotting top talent within the organization and his hands-on leadership style.
What made you decide to join Sendo Corporation?
After more than ten years in investment banking, capital raising and private equity in New York, Hong Kong and Singapore, I knew I was ready for a change. Sendo’s offer was well aligned with the professional and personal challenges I had set for myself when considering my next career move. Job scope, level of responsibility, drive and passion required – it had everything.
When I first met Sendo’s co-founders, I had a strong inkling that the company and its mission was a good fit. They were offering something that was personally fulfilling to me on several levels. Most importantly, I saw an opportunity to join a platform that contributed directly to the community, particularly capable of empowering and improving the quality of lives of millions of people in an emerging market.
I knew Sendo was a hard opportunity to pass on.
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Describe your management style in three words.
Respect. Empowerment. Caring.
Respect: I aspire to find a balance between proactive management and micromanagement. I believe that as a new incoming leader into an organization, you must have earned the respect of your team members and “earned your stripes”, before you can effectively lead and empower your team. To truly understand how an organization functions, one should start from the “bottom”. I spent the first couple of months working side by side with my colleagues on various projects, as opposed to just delegating tasks. It becomes easier to gain the respect and lead the organization thereafter.
Empowerment: When I first joined Sendo, I spent the first month meeting key folks within the organization, be it senior or junior. It must have been close to 300 different meetings. It was important to interact and learn from different people who have been in the organization longer than I have been, and to form an objective view of the strengths and areas of improvement within the company. Communication of vision is key within a large growing organization like Sendo, and empowerment of leaders and managers at different levels is crucial to its overall success.
Caring: It’s also important not to lose sight of caring. We all have our lives outside of work and what happens when we are out of the office matters. I make it a point to periodically check in with all my team members, and to know everyone by name and face. My team knows that they can count on me if they run into any problems, work-related or not.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in a management position?
I like to offer two if that is ok.
First, it’s important to spend the time to really understand the task at hand. Without putting in the hard work, you won’t be able to navigate and delegate efficiently from a management perspective.
Secondly, hone your people management skills. Strong people management skills go a long way, and are especially valuable for those in tough middle management roles where one has to manage both up and down.
What do you find most difficult about your job?
Instilling the right level of buy-in from employees is probably one of the most difficult tasks in my job. I’ve been a founder before and even though I am not a co-founder of Sendo, I problem-solve and make decisions while putting myself in the shoes of the Company’s founders and investors.
Getting employees across the organization to operate at such a level is not easy. How do you convert the thinking from “this is a job I earn a salary on and work 9 to 5” to “how would I operate Sendo as if I were the founder of Sendo and this is my business?”
Such a mindset is hard to create and is even harder to maintain as the organization scales. If you can crack that one, you would have built a very successful organizational culture.
When do you give up or double down on difficult employees?
Firstly, I always focus on putting myself in the shoes of the employee and listen. There could be a legitimate reason as to why he or she is behaving in a certain manner or under-performing. Second thing is ensuring that I am consistent in how I give feedback and provide guidance. If I am not clear as a leader, how can I expect my employee to be aligned in terms of my expectations?
If I have gone through this process and it is evident that the employee is still being difficult or not performing, I feel it is important to make a firm decision on giving up. It is critical not to feel bad or afraid about making hard decisions. It is part of my job as a leader to be ready to do what is best for the organization.
When is an employee ready for management or leadership? What signals do you see?
A couple of things. One of the traits I look out for is the ability to offer more than is required in the current job function. You can usually tell based on the ideas an employee puts forward and overall performance. Ask yourself: “Are they in a system where their ideas can blossom and can be executed? Is the environment right for that?” If an employee is brimming with great ideas, but is not positioned rightly to implement, perhaps they are ready for the next step.
I also notice when skills do not match up with roles. It can be their work ethic, lead generating ability or strategic thinking that stands out. Would they be more productive and efficient in a different system or team structure? Would their potential be realized then? If you can tell that an employee is currently operating at 15-20% of his/her bandwidth, try and see how you can leverage more of that.
To be a successful manager you must have a willingness to stand up. For your beliefs, for your team, for what you think is right. An employee might be an excellent worker, but if he or she doesn’t have this willingness, this ability, it tells me that they will make an average manager, despite good execution.
How often do you think about long-term goals?
I have my yardstick that I consult for critical decisions at work, it helps to keep things at arm’s length to help keep things within distance and not too far ahead. Long-term goals is not something I obsess over, though it’s certainly something I revisit from time to time as I navigate my career and grow into roles. The yardstick rule helps me to be aligned with my long-term vision.
Career-wise, some of my earlier goals involved building up a suite of skill-set related to corporate finance, investment banking and capital raising. In recent years, I’ve applied that knowledge and expanded into operations management and CFO responsibilities. Now, it is about taking this knowledge and skill-set in combination and applying them to leading a standout organization in an emerging market, which ultimately will have an impact on people’s lives. In the long term, it is most important for me to play a role in realizing people’s potential, not just mine.