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Robert Half determines skill requirements among Hong Kong CEOs.

Research from Robert Half has identified the background and experience of current HSI-listed CEOs. The Robert Half CEO Tracker has found almost one quarter (24 per cent) of CEOs have industry experience in finance while 89 per cent have worked outside of Hong Kong with the majority having worked in Mainland China and the US.

“CEOs are typically responsible for developing goals and objectives on the path to business growth,” says Elaine Lam, associate director of Robert Half Hong Kong. “The ability to understand and articulate the ramifications of business decisions through a financial lens is crucial to becoming a competent and highly influential leader in the current climate.”

There’s no doubt CEOs with strong financial capabilities are well-equipped to help their companies navigate the challenges of changing economic conditions and increasing competition in the Asia region. Using their financial acumen, a CEO can continue to evaluate the disruptive forces that are likely to impact a business’ bottom line – now and in the future – and pave the way towards sustainable and long-term growth.

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The US-China Trade War is currently placing new demands on Hong Kong businesses that are looking to their leaders to navigate these uncertain times. CEOs with a background in finance and who have worked outside of Hong Kong, particularly in China and the United States, can draw on their background to successfully navigate change.

“While other political and economic factors will ultimately determine the impact of the US-China Trade War on Hong Kong businesses, CEOs can draw on their experience and soft skills to help navigate their companies through challenging times,” says Lam. “When the going gets tough, excellent leaders are those who build trust within the organisation and ensure or create stability in challenging and uncertain times.”

Finance-savvy CEOs who have international experience can also be invaluable to companies that see expansion as a key part of their future growth strategy. But, while Hong Kong alone is a popular platform for international expansion of Chinese companies, expansion could also mean evolving a business’ core service or product offering or expanding domestically. In every case, a CEO must be able to weigh up the risks and benefits of each potential new opportunity before investing in new ideas or alternative markets.

In today’s market, financial acumen in a business environment means much more than having an ability to crunch the numbers and balance the books. It’s about being able to understand and speak the language of business in a way that resonates with all types of key stakeholders, while filtering operational and global considerations through a financial lens to drive overall company growth. In fact, while many accountancy positions in Hong Kong are morphing into more strategic business advisory roles, CEOs too must be able to analyse and forecast financial information that could influence important strategic business decisions – without relying solely on the CFO to be the ultimate decision-influencer.

As the United States and China continue to impose tariffs on trade, many Hong Kong businesses are feeling the impact; in particular, those who have a Mainland China headquartered company. While CEOs must have the financial acumen to understand the key disruptors and opportunities that could impact a company’s bottom line, they must also be able to ask the right questions such as “How will our bottom line alter if tariffs continue to increase?”, “What is the likely trajectory of our funding costs?” and “Should the company look into alternatives such as Intelligent Automation (e.g. Robotics Process Automation) offshoring to lower-cost countries?”.

Whether it’s moving on strategic decisions, exploring new opportunities and markets, or navigating economic uncertainty, it’s essential to ensure everyone in a company is informed, on board and pulling in the same direction. High levels of financial competence from an international perspective enables CEOs to digest complex data and communicate facts and ideas in a compelling way that colleagues and stakeholders can understand. What’s more, CEOs with an analytical and global mindset mind are better equipped to put the right questions forward to executives on the path to continually improving business performance on the international stage.

Soft skills, such as strategic thinking, communication and stakeholder management skills have long been considered the top priority for CEOs, but despite their undeniable importance, there are many reasons why financial knowledge could also propel certain CVs towards the top of the list of most eligible candidates.

CEOs in Hong Kong’s employment market have a variety of industry backgrounds. While having a background in finance is by no means a condition to get the corner office, a deeper understanding around financial matters could lead to an enhanced level of foreseeability and bolder strategic decisions that generate greater gains in the future.


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