Early in his career Jason Crimson FCCA was offered a piece of advice. ‘A mentor told me that whenever there is an opportunity and it looks tough and not many people are gunning for it, then that’s the one you know you should volunteer for,’ recalls Kimberly-Clark’s director of Asia Pacific Shared Services. Heeding this advice over the years has played an instrumental role in shaping his career path.
While initially his interest lay in the law, financial constraints prevented him from furthering his studies abroad. So he opted for accountancy, first completing a London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) Diploma in Accounting before undertaking the ACCA Qualification. The examination rigour of the latter, he says, taught him to be disciplined and focused.
In 1999, he joined PwC Malaysia’s tax department, undertaking tax compliance and advisory work. Then, after a short spell with an internet startup, in 2001 Jason joined IBM Malaysia’s accounting shared services centre. During his 10-year stint at the organisation, he worked in a variety of roles ranging from general ledger, systems development and transfer pricing to consolidation accounting and analysis, and project management for divestiture. He also undertook a three-year assignment in New York, handling consolidation accounting for key growth markets and policy and process harmonisation across multiple shared services locations, as well as divestiture accounting for Asia Pacific.
The extensive and expansive experience offered key insights that are helping Jason in his current role. ‘There are many things that you pick up,’ he says. ‘Some of the key things are process knowledge and process controls, as well as project and transition management. A large part of the work of a shared services centre is successfully bringing work in, and then managing the delivery of services and the client relationship.’
At the same time, he says, setting up good process documentation, enabling continuous improvement and making sure all those aspects are sustained within the centre is crucial, adding that people management is equally important.
Jason moved to Kimberly-Clark in June 2011 in search of a new challenge. ‘It was an opportunity to lead a startup of a multifunctional shared services operations supporting the Asia-Pacific region and to scale up its scope of operations,’ he recalls. ‘My prior experience within shared services was primarily within the general ledger and reporting process areas, and this was a great opportunity for me to take on the challenge to learn and lead other process areas in Kimberly-Clark. It was also an opportunity to develop my general management experience by having full accountability of the service delivery, organisational growth and talent development.’
In his current role, Jason leads the Asia Pacific Shared Services Centre, which provides business support services to Kimberly-Clark entities across the region. The centre, which he was responsible for establishing in 2011, currently services more than 40 legal entities across 14 countries. Business services include finance and accounting processes such as financial reporting and analysis, transactional processing and process and systems development.
Jason’s priorities include defining the strategy for the development and growth of the shared services footprint in Asia Pacific, as well as partnering with the group’s sister shared services – located in three other locations across the globe – to drive standardised processes and procedures.
Besides growing Kimberly-Clark’s shared services activities in the region, Jason also regularly speaks at various local and regional conferences, typically addressing the subject of shared services best practices and talent management. Through his engagements with institutes of higher learning and professional bodies such as ACCA, he is a keen proponent of branding shared services and outsourcing (SSO) as a career choice in Malaysia.
‘It is very important for accounting professionals to stay connected to their industry,’ Jason says. ‘One of the ways is to be actively engaged with professional bodies such as ACCA who organise high-value events addressing issues that matter to the industry. As such, it is a great opportunity for me to share my experiences as a speaker or panellist at ACCA events on topics including the shared services model, talent management and career opportunities.’
Malaysia, Jason points out, is recognised as one of the hubs for finance and accounting shared services. ‘Not only are shared services organisations looking for talent in entry-level positions but middle and senior management positions are also available,’ he notes. ‘If people want to move away from the traditional finance and accounting career route, shared services is certainly an option.
The shared services industry offers an alternative route for a career in finance and accounting, at the same time within a globalised and multicultural environment, Jason says. ‘You’re working with people from different countries, and you’re exposed to continuous improvement and enterprise-level tools, whereas when in public practice you may not have similar opportunities. You may have multiple clients in public practice but at the end of the day, you may not have the opportunity to have hands-on operational experiences within the business processes and tools.
‘It’s also very different from being in a finance department of an organisation,’ he adds. ‘Generally in a finance department the opportunities for job rotations are limited, whereas in shared services, because of the culture of rotation and shadowing, it offers an altogether different experience.’
At Kimberly-Clark, there is a concerted effort to attract as well as retain talent, says Jason. ‘We target between 25% and 30% job rotations and job changes a year. If you’ve been in a role for 12 to 18 months, as part of an ongoing career and personal development discussion, your team leader will engage with you about what you’d like to do next.’
Job shadowing is another option. ‘If you’re unsure of a particular job rotation you can opt for job shadowing, where you’re given a preliminary view of what to expect so you can decide if it’s for you,’ Jason explains. ‘We invest the time to make this happen; our target last year was 30% job rotation and we achieved 40%. We had team members from accounts payable moving to product costing, from general ledger moving to accounts payable; it is very fluid and the leadership team here is committed to make the job rotation a reality and a success for team members to pursue meaningful career development.’
Jason adds that the organisation also has what he describes as an ‘open-door’ concept with regards to people management. ‘Access to the leadership team is evident; there’s very little power distance between the employees and management,’ he says. ‘We also have engaged feedback mechanisms. For example, we conduct surveys and organise roundtable sessions to listen to the needs and suggestions from team members.
‘At the same time we try to include work-life balance practices such as encouraging people to work from home, enabling flexible working hours, and we’re also focused on building a very inclusive environment,’ he says, adding that the organisation was recognised as one of the champions of women in the workforce by TalentCorp last year.
‘We also have a strong people development framework where we have it in our performance objectives that require team members to spend at least 40 hours on learning and development each year,’ he says.
These talent management approaches appear to have paid off. Although the general attrition rate in finance and accounting shared services is approximately between 25% and 28%, in Kimberly-Clark, Jason says, it is in ‘the mid-teens’.
He says that about 80% of his job is people management and organisational building, which he enjoys. ‘I am a qualified accountant but the last time I did double-entry was a very long time ago!
‘This job is very exciting, in terms of coming up with solutions for people and customers. From a people standpoint, it’s about enabling career and personal development, allowing people to manage their work-life balance, and it excites me to look for solutions, to see what we can do to make things better for our people. We listen to feedback and benchmark with what many other companies and countries practise, and we pick and choose what’s suitable for our workforce profile.
‘From the standpoint of customers, as business demands grow they are looking for more streamlined processes and approaches and are talking to us as to how we can help them with applicable ideas and solutions,’ he concludes. ‘These are extremely rewarding and satisfying aspects of the job.'
Sreerema Banoo, journalist
This article was first published in the Malaysia edition of Accounting and Business magazine in May 2014