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Dec 2010

Case study: Irelan Tam, Johnson & Johnson Medical Asia Pacific

Irelan Tam FCMA, CGMA, regional FD for Johnson & Johnson Medical Asia Pacific, began her career at Hong Kong Jardine, and moved to various accounting functions across different companies before joining Johnson & Johnson Hong Kong as accounting manager in 1992.

Irelan Tam, regional finance director

During the past 18 years at Johnson & Johnson, she has worked across a variety of functions, including warehouse and delivery, supply chain, OTC, purchasing, finance, general administration, HR and IM.

She finished her Doctorate in business administration in 2005 when she was working on the efficient health care response project with a local health hospital authority.

Currently, she has taken up an assignment for SAP and business performance management implementation for Johnson & Johnson Medical Asia Pacific.

Read more about her flourishing career, and how the CIMA professional qualification has assisted that success, below.

Dealing with a demanding job

Work-life balance is always a challenge when working across multiple time zones.

My existing assignment is related to ERP and BI implementation which requires me to work with colleagues in different geographical areas – Australia, India and Hong Kong – so I often work late and am away from home a lot.

I also have two young children and I find balancing my working life with my family life to be the biggest challenge of my career.  

Since we have time and budget constraints, there is a lot of stress. The main way I deal with the stress is by exercising every day.

Going jogging in the morning gives me fresh air and a clear mind to plan and think over issues, and it makes me feel more energetic for the rest of the day.  

Glass ceiling?

My organisation focuses a lot on diversity and I don’t see any discrimination.

We have a lot of women leaders in the organisation – we have three major lines of business and two of them are run by women; the company group chairman is female. In most countries Johnson & Johnson is involved in, at least half the board members are women; the exceptions are Japan and India.

'Balancing working life with family life
is my biggest challenge'

Training and development

I was lucky enough to be selected for my company’s leadership programme and this has helped me to develop skills in different areas of the business, such as project management, sales and strategic marketing.

The training programmes also focus on ‘situation leadership’ – looking at the role of the leader in different situations, how to work with employees, and how to communicate well especially with different cultures. 

I’ve had many good bosses during my career who’ve taught me a lot and given me many opportunities in different functions, including supply chain, warehouse, HR and IT systems implementation.

They have also given me a lot of coaching, have encouraged me to study, and provided a lot of support and guidance. I am still learning to be a patient and good listener, in order to capture the ‘voice of the customers’ for my project.

When working across different countries, I had an unofficial mentor in the sales and marketing field working with me on a project with the local health authority. She helped me a lot in understanding how sales and marketing works.

This has really encouraged me to realise the importance of making the customer central to our business, and therefore focus on creating value for our customers by providing quality products and service solutions. 

Broadening horizons

Management accounting now is very different from previously: it has become more strategic and focuses on partnering with various organisational functions on driving business performance.

Therefore, it’s critical to understand the industry you work in and not just the finance function.

For example, when we’re working on efficient health care response, I have gone to hospitals to learn about the hospital supply chain business process; talking to nurses and supply chain professionals helps me understand their ‘pain points’ at work. In order to become successful in our jobs we have to understand the business processes of the company’s different functions and how we can create value for our customers. 

'For women in industry, the most important thing
is to continue learning'

Also, we have to fit in with the culture of the organisation. We have to understand the company’s strategic imperatives and how to contribute to the organisation’s success as an individual business unit interacting with the whole organisation.

For example, my organisation focuses on customer satisfaction, so, rather than just thinking about accounting and finance functions, we have to think about how to partner with various functions and to apply our skills to achieve customer satisfaction. 

I think for most women working in the industry, the most important thing is to continue learning. It really broadens my scope when working across different cultures and different business functions.

Setting goals

When working up the career path, we must have our aspirations and a positive attitude. I always believe that when I have an inspirational goal, I work towards the goal despite all obstacles and challenges – that’s been my mantra for many years. 

We have to go after opportunities and seize them. Whatever assignments have been given to me, I always work with my boss to determine the key tasks and how to achieve them.

For example, when I was made responsible for the supply chain, I set some goals for myself – for things I needed to learn and how I can get help from experts in the organisation.

Managing people

It’s important to collaborate with different functions and build trusted relationship with others but managing people is not an easy job.

What I’ve learnt when working with a diverse team is to identify each person’s strengths and weaknesses and determine how to exploit their talents in the areas that can maximise their potential.  

Through the company leadership programme, I have learnt about how to motivate and empower people to achieve their goals.

Sometimes, we have to take risks and let our employees make their own decisions and perhaps let them fail so they can learn from their mistakes. 

I really like working with people in various functions as I am always fascinated with the innovative ways in which people deal with difficult and challenging situations.

Thus, to be successful in your career it is vital to build successful relationships and inspire others to aim for the same goals for driving company success.