Interview with Jill Lee - Group CFO at Sulzer

Deloitte: How do you see the role of CFOs during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic? And how were you as CFO specifically able to help your company during the crisis?

Jill Lee: The pandemic highlights the multi-faceted role of CFOs. CFOs have a long-standing responsibility for performance and balance sheet management, financial reporting and IT, risk management and process efficiency. The pandemic was a stress test to this dimension of the CFO role as companies need pre-existing strong fundamentals to be able to withstand the unexpected shock from Covid-19. Increasingly, CFOs have broadened their remit to become a business partner to the CEO to support strategic areas such as portfolio management, digital transformation, value chain and sustainability. The pandemic has also accentuated the demands in such areas so CFOs and their teams must be ready to support these imperatives.

When the pandemic hit, our solid balance sheet and liquidity position, IT connectivity and cost transparency supported us well. This enabled us to respond swiftly to the most important priorities of driving continued support for our customers and all the while keeping our employees globally safe. Thanks to the rapid response of Sulzer as a company, our global network across different geographies, well executed local deployment and our dedicated employees who go the extra mile, we successfully navigated the pandemic in 2020 and have emerged even stronger as a company.

Deloitte: Industrial companies could particularly benefit from the economic recovery. How do you see the opportunities for your company?

Jill Lee: On a macro level, the global economy has seen a progressive return towards normality on the rapid roll-out of vaccination and the easing of containment measures in many countries. Right now, there is a pandemic-induced constrained supply chain environment whereby the supply of some materials and transportation are somewhat trailing and there are also inflationary tendencies. At Sulzer, we saw sequential growth in our orders since the trough in late summer 2020, and an H1 order intake reaching the same level as the high base in 2020. Our ability to continue delivering essential services to our customers throughout the pandemic, coupled with our decisive and swift cost actions, enabled us to weather the pandemic challenges and remained resilient. Despite Covid-19, we kept traction with strategic topics, such as innovation and sustainability, M&A and we also successfully completed the spin-off of our applicator systems business. Therefore, we believe we are in a good shape to agilely respond to the economic recovery.


Deloitte: Industrial companies could particularly benefit from the economic recovery. How do you see the opportunities for your company?

Jill Lee: On a macro level, the global economy has seen a progressive return towards normality on the rapid roll-out of vaccination and the easing of containment measures in many countries. Right now, there is a pandemic-induced constrained supply chain environment whereby the supply of some materials and transportation are somewhat trailing and there are also inflationary tendencies. At Sulzer, we saw sequential growth in our orders since the trough in late summer 2020, and an H1 order intake reaching the same level as the high base in 2020. Our ability to continue delivering essential services to our customers throughout the pandemic, coupled with our decisive and swift cost actions, enabled us to weather the pandemic challenges and remained resilient. Despite Covid-19, we kept traction with strategic topics, such as innovation and sustainability, M&A and we also successfully completed the spin-off of our applicator systems business. Therefore, we believe we are in a good shape to agilely respond to the economic recovery.


Deloitte: What lasting changes do you think the pandemic has on the future role of the CFO?

Jill Lee: I don’t see any change to the multi-disciplinary dimensions of the CFO role, neither in the areas of traditional finance management nor strategic business partnering to the CEO. However, changes due to post-pandemic impacts such as supply change, regulatory changes, hybrid working model of staff, future-proofing of IT capabilities and other related risk management topics are likely to increase in focus in the agenda of CFOs and business leaders.

Deloitte: The Covid-19 crisis has hugely accelerated digitization at many companies, from which they can benefit even after the crisis. Which digitization steps do you find particularly promising?

Jill Lee: In Covid-19 times, the reliance on technology to ensure business continuity is clearly demonstrated. Creative digital solutions to effectively support multi-party communication, collaboration and operational processing are indispensable. Secure digital ways to engage customers and suppliers, such as virtual collaboration, work-flow processing, online configuration and delivery of services, remote support among others, will become common modes of doing business. Alongside these, there will also be promising opportunities arising from analytics and data-driven industrial and commercial services.

Deloitte: Conversely, in your view, are there limits to digitization?

Jill Lee: I think the limits to digitization are mainly posed by cyber-security threats, data privacy concerns, varying governance requirements in different countries and gaps in technology and knowledge landscape. I do believe there will always be some need for human interactions in different industries and professions. Notwithstanding, all of us now live and work in a digital world. Ultimately, the constraint may really be digital talent availability and the time required to upskill digital capabilities and adjust our way of doing things.

Jill Lee

Group CFO at Sulzer

Jill Lee joined the Sulzer Executive Committee as Chief Financial Officer in 2018. From 2011 until 2018, she was member of the Sulzer Board of Directors. Beside that, she was the Senior Group Vice President and Head of Next Level Program Management of ABB Ltd. From 2012 to 2014, she was the Senior Vice President and CFO for ABB China and North Asia Region. Prior to this, she served as Senior Vice President, Finance Strategy and Investments for Neptune Orient Lines in Singapore (2010 to 2011). She has also held a number of positions with Siemens, including global Chief Diversity Officer (2008 to 2010), CFO and Senior Executive Vice President of Siemens in China (2004 to 2008), CFO and Senior Vice President of Siemens in Singapore (2000 to 2004), CFO Asia Pacific and General Manager of the Asia Regional Headquarters of Siemens Electromechanical Components in Singapore (1997 to 2000).