Role: supply chain operations director
Highlights: career diversity
What do Michael Tan and the hit TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation have in common? Surprisingly, the answer is Agilent, the company Michael has been working for over the last 16 years.
Formerly a part of Hewlett Packard, Agilent specialises in electronic measurement devices. Its products have a wide variety of uses from drug testing Olympic athletes to an appearance on TV where one of the company’s specialist forensic machines helped to solve a murder investigation.
Michael Tan is something of a detective himself. In Michael’s case however, it’s not criminals that he’s been investigating but the detection and elimination of waste to improve the performance of the company’s supply chain. For the past one and a half years, he’s been working on an initiative to track down constraints in the supply chain at Agilent’s Asia manufacturing center and working out ways to make the processes more efficient and cost-effective. The results have been so impressive that Michael’s ‘War on Waste’ project recently won an award from the US based Supply Chain Council for Supply Chain Operational Excellence.
Michael is also a good example of how the CIMA qualification can lead to a variety of different roles – many of them outside the finance function. After completing his CIMA qualification in the early nineties, Michael worked his way through several financial roles in the service and manufacturing sectors before becoming the Asia regional controller at Aglient’s Malaysian headquarters on Penang island.
One and a half years ago, he was asked to use his financial background to improve the performance of the company’s supply chain as supply chain operations director. For Michael this was an exciting new challenge and one in which he could use all aspects of his CIMA training.
‘CIMA was a wonderful qualification in the way it prepared me for my new role because it gave me a perspective across the whole business,’ he says. ‘The syllabus provides a lot of management accountancy techniques that go deep into how operations are managed in different scenarios. For this reason, I was able to settle into my current job very quickly.’
When Michael first decided to study for his CIMA qualification at college, he wasn’t certain he’d made the right choice. But once he’d started the syllabus, he knew that CIMA would provide him with an ideal foundation for his career.
‘There were a number of qualifications on offer and sometimes it can be hard to know which one will be right for you,’ he recalls. ‘But CIMA definitely provided a more rounded view of how business works within the macro environment. The other accounting qualifications were more based on auditing skills and I knew from the start
that I wanted something that would enable me to work with many different aspects of business life.’
Michael’s choice has put him in good stead. ‘With my training and experience, I can add value to the company wherever I go,’ he concludes. The strong emphasis on strategic planning and decision making in the CIMA syllabus also gave him a head start. ‘These subjects have been extremely useful to me and have enabled me to give a different kind of added value to the company,’ he adds.
Although Michael no longer works in the finance function, he continues to use his CIMA membership to develop his continuing professional development (CPD) and keep up-to-date with changes in the financial world. ‘CIMA provides a lot of useful research and analysis which keeps me informed of the core issues that I need to know about in order to function well in my job,’ he says.
Agilent has also been supportive of Michael’s career development. ‘What I most enjoy is being able to move around and learn new things,’ he says. ‘Agilent is a great company and has given me exposure to different areas of the business.’ The company also funded Michael’s studies for an MBA while his CIMA qualification enabled him to gain some exemptions from the course. ‘It was great to be supported and, with the exemptions, I was able to finish my studies more quickly,’ he adds.
Agilent is keen to develop other finance professionals in the same way. The company is now a CIMA training partner and places a strong emphasis on continuing professional development. Meanwhile Michael is continuing to work towards greater efficiencies in the company.
Last year his ‘War on Waste’ programme, using the converged SCOR, Lean and Six Sigma methodologies, resulted in a 32% reduction on lead times and an inventory reduction of 20 days. ‘I came from a financial background but because of my business grounding with CIMA, I’m able to figure out the financial implications if I make certain changes to specific levers,’ he explains. ‘These big initiatives give me a lot of satisfaction.’