Lam Research supplies and serves the global semiconductor industry. Not surprisingly, the majority of its customer base has been outside the United States for decades. “That’s not a new phenomenon,” says Doug Bettinger, who was named the corporation’s CFO in March 2013. “From a technology standpoint, the importance of the Asian region has grown more and more, year by year. And I don’t think it’s going to stop.”
It has become essential for someone in Bettinger’s position to have hands-on experience with how international markets work, as well as to understand the unique challenges of being one of the team members working abroad. The biggest piece of advice he gives young professionals is to seek out opportunities to check off the international experience box. “Finding a way to work internationally is critically important, in my mind, to ultimately helping lead an internationally based organization,” he says.
THE GLOBAL CHALLENGE
One of the lessons an international business has to offer is a practical one: how to implement or respond to a management structure that’s physically scattered all over the map. “It’s different when your whole chain of command is located in the same building, or series of buildings, in the same city or region of the United States,” Bettinger says. “You see each other, and oftentimes it’s quite easy to communicate.” But throw in the realities of an increasingly global economy spread across time zones, and employees might rarely see one another face-to-face.
Bettinger says the greatest challenge of his job is not the culture or bylaws, but “managing and leading so that all of the employees—in the United States, in Europe, in Korea, in Taiwan, in Singapore, in China—are moving in the same direction.” Ensuring those employees have or are developing the right capabilities and skill sets in the locations that require them is also essential.
Next are the cultural challenges. “You have a company culture, but you also have the culture of the country you’re doing business in,” Bettinger says. “How those two things meld together and overlay one another is pretty important in terms of directing the work of an international set of people.”
Finally, of course, the way money works varies according to the laws and customs of different countries. “There are tons of things that need to be understood when you’re working on an international basis,” Bettinger says. “Tax is a big area, where certain things need to be set up structurally that enable you to do business in the country. You have to have well-documented and established product flows, such that the customs and duties are understood and optimized. And cash planning is important: money has to be moved from one place to another in the context of the tax structure you established.”
SOLUTIONS THAT TRANSCEND BORDERS
Bettinger himself spent several years living in Malaysia as a site controller for Intel Corporation, and served as CFO for the Singaporean public company Avago Technologies from 2008 to 2013. Bettinger speaks highly of the financial organization he inherited at Lam which he met with in his first months to tighten up road maps of the best and ever-changing routes through international waters. The more efficient those processes, the more Bettinger can focus on his real goal: to become increasingly involved in Lam’s core business decisions.
“We really want to get the finance team more engaged in helping influence the business, such that we optimize the performance of the company from a profitability perspective,” Bettinger says. “The organization was performing well when I came, but I wanted to get us up to that next level in terms of business partnership and influence.”
Those influences can be anything from recommending a way to optimize a product line or identifying a cost-reduction activity in the global supply network. But it can take time to start thinking of the business with a wide lens. “People have to see it,” Bettinger says. “You have to make it visible, and reward and recognize it. But first, you have to talk about it.” Through a series of discussions in Bettinger’s first months with Lam’s controller, treasurer, director of internal trade audit, and vice president of business finance, the team identified opportunities to take a seat at the table and start identifying opportunities.
That, after all, is Bettinger’s current goal, and it feeds directly into his long-term one: “It’s a lot about improving the profit profile of the company,” he says.