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Going full throttle

Pauline Wong
Pauline Wong • 10 min read
Going full throttle
From restoring vintage cars to expanding BlackLine’s presence in the region, Terry Smagh gives his all.
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Senior vice president of Asia Pacific and Japan at BlackLine, Terry Smagh, is no stranger to going the extra mile. Whether it is at work or play, Smagh — who is leading the cloud-based solutions and financial automation software provider’s Asia Pacific strategy — is all-in. From restoring vintage cars to expanding BlackLine’s presence in the region, he gives his all to his passions and interests. Options sits down with this self-professed ‘petrol-head’ to find out what truly drives him.

Terry Smagh, senior vice president of Asia Pacific (APAC) and Japan at financial solutions software provider BlackLine, is a man whose personality, from the moment you meet him, is clear to see.

Gregarious and charismatic, Smagh chats easily and speaks quickly, pausing only to urge us to have more Nutella cookies (from a local home baker, he says). His home in the east side, which he and his wife designed and furnished over the past six years, is as open and welcoming as he is, filled with bits and bobs they’ve collected in their travels.

The centrepiece of his home is a concrete ‘bar’, where he entertains and dines with friends over fine whiskey. Outside, a (very) large Auckland chocolate Labrador snoozes in the sun. Without a doubt, Smagh is extroverted and personable; and he combines all that with infectious enthusiasm.

Smagh, who joined BlackLine in 2018, is a savvy entrepreneur and experienced data analytics professional whose resume includes the likes of IBM, Oracle and data analytics firm Qlik. At IBM, he was executive leader for its Asia Pacific cloud and analytics business. He was also responsible for supporting partner development and overall enterprise sales momentum in hybrid cloud software, cloud services and analytics solutions.

Before that, he was managing director and vice president for Asia at Qlik, where he successfully developed customised enterprise sales, channel and marketing operations models across the region and accelerated new office openings in key APAC business centers.

Having been in the industry for about 20 years, Smagh then brought with him years of experience in data technology in Asia Pacific to BlackLine, which is based in Los Angeles but with regional headquarters in London, Singapore and Sydney. With over 3,100 clients across the world, BlackLine’s cloud-based solutions and market-leading customer service help companies move to modern accounting by unifying their data and processes, automating repetitive work, and driving accountability through visibility.

The company provides solutions for financial close management, accounting automation, and intercompany governance, helping large enterprises and mid-sized companies across all industries do accounting work better, faster, and with more control. It was listed in the Nasdaq in 2016, and currently has a market capitalisation of US$5.6 billion ($7.6 billion).

Opportunity and potential

At first, Smagh had his reservations about the financial technology space.

Coming from data analytics at large multinationals like IBM, he had felt BlackLine was too niche. However, the opportunity eventually proved too exciting to turn down. “I like to [grow] companies with massive upsides; both professionally and personally. [BlackLine] had a small footprint in Asia at the time, but I saw opportunity and potential. [They] had no competitors here; but what really sealed it for me was that BlackLine offers a purpose-built solution into the finance function, but covering all verticals,” he says.

Upon being offered this opportunity, Smagh did his research, meticulously, as he does everything — by putting pen to paper.

“I asked questions on [the company’s] plan for APAC. They told me their answers; and I put a business plan together, just like anything I do. I did the research on the company, the product, and a ‘boomerang’ test in the industry,” he adds. He clearly liked what he saw.

Fast forward nearly three years later, Smagh has led the growth of BlackLine in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Asean (headquartered in Singapore), where he led the team to set up the sales, marketing, and overall business assurance in the region.

“At the end of the day, [I’m] building a brand. And it’s easy to build on an established brand, but when I came to BlackLine I asked, “Do I have enough wind in my sails to take this to the next round?”,” he says. He emphasises the need for good relationships, not just within his team, but also with clients, as the driving force behind the growth of the company in this highly-diverse region.

“We are growing in a [great] trajectory, but we have yet to scratch the surface. One yardstick of measurement is when I speak to people and they say, “Yeah, you guys are doing very well; we hear about you everywhere”,” he says. “So that’s creating a brand. We don’t spend big on marketing dollars, but I always say it’s not about pushing a product. If you go out to push a product, it stops there. What it takes is articulating, and educating the industry. I always tell my guys, if we all are just chasing revenue from the outset, we will fail. Relationships are key.”

Solid foundations

Looking back, his role in BlackLine is perhaps decades in the making. The proudly Singaporean Smagh has been going full throttle since he was a young boy, so it is no wonder that at BlackLine, he is keen to tackle a challenge to build something from ground up, with solid foundations.

Having defied his parents’ very Asian and traditional expectations to be a lawyer, a doctor, or an accountant, he had wanted to be a car mechanic — even as a young boy, he shared his father’s passion for vintage cars.

“Obviously, my sibling is a lawyer, while my uncles are in the law profession. I obviously took a very different route altogether. One of the things I wanted to do when I was very young was to be a car mechanic. Obviously, that got thrown out very early on,” he says with a laugh. When he turned 16 (“That was last year”, he jokes), his father enrolled him into the army. That experience changed him, he says.

Coming from St Andrew’s Primary and Secondary School, it was difficult for him as his friends went off to junior college. “I was the youngest in my platoon, but nobody knew how old I was. Fast forward and obviously, I resented my parents at the time — everyone was having the time of their lives in JC and there I was slogging up mountains.”

However, his stint in the army accelerated his progress and he eventually went on to further his studies at Monash University in Melbourne, graduating at the tender age of 21.

From then on, he had always been at full speed ahead — and often the youngest in the team at the roles he has undertaken — but that has never stopped him.

Vintage cars

It is for this reason that it is not so difficult to see where the connection is between Smagh and his love for vintage cars: His attention to detail, hands-on, ‘rubber-to-the-road’ attitude easily carries over, whether it is in the boardroom or in the garage.

Today, the self-professed ‘petrol head’ is a collector and restorer of rare vintage automobiles. Parked outside his home is a custom oak metallic green vintage 1985 Porsche 930 Turbo which he lovingly and painstakingly restored, sourced and even commissioned specific parts to get it up and running.

It is his second classic Porsche, the first being a 1990 Porsche 964. His love for vintage cars started with his father, and one of his fondest memories is of the Alfa Romeo GTV 2000 his father had owned. In fact, there is a picture of Smagh, standing in front of this car in 1983. His father had sold that car in 1985.

“This is a true story. It was around 2003, and I was driving one day and I saw this car being towed. I rang my dad to ask him, “What was the number plate of the old Alfa Romeo? I think I’m staring at it.” He said, there is no way it’s the same car. That has probably been scrapped. But it was that exact same car and plate. It was being towed because it was being scrapped, the owner did not want it anymore. I made the owner a deal on the spot, paid about $3,000 for it. My dad’s eyes lit up when he saw the car, but he thought maybe that number plate was just transferred to this car — but I knew I would recognise it from this one clock he had put in the car, which had a hole in it — and it was still there.”

That Alfa Romeo became his very first restoration project.

See also: The Alfa Romeo Giulia Ti is a fancy sedan for people tired of fancy sedans

“That was special to me. Restoring the car was another [challenge] because you couldn’t get parts anymore. But there were so many people in the UK and US who did this; and they were not selling old parts but remanufacturing the old parts, with better quality.” He sold the car in 2008 when he relocated to Sydney and it is now owned by a friend.

“I’ve asked him to sell it back to me, but he doesn’t want to,” he says, laughing. But no mountain, it would seem, is too high for Smagh, who is painstaking in his attention to the cars he restores. He has had the 930 Turbo for eight years now. “I took it apart, sent the engine to the US, sent the interior [to be fitted] to the UK, you know, stripped the shell, had the rims manufactured in Japan — there is no onestop shop [to get all this done],” says Smagh. “A lot of people, they may not have the time or the effort. They go to someone and open their chequebook and say, “fix it for me.” But where’s the joy in that?”

Laughing sheepishly, he says he documents everything he does to the car. “I have a file, I document everything for my pleasure, except I don’t want to see the receipts,” he jokes. “I get packages from DHL and FedEx every day and my wife asks, what is it, and I just say, oh it’s some car parts.”

“It’s the joy of putting it together.”

Ultimately, Smagh likens his love for restoring and rebuilding vintage cars to the work he does at BlackLine. “I akin [the restoration of cars] to financial analytics. It’s the insides, right, putting everything together from ground up,” he says.

“Anyone can scale. Everyone can go into a business after the brand is there, after the awareness has been built, and scale it to different heights. That’s not saying that’s easy — but a lot of the ground work, the hard work is done.” To create brand awareness is not an overnight affair, and it’s a lot of hard work.

“I have been able to, humbly, do that in record time because of my people, people whom I’ve worked with for years. Without my people, I am nothing.”

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