The renewable energy company’s finance chief exemplifies this year’s theme, #LeadershipAndSustainabilityInNumbers
Powered by a pioneering, strategic mindset in corporate management and commitment to excellence in financial leadership, ACEN Chief Finance Officer Cora Dizon has been conferred with the ING-FINEX 2023 CFO of the Year Award.
Dizon brought ACEN, the listed energy platform of the Ayala Group, to new heights through strategic finance initiatives since joining the renewables platform in 2016. With more than 35 years of industry experience in the real estate and energy sectors, she enabled ACEN’s phenomenal growth trajectory where its renewables business expanded over 70-fold to reach 4,500 MW of capacity across the Asia Pacific. Dizon excels in her key finance roles as strategist, operator, catalyst and steward, which serve as the four core criteria of the longest-running and most prestigious annual award that recognizes the country’s top finance leaders.
“The ING-FINEX CFO of the Year Award ranks first among my career accomplishments,” says Dizon, who describes the honor as a “once-in-a-lifetime recognition.”
Supercharging ACEN with dynamic initiatives
In the past decade, ACEN has evolved from a start-up investment company for the Ayala Group’s power sector interests into a core value driver of the conglomerate’s portfolio, reaching a peak market capitalization of US$10 billion. The multi-awarded energy company is now one of the Philippines’ largest renewable energy developers with a capacity of around 4,500 MW, 98% of which comes from renewable sources.
Dizon’s dynamic financial management and leadership style played a dominant role in ACEN’s remarkable transformation. In 2016, ACEN reached a critical inflection point when it decided to focus on renewable energy sources by transforming the organization and accelerating growth. That was the time when Dizon, who had been with Ayala Land for nearly thirty years in various roles, joined the company’s management team to help achieve its lofty goals.
Dizon immediately went to work. She assumed manifold leadership roles with ACEN, delivering key initiatives in strategy and execution, organizational development and infrastructure, and financial and risk management. Her first order of business: make the energy group financially self-sufficient.
“When I joined, the company was highly dependent on the parent company to support its finances, organization and even operating systems,” Dizon says. “Knowing that the company aimed to grow its business, my priority then was to make the company self-supporting by having its own credit lines, workforce, and systems.”
Dizon did just that and more. In 2019, she led the initiative in introducing the company to the US dollar debt capital markets through a differentiated strategy of tapping green financing, with the Asian Development Bank and International Finance Corporation listed as anchor investors. Since then, the company has been able to regularly raise cash in the capital markets and fund its accelerated growth plans.
Dizon likewise sealed landmark deals that paved the way for the company’s strategic expansion outside of the Philippines. As ACEN began to grow across the Asia Pacific region—establishing its presence in Indonesia, Vietnam, India, and Australia—it also followed through on its goal to shift from thermal to renewable energy. Dizon led the charge in ACEN completing the world’s first market-based Energy Transition Mechanism (ETM) financing last year.
“The Asian Development Bank promoted the ETM concept which leverages public and private investments in the goal of retiring coal plants at an earlier schedule than if they remained with their current owners,” Dizon says. “The coal plant will be transitioned to clean technology after its decommissioning. The ETM had a total transaction value of P17 billion, raising P7 billion of proceeds for deployment to renewable energy projects.”
Through the ETM, ACEN divested its stake in South Luzon Thermal Energy Corporation (SLTEC), resulting in zero coal ownership in ACEN’s portfolio. The deal also cut the plant’s technical life by half, avoiding up to 50 million metric tons of carbon emissions. The move aligns with ACEN’s transition to 100% renewables in terms of generation output by 2025, which forms part of its bigger-picture commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or earlier.
Aside from the ETM deal, Dizon spearheaded other milestones. Among these is the maiden issuance and listing on Singapore Stock Exchange of ACEN’s $400 million of green perpetual fixed-for-life bonds at a rate of 4%, which was achieved amid the COVID-19 global pandemic in 2021. Last September, her team also secured the issuance and listing on the Philippine Stock Exchange Index of the first peso-denominated fixed-for-life preferred shares.
“These funding activities have enabled ACEN to fund its growing portfolio of renewable energy projects aligned with its sustainability strategy,” Dizon says.
A champion of sustainability
ACEN proved ahead of the curve in supporting sustainability measures with ESG-oriented investments. Today, ACEN is on track to achieve its bold aspiration of becoming Southeast Asia’s largest listed renewables platform, set to reach a whopping 20 GW of renewables capacity by 2030.
“Sustainability is an integral part of our mission at ACEN,” Dizon says. “Our growth in renewables is not just a business strategy, but also a reflection of our commitment to sustainability. We believe that by investing in renewables, we are investing in the future of our planet and the generations to come.”
The CFO with a heart
Her financial expertise may be one thing, but Dizon’s leadership style merits commendation as well. She prefers to describe her approach as “transformational,” with an emphasis on bringing out the best from each member of the team.
“Cora’s impact goes beyond the numbers,” says Eric Francia, ACEN president and CEO. “Cora is a leader with heart and compassion, and has made a difference in the lives of those she has worked with.”
According to Hannie Tucay, ACEN VP of Finace, Dizon’s strengths helped carry the company to where it is now. Princess Marie Tayag, VP of finance, agrees, saying that Dizon’s win as ING-FINEX CFO of the Year is a testament to her exceptional leadership and expertise. “Her mentorship has provided me with the confidence and knowledge to navigate challenges and excel in my role.”
ACEN treasurer Cecile Cruzabra says, “Working alongside Cora has been an enriching journey. As a team, we have navigated through complex financial landscapes, and her guidance has been instrumental in our success.” For Oliver Pobre, senior manager of finance, “She’s a catalyst for ACEN’s success in the renewable energy sector, and I’m truly honored to be part of her team.”
Likewise grateful to work with Dizon is JP Aguirre-Lim, AVP corporate communications. “Her impact as a leader–a female one at that—extends far beyond her professional accomplishments. Ms. Cora’s leadership style encourages growth, nurtures talent and fosters a culture of inclusion and empowerment.”
Dizon is also a staunch advocate of continuing education, crediting her parents who were both teachers. She said that the biggest lesson in finance that school taught her was that numbers tell a story and that numbers don’t lie. Experience, Dizon said, taught her that all negotiations must begin with the establishment of trust between both parties.
Dizon joins an elite company as the 17th recipient of the ING-FINEX CFO of the Year trophy. She takes special pride in becoming the fourth woman to win the prestigious award.
“I am very honored to represent women in a highly competitive leadership position,” she says. “With this recognition, I hope to inspire more women to strive to excel in their respective fields, and in the process, promote more gender diversity in C-level positions.”
Dizon earns the nod as the award celebrates this year’s theme, #LeadershipandSustainabilityinNumbers. While a deserving winner who exemplifies the qualities, Dizon believes that the mantra goes beyond financial performance.
“It’s about using our financial resources responsibly and committing to a sustainable future,” she says. “This is the legacy I hope to leave at ACEN, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to do so.”
Spotlight is BusinessWorld’s sponsored section that allows advertisers to amplify their brand and connect with BusinessWorld’s audience by enabling them to publish their stories directly on the BusinessWorld website. For more information, send an email to email@example.com.