My first year as Business Controller at Orkla ASA - Christine Storhaug Pedersen
When new graduate Christine sends her analyses and interpretations to the external market, it’s exciting to watch Orkla’s share price. Read more about Christine’s first year as Controller at Orkla.
It’s now been twelve months since I first walked into Orkla’s head office at Skøyen. Just a few days earlier, I had submitted my master’s thesis at BI Norwegian Business School, and now, one morning in late summer 2014, it was suddenly time to enter the working world, and I was eager to see what a working day at Orkla would be like.
My thoughts and expectations of the position of Business Controller in the Financial Planning and Analysis Department were numerous. First of all, Orkla had primarily been looking for candidates with 1-3 years of auditing experience for this position. I had no background in either auditing or accounting. On the contrary, the main elements in my professional “tool box” were strategy and logistics. Secondly, the job description and terminology used in the position varies from one company to another. I was therefore eager to see what my work and sphere of responsibility would be, and how I, as a recently graduated strategist, would perform in the field of financial analysis.
Extensive responsibility from day one!
Little did I know then that in the next 12 months I would be responsible for controlling and making analyses of Orkla’s largest business area, Orkla Foods, and that on every occasion I would be providing the Group Executive Board and other key persons with support in the form of information and analyses to serve as a basis for making decisions at a strategically high level. Since then, I‘ve realised that there are not many positions where a new graduate is given an opportunity to get so close to the business operations, carry out and be responsible for crucial analyses and reports, and be respected as an experienced staff member, while also having fun.
At a high-paced, dynamic tempo and with a broad range of tasks across the value chain and project work, this first year has passed unusually quickly. On the other hand, I have learned an incredible amount in this “short” time, naturally backed by a good support network and spurred by my own ability and willingness to learn.
Enhanced business understanding and an expert on Excel
Looking back on the past 12 months as Business Controller, it’s hard to single out one specific project, or one experience, because as Business Controller in the Orkla Group you are included in every part of the value chain where your role lies between the Group and the business area, in addition to coordinating deliveries from the companies.
After a week of introduction to the Group, the business areas, past events, the current financial situation and strategic goals, I was suddenly launched into my day-to-day work as Business Controller. The initial challenges lay in grasping the vast amounts of information, different analysis models, contact points and deadlines. I soon realised that if I was to keep my head above water, I had to set personal goals and focus areas.
As far as analysis and reporting are concerned, I quickly learned that it’s important to understand the internal systems for extracting figures reported by the companies. Moreover, this “input” must then become “output”. That means that much of the work that is done is Excel-based, where analysis models are linked to the accounting systems. I thought I was good at Excel, but I can now see that I was definitely at beginner level when I joined Orkla. After having used and built several analysis models, I can say that my Excel skills have vastly improved.
Secondly, the goal was to increase my business understanding. Not only is it important to comprehend profit and loss effects and financial growth drivers, you also need to understand the operational and strategic activities of the companies that are part of Orkla Foods. And those companies are highly diverse, ranging from Norway to the Baltics and India. I therefore scheduled visits to companies, which proved to be essential for understanding the businesses and the markets, but also for building relationships with finance directors and controllers with whom I have daily contact.
What does the share price show?
Much of the first six months was spent getting to know the financial and commercial part of the ten Orkla Foods companies. Through monthly and quarterly reporting, budget and estimate processes and ongoing analyses, my understanding of basic business gradually improved. Quarterly reporting was definitely an exciting process, where internal and external reports are produced at high speed. What information should be given to the investor market, how will it be received? Everything is foreseen down to the tiniest detail. Afterwards, it’s fun to see your own analyses and interpretations go out to the external market, and then follow the response – the share price – closely.
My work has been very varied. Apart from the responsibilities specifically related to the Orkla Foods business area, there are a number of projects at central level that call for analytical support and projects that you yourself are responsible for. Already on my second day of work, I was assigned to a risk management project in the finance area of Orkla, while for the past six months I‘ve headed a project involving both internal and external suppliers. The results of the project are long awaited by the Group Executive Board and others, and it’s fun to work with something you know will really create value for one of Norway’s largest companies.
My professional “tool box” is now many kilos heavier
Now that the first year is over and I look back, it strikes me that my learning curve has been amazingly steep. Not only have I built up business understanding and system skills, I have also developed “softer” professional qualities. The close follow-up of a total of ten companies all over the world, and this is no doubt self-evident, means that you have to have the ability to adapt to different forms of communication and business cultures. One moment I may be communicating with the company in Finland, and the next I’m making a phone call to India. Relationship and confidence-building have therefore been a key priority. In return, I have learned an incredible amount about different cultures and markets, and we now communicate much more effectively. I think it’s pretty cool that “little me” now holds telephone conferences and meetings with CFOs around the world, where I challenge them and ask questions about results.
Starting out my career in a Business Controller position at Orkla has been a unique opportunity to acquire an understanding of business, what drives growth or declines – commodity prices, foreign exchange effects, higher volume vs. higher prices, accrual effects, cost performance, margins and results – you name it! After all, at the end of the day, this is what is essential – is there growth?
I can honestly say that my professional “tool box” has become many kilos heavier, and I am really looking forward to seeing what awaits me next year! Just next week, I will be off to Austria to assist in the integration of Bioquelle, a company that we have acquired.