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Top Five Lessons for FP&A Professionals

By Chris Ortega, MBA, Sr. Finance Manager at Emarsys, USA

What ignited this article? I was talking with some upcoming college graduates from a similar background as myself. They were looking to go into corporate finance/financial planning & analysis (FP&A) after graduating from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. I shared with them lessons I learned from 10 years in the finance game. Why is this important to you?  In discussing with them and seeing their reaction/feedback it was clear others could see value in my perspective. 

So, here are my Top 5 lessons learned in the first 10 years of my professional career.

Learning #1: Follow/find your passions at all costs.

I started my career in public and corporate accounting at EY and ChaCha Search. Both were tremendous opportunities where I learned a lot, travelled, seen many different industries, and realized what it meant to be a finance professional.

However, I realized quickly my passions were in finance/strategy and helping organizations adopt a forward-looking focus.  So, I made the decision to move from accounting into finance/FP&A as well as pursuing an MBA in corporate finance. 

Dot Link: No matter your career field or stage, it's vital to find your passions and pursue them at all costs. Trust me you will be happier and more fulfilled in doing so.

Learning #2: Own your career

I learned no one else will care more about your career than you.  There was an early career situation where I felt I was on track for a promotion.  I was having the conversations and trusted it was just going to happen. Then, boom a business decision was made and I was passed over.  Reflecting now, I can still feel the whirlwind of emotions in having this taken away.  However, I realized from that point forward I will own my career and build relationships with future managers to work together.

Dot Link: Create development plans, seek feedback, own the speed, tempo, and trajectory of your career. Be flexible, proactive, and intentional about partnering with your manager for career/role alignment.

Learning #3: Make mistakes, learn, then repeat

This goes with any level, years or career field. You learn the most when you failed or made a mistake.  Listen, no one likes to make mistakes but it is often your failures that yield the most personal/professional growth.

Earlier in my FP&A career, dealing with international operations and foreign currency budgeting and forecasting was new for me.  Long story short, I made a $400K revenue foreign currency mistake that impacted next year’s forecast.  I remember walking into my manager’s office, tail between my legs, completely down but ready for the outcome. My manager looked at me and said, "Chris, pick your head up. Did you learn? Will you be better? If so, this mistake, in the long run, is small. But, don’t make it again."  Instantly, I realized there is no losing in any situation if you learn.

Dot Link: Mistakes will happen but if you learn from them then you won. Don't be afraid to fail, make mistakes, or take risks because there only two outcomes to any situation. Win or Learn!

Learning #4: Do whatever it takes to help others

Quick what does 2 + 2 =? Accountants say 4, and finance people say whatever you want it to equal. Just wanted to make sure you were still following along. 

Helping others is an investment that will never depreciate and keeps growing over time. Helping doesn't have to be huge and sometimes it’s the small things that mean the most.  

For instance, when I moved into management helping my teammates be successful and guiding them gives me tremendous joy.  One situation was helping a team member improve their Excel and PowerPivot skills.  Working with them consistently, adapting my teaching style then seeing them become experts was a great feeling.  Lastly, no matter how my day is going I always find time to help others.

Dot Link: Take time to help others whether at work, outside of work, or other avenues. It is our duty as leaders to help others. So, I challenge you to help every day for a month and then send me a message. If you don’t feel amazing, then you can tell me I was wrong!

Learning #5: Never measure yourself to others

Social media has completely changed our self-image. We are bombarded with pictures, status updates, hashtags and views of successful people. So, making the mistake of discounting your value is easy.

For instance, I have friends who are CFO's, CEO's, and programmers who are crushing it. I found myself sometimes rushing the process and feeling unaccomplished because of their financial, professional or social status.  Then, I realized I can't rush the process but trust my process and journey.

Dot Link: "A flower doesn't think of competing to the flower next to it, it just blooms." by Zen Shin. Don't get down or feel unaccomplished because of others. Learn to love and appreciate your beautiful and frustrating journey.

Have you encountered similar situations? Did the article resonate well for you?  If yes, then please leave a comment/like/share. If not, that is ok too. We all have a story to tell and there is value in past perspective. Lastly, I challenge you reader (finger pointed directly at you) share what you learned with others you never know how it could impact someone's life.

Thanks for reading! Keep pushing and never settle!