A Day-in-the-Life: Claire Lu

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FPAC
  • Published: 10/29/2021

Day in the life_article
FP&A is a diverse role, pulling on many areas of knowledge, skills and abilities. Ever wondered what a full day consists of for an FP&A manager? What do they work on, and who are the key players they meet with?

AFP’s Bryan Lapidus, FPAC, director of FP&A Practice, caught up with Claire Lu, FP&A manager at Hologic in Australia, to discuss a typical day in the life of an FP&A manager. Read below for their conversation.

Bryan: Tell me about your current job and company.

Claire: I work for Hologic, a company that focuses on women's health. We provide diagnostics, breast health, skeletal health and surgical, in addition to being a medical device company. Throughout my twenty months here, I have been through three finance directors, causing the scope of my job to change quickly. Currently, our finance team consists of six people, including our director.

My job focus now is on analyzing, concentrating heavily on revenue, standard margin and gross margin. I also focus on reporting as we do a lot of standard margin bridges to understand what is driving the standard margin in each sector – whether it is the volume, average selling price or unit. We perform an intense, deep-dive analysis to try to see where we can help with our bottom line.

Bryan: What is it about the financial analysis role that you are passionate about?

Claire: The FP&A role is a perfect combination of both my personality and my degree. I am a very detail-oriented person, and like a private detective, I enjoy figuring out what is missing and solving the mystery. I also like to resolve problems. This role is perfect for me.

Bryan: Okay, so walk me through a typical day for you.

Claire: I am currently working from home, and always start off my day with coffee and then exercise.

To begin working, I will check all my unread emails, then review and complete a daily sales dashboard, which reports revenue changes from yesterday. I then distribute the report to all the leadership team members, which takes around 30 minutes. However, everything is urgent, and it is important that I do analysis first thing.

After sending the report, my day is filled with analysis, mainly because we do a lot of preparation for meetings to present our yearly result and outlook: profit and loss (P&L) statements by divisions, comparison against the forecast and prior year, and budgeting.

I have various meetings throughout the day. For example, the program manager will call me to talk about the standard margin because they want to understand more about how it calculates. I am usually reporting at a group roll-up, but the product managers or business directors look at SKU-level data. This structure is where we need to bridge the gap to see the true standard margin for their analysis. My help is sometimes needed to understand what is sitting under their group-level reports, so I frequently get invited to different stakeholder meetings. Everyone in business operations is my internal stakeholders.

Bryan: You talked about preparing P&L statements by division. What is happening at that level?

Claire: Correct. The base business has underperformed because of the bad economy and lockdown in Australia, and the testing business has had a great revenue for the past two years. However, we are not sure about the testing next year because of the vaccination rate, and we need to focus on our base business.

This uncertainty means we must have a “P&L with coronavirus” and a separate “P&L without coronavirus.” It is a lot of work. Most costs are combined, and you cannot differentiate which one goes to coronavirus and which one goes to the base business. However, we need to see which division and portfolio is making money and then allocate those resources accordingly.

Bryan: I know you are a list-maker. What are the standard items on your to-do list?

Claire: In addition to the quarterly forecast, I also do a weekly mini forecast. I meet weekly with individual business unit managers to try to understand whether any extraordinary activities are affecting our forecast, and then update the forecast based on the information.

My list also consists of a lot of information gathering. I do the monthly reporting pack, including variance analysis and standard margin analysis. Receiving the information ASAP is crucial and it is important that I interact with different stakeholders to understand what is driving the margins.

Bryan: You said you spend time during the day deep-diving into margins. What are some challenges with the gross margin?

Claire: We look mainly at the freight and logistics costs because they are so expensive these days with capacity and custom rates. Since our company products are mainly coming from the U.S., we do not have a manufacturer here in Asia and spend a lot of money on logistics, which is the biggest chunk in our P&L. We are currently working closely with the supply chain team to understand the drivers and how we can manage the costs to ensure our gross margin.

Bryan: You said you also spend time on developing BI capabilities and building awareness. Half of it sounds technical, half of it sounds like change management.

Claire: Even as I develop and expand the BI capabilities within our company, a lot of the stakeholders, especially working in medical devices or health care, are only comfortable using Excel spreadsheets. Navigating through an online platform can be a lot to take in for them. Therefore, I aim to develop awareness about the dashboard whenever I meet with them and show them where they can find the information. Each meeting, I teach them tips and tricks so that everyone is eventually capable and ready to use the dashboard themselves. This awareness is crucial because people are still reluctant to use it.

Bryan: Who is on your “team?” Not just your finance team, but all the people you interact with.

Claire: The top member of my team would be the general manager, followed by my finance director. Then, the main team who I meet with weekly include the business unit directors and portfolio managers. I also work closely with the product managers from each division, as well as and the human resource director to understand the headcount, especially for forecasting and budgeting. Finally, I interact with financial accounting at the end of each month to perform variance analysis.

Bryan: How many hours are in a typical day for you?

Claire: Since the year-end is busy, I have probably worked more than 10 hours per day in the last two weeks. I try not to work weekends!

Bryan: How do you finish your workday?

Claire: To end my workday, I usually write down a list of things that I need to do the next day. I will even “star” it if it is very important. At the moment, it seems like everything is urgent! 

For more resources, visit AFP’s APAC FP&A page.

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