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Big Forecast: How a FP&A Chief Navigates Walgreens’ Merger

  • By Ira Apfel
  • Published: 2/24/2015

Ash Sharma knew what he would be working on in 2015 by the time the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve.

That’s because Sharma’s employer, Alliance Boots, completed a merger with Walgreens on December 31, 2014. The new Walgreens Boots Alliance will operate in more than 30 countries and employ close to 400,000 workers worldwide. Sharma, who heads up FP&A for Alliance Boots’ $25 billion wholesale division, will certainly have a larger and more complex financial planning and analysis task in 2015 and beyond.

“I think the first challenge is to navigate the new company that’s been created and make sure that everything is aligned in terms of FP&A, especially now that the new company is a publicly listed company,” Sharma said. “So what becomes more important is understanding the finance side and the projections that we come up with. There’s much less margin for error that we have.”

Sharma has another task coming in May—leading a roundtable discussion at the AFP FP&A Leadership Summit, May 19-20, in Amsterdam. Sharma and a panel are slated to speak about “Leadership in FP&A Practice.”

“There is technology and there is a lot of data, but all this would come to naught except for one very crucial factor, which is people,” Sharma said. “I think an FP&A person is kind of a unique being. That FP&A professional needs some experience as an accountant, but also as a finance professional and a business owner. It’s not enough to do planning and reporting and analysis these days. The future, I believe, lies in insight, influence and impact. This needs leadership qualities in FP&A. That’s why I believe it’s a very important topic that should be discussed with senior FP&A professionals.”

Communications skills are key if FP&A professionals hope to advance to their careers, Sharma said. “I’ve seen a lot of senior professionals go into board meetings, explaining something and coming out of the board meeting saying the board just doesn’t get it. It’s not that they don’t get it. It’s just that you didn’t communicate it well,” he said.

“One of the most important challenges that I have taken up for this year is to get the FP&A culture in-depth throughout the organization, and I don’t think it’s a one-year task,” Sharma said. “I’m trying to see FP&A in every aspect in the organization, every function, every product line, every decision. There has to be that an FP&A person helping to make key decisions, helping to analyze, helping make FP&A that engine of growth and decision-making.”

Sharma is looking forward to the FP&A Leadership Summit to meet and network with other FP&A practitioners. “Over the last four or five years the global economy has undergone tremendous change. And to me, one part of being at the Summit and leading a session, is the chance to get the views of other senior FP&A professionals—their views and experiences and how they weathered this whole storm,” he said.

The second reason for attending, Sharma said, is to understand what he calls “the professional consensus.” “And there, the FP&A has a function,” he said. “Where it’s headed for the future whether it’s in terms of techniques or whether it’s in terms of leadership. So it will be a good session and a benefit to get the views from other FP&A professionals.”

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