When finding good financial planning and analysis staff, don’t be afraid to hire someone with an engineering background. That’s just one insight from Hein Wulf, Head of Philips Healthcare’s Healthcare FP&A Center of Excellence in Eindhoven, Netherlands. “People with engineering backgrounds can learn the finance skills as well,” he said.
With innovative ideas like that, it’s no surprise that Wulf was tapped to serve on the 2015 AFP Financial Planning & Analysis Leadership Summit Task Force. The inaugural FP&A Leadership Summit is set for May 19-20 in Amsterdam. Recently, Wulf spoke by telephone with AFP.
AFP: Tell me a little bit about your company and what your responsibilities are in supporting your company’s goals.
Hein Wulf: My responsibilities are leading a team of FP&A analysts in a center of expertise. We have around 50 people here who provide support to both the businesses, the markets, and also to the supply chain. My job is to come up with analytics related to how we did in the past month or a year, but also looking at analysis supporting the forecast and the AOP process.
AFP: What do you find as your biggest challenge that you are struggling with right now in your role?
Wulf: I think the biggest challenge for our CoE is to get closer to the businesses and the markets that we support and provide insights which add more value in the decision-making process. I think that it’s a challenge for this organization getting ready with setting up reports and making it a reporting process that is much more efficient as well. But now, we should make the next step and make that information more actionable to people, the finance people or business people, you know, sitting out there. I would say that’s our biggest challenge for the coming year.
AFP: One thing I hear quite often is the challenge of finding, hiring and training good FP&A staff to support the company. Do you find this is a case for you at Philips?
Wulf: I have been doing a lot of recruiting; I must say in the Netherlands is relatively easy. What is helping is that here we are known as a very effective and well-known employer. I think I’m finding really good FP&A people who I think combine a number of skills and attributes. They have to be very good on the tooling side. They have to be very good in the communications side as they need to be able to work well together with customers. It’s not that easy. We have a number of very good people. But at the same time, they’re also the people that are not going to stay with you for a long time. We need actually to continue those recruitment efforts because, yeah, I think people, they have two, three years, and then they’re up for the next assignment. It’s not easy but at the same time I feel currently we have really a good and strong team here.
AFP: When you’re hiring, do you look for someone with a strong finance background, or do you hire people who’ve worked in particular business units with the thinking that you could teach them the finance components along the way?
Wulf: Well, I think it’s good to have a bit of a mix. I think it also depends on the phase that you are in because if you still have to build, let’s say, a basis in FP&A in terms of tools and things like that, I think it’s better to have people presumably with a finance background. But at the moment, if you want to grow closer to the business it helps if you have a little bit more people with different types of backgrounds as well. Personally, I work well with both. It’s just that people who have a finance background it’s a bit easier and quicker to get started with them.
AFP: Why did you find it so important to not just attend the FP&A Leadership Summit but actually help plan it?
Wulf: Well, I think for me it’s an interesting experience. I have been to a few FP&A meetings myself. For me, it’s inspiring to hear from others how they organize FP&A in their company. Then it kind of feels good to help also, I mean to do organizing a separate practice as well. I mean, I’ve worked in finance for a long time, I think, 22 years or so and you find the FP&A as a new separate domain a few years now. So I’ve been doing bits and pieces of FP&A work but only in the last few years in focus. Yeah, to me it’s a very interesting domain to work in and that’s why I’m also happy to come to the event.
AFP: What do you hope to gain from the FP&A summit while you’re there?
Wulf: What is important to me for this type of ultimate networking is the importance of connecting directly to people from other companies with some comparable profiles. Let’s say this has one-to-one conversation either during or after the conference. That is a very important one to me and next year, of course, we have to find a number of prospective speakers with little discretion, and there you have to make it the interaction with other FP&A professionals.