ADAM SCHILKE - Finance Graduate Scheme, British Sugar - Finance Analyst, AB Sugar
I joined British Sugar in September 2008 spending time in the Supply Chain, Operations, Commercial and Central Finance functions, all based at the Head Office in Peterborough. I concluded my graduate scheme with a project placement; benchmarking our Spanish business with the UK counterpart. In July 2010, I was appointed to the position of Finance Analyst for AB Sugar.
What attracted you to British Sugar?
Having researched many companies and their graduate schemes, I knew I wanted to work for a company that offered a rotation based programme, which would provide me with a broad range of experiences and responsibilities.
Studying towards a professional qualification was also something I desired from a graduate scheme. British Sugar offer full support towards the CIMA Qualification, including all financial outlays, time off to attend courses and tailoring my practical experience towards a specific CIMA subject matter or requirements.
Further, on the assessment centre, two things stood out for me and set British Sugar apart from other businesses I applied for.
Firstly, the desire and commitment from the business to recruit and develop graduates to become the future leaders of the business. This stance was reiterated at the evening meal with the senior finance team, including the Finance Director, where examples of successful graduates were provided.
Secondly, visiting the business’ largest factory brought a sense of perspective to a day of interviews, tests and challenges. The scale of operations is huge and can’t really be appreciated until you’ve seen the size of a silo that can hold 40,000 tonnes of sugar or walked around 25 hectares of greenhouse!
What degree did you do and where?
I spent 4 years at The University of Hull, completing a 3 year BSc in Financial Mathematics before undertaking an MSc in Financial Management.
What has been the highlight or most impressive aspect of your career at British Sugar so far?
Visiting and working with our colleagues in Spain and China were fantastic experiences. Understanding how businesses, that operate in the same industry and have relatively similar operational processes, can be so different was very enlightening. It also taught me how the difference in cultures can impact on day-to-day operations and how to manage these effectively.
Watching Spain winning the football world cup in Madrid was also an experience in itself!
What training have you received since joining British Sugar?
Joining the British Sugar Finance Graduate Scheme provided me with the opportunity to study towards the CIMA Qualification. As mentioned above, British Sugar fully supported me in attaining this qualification and continue to do so with access to CPD material.
Further, I have also attended a Management Development Course, Microsoft Excel Workshop, iXBRL training course (to allow us to prepare online statutory accounts) and received plenty of coaching and careers advice from my mentor and other senior managers across the business.
On-the-job training has been vast, with one of the most recent examples being the opportunity to enhance my burgeoning management skills.
A strong emphasis is placed on maintaining a healthy work/life balance. To aid this, there is an excellent graduate social network with events occurring every week.
What are your longer term aspirations and how do you see British Sugar helping you achieve them?
The graduate scheme is a starting block from which to launch your career. It provides you with a thorough understanding of how the business operates with particular focus on the area of your chosen scheme.
Developing people is integral to the British Sugar Culture and there is real drive from the top to develop the future finance leaders. My learning and development hasn’t stopped once I finished the graduate scheme, in fact it’s accelerated. Opportunities to work abroad, in different businesses within the group and in different functions have all been available.
As I continue to tailor my development plan to my preferred career path, refining it with my mentor, I know British Sugar will provide support for further professional qualifications, endorse applications to internal development programmes such as ABF’s Finance Development Programme and offer me skills training where appropriate.
Working for a company with the scope of British Sugar, in terms of business potential and group structure, the opportunities are endless. That may sound cliché but it’s true.
Did you attend an induction programme? Was this useful before you started your first day?
The week prior to starting our first roles, all graduates from our intake were treated to an off-site induction week.
Each day was a challenge owing to the breadth and depth of information presented to us by various people from the business. These presentations ranged from Operations to Commercial to Health & Safety and were really useful as they provided us with a foundation of knowledge so we could ‘hit the ground running’ once we started our roles.
The MD afforded us an hour of his time for a Q&A session, which offered us an insight into his expectations of us and showed us commitment to the graduate schemes from the top.
There were a series of team building exercises, including a 24 hour ‘Apprentice’ style challenge. This was my highlight of the week as it fostered a sense of unity within the group and also tested our softer skills such as time management, use of initiative and communication skills. Thankfully no one got fired at the end!
We also had dinner on separate evenings with the company’s leadership team, scheme sponsors and current and ex-graduates. Again, this helped us understand how different levels of the business expected us to perform over the short to long term. This also meant there were some familiar faces once we started our roles.
Do you have any hints/tips/advice you would give to someone applying to British Sugar?
First impressions count
– Be it telephone interview, assessment centre or your first day in the job; ensure you come across confident, professional and passionate about the business.
Do your research
– British Sugar want people that enthuse about the business. Demonstrating an understanding of their operations, products and market environment will benefit you during the recruitment process.
Remember it’s a two way process
– In the same way the business will assess you, you need to assess the business. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to ask. Being open and honest throughout the recruitment process will be viewed positively.
If you have already been appointed, how does this differ from being on the graduate scheme and what was the most valuable thing you learnt which helps you to do your job?
British Sugar designs its finance graduate scheme so the 1st permanent role post scheme is a development role itself. The beauty of this is the additional responsibility you gain in the role is very much dependent on you. The support network still exists but you have more independence in your decision making and approach to achieving objectives.
The biggest asset I gained whilst on the graduate scheme has been my knowledge of British Sugar from rotating around various functions. This has allowed me to understand the relationships and inter-dependencies between functions and how finance is involved in everything we do. Moving roles every 6 months, I also learnt how to adapt to working in new teams, this means I can contribute from day 1.
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