Nihad Aziz

Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) analyst, Johnson & Johnson

BSc Economics and Finance 2017

United Arab Emirates

1.Why did you choose to study at Leeds?There was a multitude of reasons I picked Leeds as my first choice. Leeds University was one of the few universities offering the combination of economics and finance at the time when I joined. Also its reputation among the Russel group was outstanding online. Being an international student I didn’t really have the chance to visit the campus on an open day but I had a school friend who did. She spoke ecstatically about Leeds University. Her appraisal and reviews online from students were remarkable about the university, the city, and its culture.

The university has a massive campus in its own right and is ideally located near the city centre unlike other campus universities. It has a great social scene and the best students union in the country with over 300+ societies. Leeds as a city is big and small at the same time, meaning it has everything you could possibly need and small enough that you can comfortably walk everywhere.

2.Tell us about your undergraduate course – why did you choose this and what do you enjoy most about it?
People who choose Economics and Finance are very ambitious, and want to work in the financial sector mostly. It is a very challenging course where you are trying to study two vast subjects during the same time period. Leeds does an amazing job at balancing the two and gives you the best of both worlds. I chose it because I wanted Economics to give me the broader outlook of business and how the world works, then Finance to build the technical skills required to succeed in a related career. My course has done that and much more. The economics department at Leeds is highly ranked on the league tables and is steadily rising upwards. The course also had one of the highest student satisfaction and post-graduation employability ratings too, making it all the more attractive. I really enjoy the finance modules within the course and particularly in my final year where we get to use the Bloomberg trading rooms which is really fascinating. There is a reason we won University of the Year in 2016, and LUBS is a part of the elite 1% of universities with triple accreditation. 

3.What were your roles and responsibilities on your year in industry?
My role has been extremely dynamic and flexible throughout the year. I joined Johnson and Johnson as a Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) analyst. Under this role I reported directly to the Finance Director and Northern Europe Cluster Controller. I was responsible for preparing and coordinating time-critical high level business decks and analysis for senior management. In this role I was also involved in P&L and Sales reporting which involved aspects of accounting, budgeting, and forecasting. I also supported the Brand Contribution P&Ls for 100+ brands with $1B+ sales in 6 currencies. This role ended when I led the deployment of a newly formed Shared Service Centre for FP&A. For the latter half of the year, I worked as a Selling, General, and Administrative (SG&A) analyst. In this role I was primarily business partnering with multiple senior directors. I helped them find cost efficiencies and make more informed financial investment decisions. I also prepared multiple pieces of ad-hoc analyses and presentations for various managers across different teams gaining a reputation for turning around requests quickly and with high-quality.

4.What were your biggest achievements during the placement?
Finance around the world within industry, especially within Johnson and Johnson, is undergoing unprecedented change to move from processes and accounting based approach to advanced analytics and more strategic business partnering. As I reported to the cluster controller who was the Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) head, I quickly became a subject expert in the area. There was a new shared service centre being developed for Johnson and Johnson who would take on all the FP&A processes. My manager and I were the key leads in ensuring the successful deployment of the Northern Europe Cluster files to this Share Service Centre via knowledge transfer and training. I had the opportunity to be involved in a monumental initiative within the company, as well as train and advice senior employees to take on our processes. My manager was urgently relocated midway to another team and I had to independently manage this transition. Despite minimal supervision, tight corporate deadlines, and constantly moving objectives, I was able to effectively deliver the deployment seamlessly well above what was expected of a placement student. This and other projects I worked on, out of pure initiative, resulted in me achieving the J&J Encore award which came with a great bonus on top!

5.What skills did you develop on placement?
I developed an array of soft and hard skills during the placement year. Being a finance placement the core skills I developed are my cognitive abilities to analyse and critically think about financial information. Working with massive data-sets enhanced my ability to scan through them quickly, summarize them succinctly and appropriately for the stakeholder/ client at hand. I also worked with different financial software such as SAP, CONGOS, etc. and Excel which developed my technical expertise.Business partnering with senior directors with different approaches to the same type of information enhanced my professionalism, interpersonal skills, and adaptability. Finance at J&J consumer underpins every other department which develops valuable communication and resource-management skills. Moreover, handling multiple finance processes and by challenging the status quo, I enhanced my innovative thinking and creative problem-solving skills which I used to drive efficiencies and value for my team. Finally, the biggest takeaway was the immense commercial awareness gained throughout the year about the massive healthcare/ FMCG industry and corporate environments in general. Reporting on P&L’s, being involved in product launches, and producing sales analysis packs for megabrands like Listerine, Neutrogena, Calpol, Nicorette, Johnsons Baby, broadened my understanding of the industry and helping me identify the key drivers of growth and decay. All these skills are highly transferable assets in the graduate market for any commercial role.

6.What support did you receive from the Business School / University before and during your placement?
The careers centre and professional development hub for LUBS at the University is simply one of the best support facilities available on campus. I have had immense help from them and would have not been able to secure a placement year if not for these facilities. The careers centre have CV and cover letter drop in sessions, checked by expert staff who are able to fine-tune CV’s to prime them for the job market. The best thing about them is the mock interviews by telephone, skype, or face-to-face which you can easily book in. These helped my confidence greatly and my ability to effectively navigate through interviews. They also hold multiple employer presentations and training sessions which are the best places to network and learn about job application processes. In fact I got through Johnson and Johnson via the on-campus assessments the careers centre held which led on to a successful placement.

Finally, there is ample opportunities throughout the university to help you develop the skills necessary to succeed in the field.Through the training in the workplace module during the placement year LUBS was very supportive of my career development. They ensured that the placement I took was a safe environment to work in from the start and then ensured I was getting the best out of my year. There is a very structured approach in maintaining monthly journals and reflecting on your skills, which helps build effective personal development plans. Also, constant feedback from your placement tutor is really handy in assessing your development from an academic viewpoint as well. They also come visit you at your workplace to make sure everything is going alright. The monthly journals that you maintain and the end of the year portfolio definitely show an upward trajectory through the year. This is really great for examples necessary in almost every job interview. 

7.Is there any prospect of returning to your placement employer after you graduate?
The FLDP (Finance Leadership Development Program), though not a standard graduate job placement, is a company-wide accelerated route to upper management program that people all over the world as well as within the company apply to. It is a 2 year program where you work abroad for a year and back in your home country for another year. You have an extensive amount of training, a 6 week training program in the US, as well as a mandatory rotation program where you get to work in a different country (not possible in all companies). It is definitely a very appealing future job. I received excellent feedback for my placement year and had managers who were willing to sponsor my application to the FLDP. However, international students might find it difficult for entry into FLDP in the UK so I might consider applying for the FLDP back home in Dubai.

8.How has the year in industry influenced your career aspirations?
The year in industry was an eye-opener in every regard. My ambition since high school was to work in financial services and this placement year only confirmed my thinking. I genuinely enjoyed the number crunching and analysis involved in finance. The ability to take ownership of your work was gratifying and presenting analysis to senior management was intensely exhilarating. Moreover, I also realised the personal importance I attached to working in an ethical company such as Johnson and Johnson. This has strongly influenced my future career and what I look for in companies I want to work for.

9.Would you recommend taking a year in industry to someone else?
The placement year was the best decision of my life so far. I would unquestionably recommend everyone to take a year in industry. I strongly believe that by spending a year in a company is when you can truly understand its culture, make genuine contributions back to the company, and build a credible idea of your strengths and weaknesses. It easily takes everyone nearly 3 – 4 months to get their feet on the ground in a company and with a multinational global companies like Johnson and Johnson you are learning something new almost every day. Moreover, when you are there for a year, managers consider you as a full-time employee and give you responsibility that you may not have got on a shorter internship. Also, working for a long period gives you a much stronger skillset which is used to make value-adding differences to the teams you will work with.

The application process for placement years is hard and is only going to get harder with the increased focus on it. But I want to advise all 2nd years out there to not give up and persevere with it. There might be a very lucky few who get job offers early on in the year but rejections are much more commonplace. The initial rejections you get should only make you better and stronger, rather than demotivate you to apply. I had several rejections before finally getting 2 job offers towards the end of February. But it was absolutely worth it and I wouldn’t exchange the outcome for anything else.The process is definitely harder for international students to get graduate schemes as many companies cannot offer sponsorship. But the placement year visa is sponsored by the current Tier 4 university visa you hold, so companies shouldn’t be worried about your visa status. This is a great way to gain international experience and I would recommend the placement year to international students!

10.Have you taken part in any extra-curricular activities outside your course?
The Leeds Student Union is one of the top ranked and easily the best one in the country. With over 300 societies from tea-tasting to Sky diving, you would struggle to find an area of interest that is missing! There is ample opportunity to make use of it with multiple taster sessions throughout the year from every society. I have been very involved in societies, I would definitely recommend being a part of them and actively participating. Try getting committee positions as these really help with building your CV and giving you examples to talk about in interviews. In my 2nd year I was a student ambassador for the business school, volunteered as a PASS mentor, and took on part-time jobs. I was elected to two 200+ member societies as their treasurer, and was social media secretary / website manager for the Trading and Investment society. In my final year I am back as chairman for the Indian society and as a Sector Head in the Trading and Investment Society. Investing your time in societies definitely pays off both socially and employability wise.

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