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An interview with Rob Bennett, Senior Commercial Analysis
Rob Bennett provides us with how he started in his role at Viking, day to day work, his education background and skills needed to become a Senior Commercial Analysis and Planning Manager
Viking Direct is a global retailer of office equipment, offering great opportunities for people who want to be involved in an international company with lots of room for progression across the world. We recently interviewed Rob Bennett and he tells us how he become a Senior Manager in the Commercial Analysis and Planning department, after first graduating with a degree in Systems Engineering and training to be an Aerospace Engineer.
Why did you decide to work in the commercial industry and how did it start?
Really the industry found me. I joined Viking after bumping into an ex-colleague in a bar, (we had worked together in my first role as an auditor for Ernst and Young) he was looking for a qualified accountant to work in his General Finance team. My role was preparing the statutory accounts and ensuring the business had effective financial controls – the role was pretty dry but it introduced me to some senior members of the business, and gave me a good understanding of some key business processes.
What was the most important thing you learned in education/university?
There is little from the core subjects I learned at university that has had relevance to any of my roles in my career. My degree was a Masters in Systems Engineering, a course set up to develop rounded aerospace engineers. That said, the teamwork and interpersonal skills I learned from being part of a very hands-on course with numerous projects have served me well. I also feel that the research skills, and generally learning to teach myself abstract subjects like software languages, etc. set me up well for business learning. As part of the course I also worked for BAE Systems in summer placements as part of an industrial placement year, and I feel that this really helped to make me more employable when looking for my first role, and allowed me to hit the ground running when I started work.
Around three months after joining Office Depot in the General Finance Team, an opportunity arose to work more closely with the Finance Director, as Financial Planning and Analysis Manager. The role meant I was responsible for managing the process of creating forecasts and annual budgets for the UK and Irish business. Taking the role was a big decision, since I knew that it would be much more intense than my current role. It meant I’d no longer be working the typical 9-5 day and at the time I had a very young family. However, since it was a good opportunity to connect with the Finance Director and key board members on a regular basis, and support key business strategic planning discussions, I felt it was too big an opportunity to miss.
What does a typical day at Viking look like for you?
A typical day is generally pretty intense. It usually consists of a lot of meetings, such as reviewing and directing analysis or 1:1s with my team. On top of this I need to try and keep on top of business trading performance for key markets and manage my relentless email traffic.
How can applicants make sure they stand out from the crowd?
Research the business you want to work for, understand their values and how they are differentiated from their competitors, and as far as possible look for areas where they could be better. Especially in my field, applicants should be able to demonstrate that they are commercially minded, have a good understanding of what differentiates a business, and that they understand what could make them more successful. There is a huge amount of publicly available information – Companies House is a good source of basic financials, as well as the trading sites of Viking and key competitors.
What key skills do you need to get into the industry?
When I recruit, I look for bright, inquisitive, keen individuals that want to learn, and to get on, beyond that most skills can be taught (but a decent working knowledge of Excel and SQL is handy for my team)
Do you have any motivational words for students aspiring to make it in this very competitive industry?
Be bright, be inquisitive and be keen and you will be successful.
It’s quite remarkable how you can follow one path with your education, yet your career can take a completely different route. If you feel like you want to pursue a career in a different direction, don’t be afraid to do it. Education of any type develops valuable skill sets which can be used in a variety of different roles.