For some people, the topic “finance” has a bad image. They associate the subject with dreary matter. Certain people are even downright afraid of it. “I’ve never been good with numbers” or “Mathematics is not my strong point” are typical statements of people who try to avoid the issue altogether. Prof. em. Dr. Claudio Loderer, who lectures on the subject of financial management, explains it as follows: “Finance topics have their own logic that you must learn and understand. They require more thinking than other more intuitive topics such as, for example, marketing or human resource management. That does not mean that problems in these latter areas are easier to solve. They are not, but people feel more comfortable thinking about issues in those areas.”
But there is much more to finance than pure numbers and there are many reasons, why everyone should at least understand the basics. “Looking at numbers does not excite me. But what excites me, is the fact, that they connect you with the operations. The numbers tell you stories. You really need to imagine the assets, new product launches, R&D activities and employees behind them, and then it gets very interesting”, says Judit Varga, Associate Finance Director at Takeda Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Learning and Teaching Finances
Judit Varga is a Financial professional with 20 years of experience in large corporations in chemical, pharma, consulting, and automotive sectors, across three different countries. Even though she already had a master’s degree in economics, she expanded her knowledge of finance by completing an EMBA at Rochester-Bern Executive Programs. “I already knew a lot about finance, but I still learned much, since the classes were really about understanding the concepts behind the theories and not only the transfer of book knowledge”, she says.
The Rochester-Bern EMBA classes are always a mixture of people from different sectors and with various backgrounds. Therefore, the knowledge-level in the field of finance was very heterogeneous. But according to Judit Varga the professors dealt very well with this challenge: “One faculty member categorized the class members according to their accounting knowledge, from beginners to advanced. The “advanced” classmates were called out to share their perspectives and experiences. This way, he tailored his lectures to all the different needs”, says Varga.
Claudio Loderer likewise has his methods for conveying the topic of finance attractively: “You have to provide actual examples that show the importance of finance. Present students’ sustainable success stories but also illustrate disaster cases. And tell them how they can be successful and avoid disaster. At the end of the day, businesses must cover costs. And to do that, they must have the finance aspects of what they do under control”, he says.
Learning Finance is therefore all about seeing the stories, the examples and the language behind the numbers. “As a teenager I was interested in international relationships, languages, travel and connecting with different cultures”, says Varga. For her, these interests fit very well with the topic of finance. “Finance is like a universal language around the world. It gives you so many opportunities, to work in all kinds of businesses, across different countries” she says.
No Fear of Numbers
Besides the awareness that finance can thus also be very exciting. It is also a fact that you can’t get around the topic. Claudio Loderer formulates it as follows: “If you put your head into the sand thinking that the bogeyman of scary finance will go away, you are naive. The bogeyman is patient, it will wait you out. Sooner or later, that’s my experience, everyone in business and outside finds out that finance matters. Unfortunately, that is often too late. So, why not bite the bullet and find out about finance before, when you have the time?”
No one can have a career and completely avoid the issue of finance; this is also confirmed by Varga. “In all organizations, all managers and employees have financial objectives: inventory, budget, profitability margin targets”, says Varga. Without understanding how real transactions translate into finance, it is very hard to succeed in a company. “Not everyone needs a financial degree, but a basic knowledge about finance is a must”, she adds.
To reduce inhibitions about financial topics, it certainly helps to try to better understand people from this sector: “Finance is often taught in complicated language. They use a lot of abbreviations and therefore lose the audience in 5 minutes, since they can not understand it”, says Varga. The finance community is therefore often seen as controllers or policemen. Varga finds this very unfortunate. She rather wants to be perceived as collaborator and business partner. “My stakeholders appreciate the fact that I try to present the numbers in a meaningful way, connecting it to business drivers, so they can take action. Whenever I can make my stakeholders act, I feel like I have a purpose”, she adds.
Of course, the same applies to the other side: “The finance professionals also need to learn the perspective of colleagues from other departments” says Varga. In this regard, the EMBA program has helped her a lot. Courses in Human Resources, Marketing, Operations and Strategy gave her a broader thinking across areas. “The EMBA made me a better leader. I became a stronger communicator and I can formulate my own vision and align it with corporate goals” she says. It even went so far that she dared to take on a task in a completely different field. “I was always curious to learn new things, but I further broadened my mindset and increased my confidence during the EMBA studies, so that I now work for an initiative, with the goal to make our company a more diverse and inclusive environment.”
Ask Questions and get the Knowledge you Need
To people who are afraid of finances, Judit Varga has the following advice: “ask questions”. When people ask questions, a dialogue arises and both sides start to understand each other. “I enjoy working with people from operations, who ask questions. I personally made sure to visit my company´s plants, warehouses and customers during business trips, not just participating at meetings in the offices, to learn about other areas. It shows me, that we are working together to achieve the same goal”, she says. No one should be intimidated by the technical terms used in the financial world. The deeper you venture into the theme, the easier it becomes. “The more often you read annual or quarterly reports of different public companies, the better you can interpret the enterprise”, says Varga.
Of course, continuing education, such as the EMBA at Rochester-Bern, is also ideal for getting started on the topic of finance – and much more. The program includes all management topics while being anchored in finance. Thanks to an excellent Faculty and interactive courses, all knowledge levels in the field of finance are served. And even after the course, students can still benefit from the network they have acquired, thanks to the alumni organization. “I really wanted to be part of the alumni organization, since I wanted to keep my knowledge refreshed in this fast-changing world” says Varga.