Andreas Wobmann - Senior Director European Finance, Clinical Trial Division at Thermo Fisher Scientific

After a progressive, international career with Syngenta, you have recently moved into a new position with Thermo Fisher Scientific. What excites you about working for the business?

Two factors played in role in my joining Thermo Fisher Scientific. The first was our mission, which is to enable our customers to make the world healthier, cleaner and safer. As the world leader in serving science, with revenues of more than $20 billion and approximately 70,000 employees globally, we are fulfilling that mission everyday which really excites me. Second, the role as CFO Europe for the Clinical Trial business was the right step for me in my career as I have full financial accountability. We have three major sites in Switzerland, Germany and England with over 50 finance and purchasing professionals in those sites, and with that comes all the general financial responsibilities including the monthly closing, the budget process, statutory and tax filing and much more. Furthermore, in this role I am heavily engaged in the strategic development of the European business and it’s exciting and challenging to play a part in growing and facilitating that growth.

Can you identify how your organisation stands out from the market and your competitors, particularly in Switzerland where there are many life sciences businesses?

In Switzerland the Clinical Trial business of Thermo Fisher Scientific has the biggest footprint and is a service provider to the Pharma and Biotech industry. We are a global leader in the areas of clinical supply chain management and clinical supplies for patients worldwide. With approximately 500 employees in Allschwil, Basel, we manufacture, package, label, store and ship different medicines to locations globally. We are well placed in Basel with the proximity many Pharmaceutical companies.

With the recent acquisition of Patheon we now are one of the only companies that can offer the full end to end service for clinical trials. By adding Patheon's highly complementary contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) capabilities to our leading clinical trials services and bioproduction technologies, we are an even stronger partner for our pharmaceutical and biotech customers.

What other challenges are awaiting Thermo Fisher, and how do you hope to overcome them?

Like any other company or industry there are many challenges to tackle. The research and development of new medicine is becoming much more expensive than it was just 15 years ago. In addition, there is a shift in medicine where you won’t need many tablets any more than one, but it will be a much higher price. Hence Innovation is key in the industry and we need to transform and think differently for the future. Digitalisation will change how clinical studies will be executed and we want to be at the forefront of that development. For example, one of the more difficult aspects of a clinical trial is to find the people to test the medicine with. They need to get to a specific location that is licensed to hand out the medicine, and for some of the patients it will require them to travel for several hours every week to get there. A concept like delivering directly to patients, as opposed to them having to travel, would make this much easier for a clinical trial patient who may already be going through other health challenges. 

How did you get to the level you are at? What great decisions do you believe you have made throughout your career and have you had to take risks?

I had the opportunity to have different roles in many areas of finance at Syngenta which helped to round out my finance experience and positioned me well for my current role as CFO Europe, clinical trials business at Thermo Fisher Scientific. I have gathered practical experience as well as technical finance knowledge that is necessary to be a successful CFO. From an education standpoint, I added CIMA and other courses, including business strategy from Insead, to my master diploma which I was able to successfully complete in England (London School of Economics) and Switzerland (University of Zurich). This required a lot of discipline, endurance and interest. It showed me that life-long learning is a key ingredient for advancement.

There are, however, many other elements that played into this. First, you need to have dedication, hard work and show that you want to grow – but most importantly, you also need to deliver. This is key throughout any career. You must know your aspiration and where you want to get to and think about how you can get there. It is important to change roles every two to three years early in your career (also within a corporation) to gain a wide breadth of experience in different areas of finance. This provides the opportunity to see what areas of finance you like and want to focus on. If opportunities arise, take them. Be proactive, take on extra work and responsibility and a new role if there is an opportunity to do so.

Second, working abroad is still one of the best decisions I made in my career. It opened my perspective and I learned to adapt and manage in a different environment and culture. Those are crititcal skills to possess to succeed later in your career. Of course there is risk associated with moving and working abroad. In my first four years with Syngenta, I gained a lot of information on processes, systems and people, which allowed me to be ready to go out and use my knowledge. Luck also plays a part in the sense that sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time. However, you can influence your luck by doing a supereb job and being first in line when an opportunity arises. Don’t be shy, let people know what you want to achieve and work step by step towards it. You need to be realistic and not think you will be a CFO with just a few years of experience. 

Last, leading people is another milestone in a progressive career. I am a person that likes to manage, challenge, motivate and develop finance careers and ensure people learn and are set up for success. There is a risk involved if, for example, there is a need to manage people with more experience, but without people management skills they won’t progress far regardless of your technical skills. Hence, try to earn the opportunity to lead one or two colleagues early on.

What made you decide to pursue a career in finance?

I always had an interest in numbers and hence deliberately chose to study economics at the university. I have a business mindset and set up a small trading company while studying and realized early on that it is crucial to understand the finance. Only with solid profit and loss (P&L) and balance sheet comprehension can you steer a business in a professional and sophisticated way. Hence finance is a good base to build your career on, and it also opens many doors for career changes. Finance also provides a lot of career options and plenty of room for growth.

I grew up internationally and a background in finance makes it easier to be able to secure work opportunities globally. This can be more difficult with other careers like law, for example, which is more customized to specific regions. As I was glad to experience international mobility early on (I was born in Hong Kong and lived my first few years there, as well in Japan for two years. I saw the benefits of experiencing a different culture and saw how this broadened my horizon. 

What recruitment challenges do you face?

Talent is scarce and one needs to rely on their own network. It is also a motivating sign if somebody from the existing team can be promoted. However, if you have to go outside your organization, there are several recruiting challenges. First, time to hire. You are always late while you are recruiting as you normally start the process when somebody has resigned. To minimize the gap, and the extra efforts of current team members, establishing a bridge is key. Second, avoid making a bad hire. It is important to find the right fit long term that fits into the company values and culture but is also a fit with the current team. Thermo Fisher is a fast paced company with many projects happening simultaneously, which require management. Last, reduce costs. Recruiting can be costly as it requires the time of the HR department, business people for interviews, agencies and many others.

What books / blogs are you currently reading? What book could you recommend to accountants that are wanting to progress?

I like to read business books and magazines and I do that as much as I can, especially while traveling on a plane. It is vital to keep yourself up to date on what is going on, both in the industry and broader environment, to ensure you can ask the right questions for your company and department. A good book I read some time ago is called ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins. Another is ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’ by Marshall Goldsmith. The first is about how companies need to transform to be successful and the second is more about yourself and what are the hurdles to overcome at different career levels to further progress.

 
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