Before joining the graduate programme, I was strongly considering pursuing a career in the management consultancy industry. Several things in this industry attracted me such as working on different projects across functional areas and industries, getting exposure to top management, building a superior project management toolbox etc. to name a few.
During my research on the graduate programme, I found out that I could experience being a consultant in Novo Nordisk’s very own internal corporate finance management consultancy. In fact there are several departments in Novo Nordisk specialising in Project Management. Some specialize in IT, some in Innovation (the ones hosting Innovation in Action), some in production etc. and one specifically within Corporate Finance, namely Finance Projects (FP). In this post, I will provide you with insight to my 6 months working as a consultant in FP.
A mix of internal and former Mgt. consultants from top-tier consultancies
FP is currently manned with 13 employees; 5 project managers (PM), 4 associates, 1 graduate (working as an associate), 2 student helpers and 1 manager of the department. Currently the split is 50/50 between those with an internal background and those with a background as management consultants in McKinsey, Bain, Quartz and Booz but that tend to vary. This mix provides an excellent foundation for strong project management methodology. Due to its strong reputation, the department is always visited by 1-2 Finance graduates year long.
FP acts as a support function to Corporate Finance and is referring directly to the Senior Vice President of Corporate Finance who ultimately decides which projects to prioritize. This means that FP primarily executes projects in which senior management across the global finance organisation is involved, typically with vice presidents chairing the project Steering Group and on several occasions even the CFO.
Working on different projects across the global finance organisation
FP undertakes a vast range of different types of projects within the global finance organisation (hence the name) such as Corporate Sourcing, Corporate Tax, Financial Planning etc. Often the cases are cross-functional, spanning into Marketing, R&D etc. Project topics cover process optimization, strategy formulation and implementation, business case evaluation and much much more and always entail an international aspect. The projects are carried out in close collaboration with the “client”, meaning Line of Business (LoB), which in most cases has representatives joining the project team.
How they work
As is the case for Novo Nordisk in general, there is a strong desire to continuously improve and ensure personal development in FP. This is done by combining and utilizing the different skillsets represented in the department. In that spirit, project teams often host problem-solving sessions where the department put their heads together to come up with solutions to complex problems. Furthermore, the employees often encourage knowledge sharing by e.g. giving presentations on time management, how to be effective in PowerPoint etc. During my stay we also enjoyed a course in presentation technique and in stakeholder management. To learn more about the Novo Nordisk value chain, people from different parts of the organisation are often invited to present their areas (e.g. R&D, Production).
The knowledge sharing also goes beyond the people in the department, as FP has developed a project management toolbox for Novo Nordisk covering all aspects of project Management from problem formulation to execution and implementation.
During my time in FP, I was assigned to a large project based in Corporate Sourcing. In short, the objective of the project was to optimize the way Corporate Sourcing works with spend categories (such as Events, IT, Office equipment, Professional services etc.) and develop strategies (similar to a mini-project) for each of the ~30 categories covering an annual spend base of almost 30 billion DKK.
Our project team was composed of two FP PMs and an associate (me) sitting with LoB in Corporate Sourcing. Later the team was expanded with a PM and a Business analyst from LoB. The project team also included Category managers of the categories currently being analysed, meaning our weekly touch point meetings usually included 7-8 people.
Overall, my tasks could be divided between:
1) Supporting the overall project execution with spend analysis, strategy frameworks and governance models, especially taking responsibility for data validity and analysis.
2) Acting as a PM on a specific category, working closely together with the Category manager to develop a strategy and execution plan
A typical workday would start at 8.30 with a team touch point, going through the to-dos and meetings of the day. Typically I would have 2-4 meetings a day placed between 9 and 17, with gaps in between to collect key takeaways and preparing a quick slideshow for the next meeting. Some days were more quiet, leaving time to digress on e.g. spend analysis, excel modelling or preparing slides for coming Steering Group meetings. During the day I would work closely together with my team, constantly evaluating new developments that might arise during the day which we should react on.
The project required a lot of analytical work investigating spend data to identify opportunities, coordinating and meeting with stakeholders from US, China, EU, other project teams, and external stakeholders to decide on approach etc. The team had weekly meetings with the project owner, the Corporate Vice President of Sourcing where I presented updates on “my” category. Just after I left for my current rotation in Brazil, the project was presented to all NN sourcing leads across the world with the CFO at the end of the table – bad timing!
A difficult choice
Having several friends working in the management consultancy industry, my impression is that the work we do is very much the same. I think the major difference is that in Novo Nordisk you only work within one industry for one company, and the client is in fact your colleagues from other parts of the organisation. Also, as a graduate, you will most likely only have 1 or 2 rotations in a project department before you move on to other areas (of course some graduates return when they finish the programme). In the end I think there are compelling advantages whether you go one way or the other.
Needless to say I really enjoyed working as a consultant, and loved the fast-paced, ever-changing environment you face when working on projects with several stakeholders. As I wrote a year ago (link), I wanted to experience the consultant work, but also have other interests I hope to investigate before I “settle down”. Having that possibility, is in my opinion, a truly fantastic aspect of the graduate programme.