Alright guys, since we've started to see more and more questions pop up about F500s and rotational programs, I thought we'd get a thread going to try and share some knowledge on the subjects. Three of our members have volunteered to offer advice from what they've learned so far in their careers. I'll be updating THIS POST with all the answers to your questions. Each person has a different color, so you can see how people from different backgrounds, at different points in their careers, and in different industries see things. Hopefully we can make this a good resource!
Also, make sure to check out the list of F500 Rotational/Leadership Development programs
Brief background on me:
- Total no name undergrad with very average grades
- Macc from Kelley
- 1 year at Big 4
- 1.5 year in M&A and valuation consulting
- SFA of Business Unit doing mostly FP&A until I got to lead an integration of an acquisition
- Now - MGR of an Ops group
- I work in healthcare (not a provider)
Also, I just want to point out that I'm not trying to be anal about being anonymous. That being said, I'm pretty open on the boards so I don't want to publicly criticize my employer on an open forum. I will definitely answer questions on the forum, but I won't list my company.
I came from a complete finance non-target. You go to my school for premed or nursing. Fought for a(very boutique) internship my senior year after I decided very late on finance instead of medical school. Had an overall of about 3.4, business class of 3.6 -- graduated with chemistry degree.
Interviewed at a MM IB position my senior spring and angig right before graduation and didn't get either offer. I literally knew jack shit about finance. A friend was working at a software start up as a programmer and brought me on as a business analyst/sales guy, though I steered away from sales as much as I could and learned as much as I could about finance. Anyway, the company busted through its last round of funding and our lead developer quit so I knew it was time to get out. During this time, I passed level I of the -- because I wanted to show that I understood basic finance for interviews. Also hit every networking event possible and made some connections through events and others like it and slowly talked them into taking my resume for an interview. Got an interview and was hired afterward. I'm at a technology firm on the west coast.
Advice: If you're coming from a finance background, review your stuff as much as you can -- even for CF interviews. Also, talk to literally everyone you meet and never be too pushy about handing out your resume or asking for a job. If they like you, they will make it known when there is an opportunity.
- 3.5 from a decent Non-Target
- Started as an entry level FA at a global F500 company
- After 2.5 years I took a Senior FA role at a mid-cap health care technology company
I used to do strategy consulting, now I'm in house at a F100 doing corporate strategy.
- UG: UMich [3.5+]
- Grad: UChicago [3.75+]
- Started at small consulting shop, went in house to a F100 health care company.
- Have done a mix of strategy and IT Consulting.
- What's the difference between Corporate Finance and Corporate Strategy and Corporate Development?
- Is it possible to be successful and have mobility within the company without doing an Analyst role in IB or Big Four route? In essence, how likely is it to start at a F500 straight out of undergrad and work your way up without having Analyst experience.
- I'm told that at larger F500 (if not, F100), FP&A is sometimes broken out between a Planning Group and an Analysis Group, where Analysis does most of the "special, ad-hoc, strategy-like" projects without doing any of the budgeting/forecasting/accounting. Can you comment at all on this structure?
- For someone in a FLDP program that doesn't have rotations into Corp Dev or Corp Strat, how would you suggest getting into those areas?
- What is the mobility like for non-rotational entry level positions at F500s?
- Are skills fairly transferable between industries say tech to defense? Or how would view an applicant who held a similar role yet in a different industry?
- Could one of you describe the hiring process at your firms? Nothing too detailed, just the abstract (recruitment, resume selection, type of interviews, who is involved with the interviews, follow-up, etc) just whatever you experienced.
- If I want to eventually get into corporate strategy or corporate development, will I have a better shot at the position coming from a SA position in IB Risk or straight-up IB?
- What steps should I take to distinguish myself during the summer period, if possible?
- I feel like I am getting to a place where I am competent in terms of knowledge base for a corp fin job, but do most companies in your experience have some sort of training for new hires so they know how to do the work their way?
- Is the work for the most part team-based? Or are projects more individual with meetings every so often to go over analysis/findings?
- Are there any resources you would recommend (books, websites, etc) that I should read up on to best prepare for my internship?
- So what are the areas that Sr. leadership "must" rotate through to get the job. Also, what about the people who come in from, say, or IB at the manager level? How are they getting the exposure to many different business areas, or is that different because of their consulting or IB background?
- Could one of you guys maybe give an overview of the roles and income someone might see over a career in corporate finance assuming they were successful?
- Do you guys have ambitions to make it to VP level (or higher)? What is the average age and years of experience of VP's at your place when they became VP? Is it realistic to expect to get there in good time if you're smart enough and put in the work?
- I know that this is a very broad question, but I'd just like to get an idea of the type of experiences I should look for if I am interested in managing operations for a F500, in a COO-type capacity. I know a lot of it is due to luck/connections, but what can I do to make sure that I have the requisite experiences and skills, coming from a finance background? Do firms hire investment bankers or risk management bankers?
- I understand that you can enter a F500 company either after working at the big 4 or through a FMP-type program. I was hoping to get your personal opinions on which is the better route to go (if you know that you want to end up in a F500 company) and any possible advantages/disadvantages of both routes. Thanks!
- In the big 4 there is a very big stigma against jumping to industry too soon. The firms constantly preach the benefits of staying for the manager promotion. For a big 4 cpa coming up on 3 years of experience, spread across audit and valuation, do you think the manager title holds any water? Do you think it would be better to jump to industry/corp fin at the SFA level as compared to possibly making the move later and landing a manager level role when you leave the big 4?
Corp Finance, Dev and Strategy are all, in my experience, part of the finance organization. The main difference is the focus of the analysis team. FP&A is focused on monthly, quarterly and yearly results; how we performed and what led to the positive or negative variance vs. budget/forecast/prior year. FP&A also does a lot of work around providing different metrics to business leaders to help drive decisions. Strategy is pretty broad but usually focuses on bigger picture direction of the business. Think of strategy as an internal consulting group that works on a variety of projects based on management requests/needs. Corpdev generally focuses on acquisitions, capex etc.
At my company the structure is slightly different than BJM explains. Strategy for us is really outside of the finance group. We do have Corporate Development and (obviously) Corporate Finance as part of the Finance organization, but strategy is it's own small group at my company.
The thing to realize is that every organization is structured slightly differently, but that's not always relevant. A good example of this is Pricing - who is in charge or pricing? I've seen this as finance, marketing and operations at different companies. However, if you have a finance background and are interested in Pricing, you're probably a good candidate regardless of where that particular position fits in the organization.
I used to do strategy consulting, now I'm in house at a F100 doing corporate strategy. Different companies organize themselves differently obviously, but in my experience the strategy team (if one exists) will be outside of finance,and often will be a direct report function to the CEO. As mentioned, corporate strategy is going to deal with big picture issues. Two big drivers of strategy projects are regulatory changes and acquisitions. There are others, but those two seem to suck up the most time. I guess it also depends a lot on industry - I've spent most of my time in the health care industry, so my perspective on the regulatory angle might be skewed because of that.
For example, if you're a big health insurance company, how do you begin to understand what your obligations are under the new ACA legislation? How do you get your arms around what it does to your existing revenue and cost structure? If you're a bank, how do you deal with the loss of revenue as a result of limits on credit card fees? Etc. etc. If you're at a company that has a lot of idle cash, you might be looking to acquire a similar or complimentary company that isn't doing well, and can be scooped up on the cheap. How do you figure out what price to pay? What impact the acquisition will have on your revenue / cost structure? How easy or difficult will integration be? Are there regulatory concerns, post merger? Just a few examples.
2. Is it possible to be successful and have mobility within the company without doing an Analyst role in IB or Big Four route? In essence, how likely is it to start at a F500 straight out of undergrad and work your way up without having Analyst experience?
Absolutely. My first job out of school was at a F100 (U.S.) company in their entry-level analyst role. Companies like P&G, J&J, Kimberly-Clark, GE etc have these as do most other large corporations. From that point on, how fast you move up is based primarily on the work you do and the connections you make. Obviously, politics plays a role depending on the company but I've seen guys go from $60K to $100K in 4-5 years and I've also seen people fired in 6 months. If you bust your ass and make an impact, you will get noticed and you will be promoted. Also, if you do a really good job and can prove it, your exit opps into a more senior role in another company are really strong.
Definitely. I recommed to most people to start somewhere other than F500 mostly because you will likely make more $ (although that depends upon the company to some extent) and you lose the risk of getting stuck at a level below Mgr.
That being said an FLDP is an amazing way to start a career. You get a ton of different experiences and that's something that people on this board seem to discount, but is extremely important in many companies. It's very possible to graduate an FLDP program with experience in US FP&A, Chinese Manufacturing, European Audit and a Global Planning role. Not that those are all exciting roles, but it would take most people 10+ years to get near that breadth of experience outside of an FLDP program.
Not that you guys are at the level where you worry about promotions yet, but my next big promotion is to Director. It is prob 5-10 years away and in that time I know I need to get at least 2-3 different diverse experiences. Unless you are going to go up in a straight line in one group like Corp Development (which is often VERY difficult because you'll likely need people to quit/die) Sr. Mgmt within a company needs to be able to oversee and understand a large variety of groups. You're not able to do that without experiencing those groups first. Also, if you're a Director ready to be promoted and all you've done is Corp Development, the chance of you getting an open VP of Finance supporting manufacturing is about zero.
That was a little long, but I could go on forever about the important of different experiences if you're looking to get into Sr. Leadership at a F500.
3. I'm told that at larger F500 (if not, F100), FP&A is sometimes broken out between a Planning Group and an Analysis Group, where Analysis does most of the "special, ad-hoc, strategy-like" projects without doing any of the budgeting/forecasting/accounting. Can you comment at all on this structure?
My company has this structure on many teams (I'll again add the caveat that every company and even teams within one company are often structured different). I wouldn't say the analysis team does no forecasting in these roles, but what they do is often different. The best way to understand the difference is to look at the duties they'll do in their roles:
Planning Analyst - closing the books, reporting on monthly #s, more accounting focused in their daily work. During budgeting these analysts are often loading and tying out systems, preparing P&Ls, filling out required templates, maybe managing SG&A.
Analysis Analyst - determining key drivers, explaining key variances, works closer with marketing to drive decision making. During budget this analyst helps budget sales and SGP, explain key drivers, etc...
Networking - it is important to network internally as well. You want to meet those guys and you want your boss to know you're interested (as long as you're producing high quality work in your current role).
One of the great things about lower level roles in F500 and especially FLDP is that you're not expected to be there for 5 years. If I have a really good FLDP who tells me he's interested in Corporate Development I'd set up a lunch with the Dir of Corp Development and have a chat. A good manager will make a good FLDP's life alot better. However, if you're not a top notch employee your manager probably won't help out near as much.
Also, most FLDP programs have a coordinator who can help with these things. If you don't get a great manager you're not totally screwed, but it would help.
I can only speak for my company when I say this, but being an FA (our entry level) is TOUGH. Unlike FLDP's FAs are expected to stay in the roles 2+ years. An FA also probably needs to do at least 2 roles to make SFA and the FA roles in my company kind of suck. There also aren't too many FA roles in my company (FLDPs get most roles that would likely be for an FA). It just seems like an uphill battle at my company, but it could totally be a cultural thing just at my company.
I will say my old boss did this at a more well-known company. He went FA to Manager in a pretty reasonable amount of time (6-7 years) and got some really good experience along the way before coming over to our company. So it can be done, but my particular company seems like a pretty tough place for FAs.
That will depend on the company but in my experience it's very good. I know right now a lot of companies are battling to retain their top talent and one way they do that is by giving them options and allowing them to create their own career path. At my old company they talked a lot about the career scaffold vs. career ladder. What they meant is that you might be an FP&A Manager then move laterally into a marketing manager role or into operations management at a production facility or procurement group etc. The ideal career path now into upper management generally involves stints in other areas to build a well-rounded knowledge of the business, not just one area of expertise.
Definitely depends on what area of the organization, what exposure that area has to the decision makers, and how visible / good your work product is. For example, if you're an entry level Java programmer, there are probably 4 layers of computer nerds between you and the Director over your area. Typically, IT Directors and VP's will be working with the business, driving requirements, and trickling them down to you. Your contribution will be buried in thousands of lines of code, and your face will never be seen by the business, so your mobility is probably very limited.
Contrast that with an entry level internal audit gig - while often boring and tedious, the IA function has relatively few people, and exposure across every aspect of the organization. You have the opportunity to build relationships with people in every area of the company, and you develop an understanding of how all of those areas tie together operationally. If you start cranking out A+ work product, demonstrate certain poise at meetings, show that you can contribute useful insights, etc. it's easy to lateral or step up to other roles in the company.
(those were just examples: I'm not bagging on Java developers, and I'm certainly not championing internal audit as an awesome career path)
Overall yes, but it depends on what you do. For instance if you do FP&A for an insurance company that translates pretty well to FP&A anywhere else. However, if you do Insurance policy pricing for Geico that likely doesn't transfer too well to treasury at GE.
If you get high quality roles at a good company you will be valuable elsewhere. If you have very industry-specific or niche roles it may be harder (but definitely not impossible) to transition.
Yes, especially at the lower levels where business acumen isn't needed as much. Entry level roles are pretty transferable and if you are coming from a pretty recognized brand, you'll be able to go to a lot of other companies -- sometimes at a level higher -- but there are always trade offs. Obviously, every company is going to have different processes and software, but the work generally is about the same.
In terms of the financial side, yes, they're pretty transferable for the most part. Variance analysis, reporting, modeling etc are all fairly standard so what you do at a tech vs. defense vs. cpg company will be pretty similar. The main difference is in learning the business and applying that knowledge to your analysis. The factors that go into analyzing a capital project for a CPG vs. Aerospace is different because the machines, industry etc are quite different.
Yes, most skills are transferable. Some things are industry specific, but I'd say you don't really need to worry so much about industry focus until you're 7-10 years into your career, and then only if you're in an industry where industry experience matters (health care being the one I'm most familiar with).
7. Could one of you describe the hiring process at your firms? Nothing too detailed, just the abstract (recruitment, resume selection, type of interviews, who is involved with the interviews, follow-up, etc) just whatever you experienced.
We recruit from several schools in the state of our headquarters and main office and from select schools throughout the country. Have some sort of finance experience on your resume -- either through working somewhere for a bit or interning in CF, IB, etc. After talking with a recruiter to set up an initial screening, you will get two phone interviews that are 70% behavioral/30% technical. If you pass both of those, you'll be flown out for an onsite interview which will consist of 60% behavioral/40% technical from 4-6 different interviewers from mid management down to analysts. You'll know if you get the gig within two weeks.
I can really only speak to strategy recruiting, and that's pretty limited. No entry level; pretty much everyone is 8-10 years or more, formeror other strategy shop, or previous F500 strategy. Strategy is small compared to the other areas being discussed - we have about 15 people. So, the hiring process doesn't happen often.
In most cases, you aren't getting into corp development without IB experience (2-3 years) or internal experience (4-5 years) unless you are coming from a top MBA program. I haven't heard of anyone from my company coming in directly from school to work corp dev or corp strategy, even if they had experience as a. I'm sure there is an exception somewhere, but you'd have much better luck just going IB for a few years.
This is how it works at my current company and it was the same at my old one. We hire people into corpdev 3 ways:
- Out of a top MBA
- From a consulting/IB role (generally already have a top MBA)
- High performing Internal FP&A analysts (may or may not have the MBA)
In my experience, corporate strategy shops really lovealums. IB might be good for corp dev.
Distinguishing yourself is pretty simple - work hard, do a good job and be a decent guy.
10. I feel like I am getting to a place where I am competent in terms of knowledge base for a corp fin job, but do most companies in your experience have some sort of training for new hires so they know how to do the work their way?
One area my company really lacks is training new hires. You'll get a formal HR training but then you're given a laptop and a cube. This likely varies by company, but at my company you'll need to work with your Manager to see what he/she wants done and how. A very good way to acclimate yourself in the beginning (when you'll likely be slow) is to look at the previous work that was done. Depending on your role spend time looking at previous presentations or models.
Team based or individual contributor will depend upon the role. Usually, I am doing work individually, but meeting to discuss the work or present it to Sr. Management.
I can't think of any real resources before you start. Make sure you're above average at, try to understand a little bit about the company and industry, but most importantly go in ready to help with anything.
13. So what are the areas that Sr. leadership "must" rotate through to get the job. Also, what about the people who come in from, say, or IB at the manager level? How are they getting the exposure to many different business areas, or is that different because of their consulting or IB background?
I can't say that there is route filled with "musts", but overall the more experiences you have the more valuable you are. Unless you really have a passion for one specific thing, be as diverse as reasonably possible. Besides, no one wants to do FP&A roles for 30 years.
One big example is Manufacturing. Few people (myself included) would consider Manufacturing Finance sexy. Yet most F500 companies are essentially Manufacturing companies. To be CFO it would definitely be beneficial to have some Manufacturing experience.
I'm really close with 3 of our VPs. 2 of them tell me the best thing they did in their career was go to Puerto Rico to be a Plant Controller (they both coincidentally went there with other companies) because there are very few people that can say that they were the CFO of a Plant that produces $100M+ of product. Maybe coincidentally, the 3rd VP I'm close with, who may end up our CFO one day, recently took a new position as the head of Asia Manufacturing Finance.
People who come in as a Mgr have their own set of experiences.or IB are unique experiences as well. Realize that if you come in as a Mgr you still have a long time until you are Sr. Management (I consider VP senior management) and you can still get plenty of internal unique experiences.
I will just throw out a small sample of types of roles I either have had or would like to have at some point:
- Finance support of Marketing/Sales
- Finance Support of Ops/Manufacturing
- Corporate Planning
- FP&A for a business
- Treasury (mostly to experience cash management in case I go for CFO at a smaller company some day)
- Possibly Strategy or Marketing (this happens a decent amount at the Mgr, Sr. Mgr and Director levels)
- etc, etc, etc
Typical structure would be:
FA -> SFA-> Mgr -> Sr. Mgr -> Director -> VP -> CVP/CFO
Some places have Sr. Director and different levels of VPs, but above is the general structure.
I'm not exactly as sure on pay. I can definitely say that the past few years people at my company and other local F500s have been getting shafted (relatively) on compensation.
FA -> SFA-> Mgr -> Sr. Mgr -> Director -> VP -> CVP/CFO
$50K-$65K -> $60K - $85K -> $80K - $100K -> $90K - $125K -> $125K - $250K -> $200K - $500K -> $250K - 7 figures
Pay varies quite a bit so I tried to provide the middle 80% or so (just an educated guess)
This is pretty close, but I think your low end is a little low. Your high end for Director and VP may be a little (but I'm not there yet, so I could be mistaken)
Yea, my original company started FAs at $60K and my current one is in that same ballpark but I've heard of people being at $45K on the low end. The director/VP roles are tough because they vary so much between companies. At my old company a director was in the $200K range but my new one, where there are more VPs, it's closer to $150K. We also have senior managers, directors and VPs so there's a pretty broad range between a regular director and SVP.
I agree with the pay described above being a little low. After you get to manager level, you also start getting a larger part of your pay from bonuses. I'd bump the bottom two figures of the first two levels up by 5k and, at least at my place, you're making six figures when you hit manager. Senior managers are making $150-250, depending on function and how many people under, Directors or GMs are making 250-350, VPs 400- a few MM.
This is consistent with my experience. I'm a Senior Manager, and my comp is right in the middle of that range. I'm friends with a lot of Directors / VP's and their comp is consistent with those numbers. I expect to make Director in another 1-2 years.
15. Do you guys have ambitions to make it to VP level (or higher)? What is the average age and years of experience of VP's at your place when they became VP? Is it realistic to expect to get there in good time if you're smart enough and put in the work?
Yes, I'd like to reach the VP level and I think it's attainable in the next 8-10 years (I'm 26). One thing you find in corporate America is that there's a lot of people who have the brains and a lot of people who have the personality; not many people have both. If you're smart and get along well with people, you'll advance pretty quickly.
That really depends. Fast risers reach VP level in their early 30s usually. I'd say, on average they're more like 40-45. At the F500 company I worked at, there were fewer people who shot up to VP vs. the mid-cap tech company I work for now. I assume that's true of most large companies.
Late 40's is typical of VP's in my experience. If you're smart and put in the work, then definitely. Also helps to be somewhat politically savvy, know the right people, establish a good reputation with the right people, etc. Sometimes people are brilliant, but unable to navigate the social complexities of a large organization and that will definitely hold you back.
My ambition is to make VP at my company or maybe go somewhere a little smaller to be VP or even CFO.
My company is a little slower with promotions. While it happened in the past, VP before 40 is going to be pretty difficult going forward.
I think VP is realistic if I decide to stick around long enough. I actually think Director is extremely likely, so from there I hope to get VP with some hard work and a little luck. Director isn't a horrible place to be, but if I feel that I'm stalling out at Director I will definitely jump to VP at a smaller company.
16. I know that this is a very broad question, but I'd just like to get an idea of the type of experiences I should look for if I am interested in managing operations for a F500, in a COO-type capacity. I know a lot of it is due to luck/connections, but what can I do to make sure that I have the requisite experiences and skills, coming from a finance background? Do firms hire investment bankers or risk management bankers?
My company doesn't technically have a COO, but we have a CVP who realistically serves that purpose.
His background is Manufacturing (I'm pretty sure he was an Engineer by schooling). In a highly manufacturing focused company it will likely be difficult to become COO without significant manufacturing experience. This would typically be people who have been a Plant Manager (usually an engineer) and then worked up through the corporate ranks.
The other operations-focused route would be to be more Supply Chain focused. I doubt a VP of SC would ever become COO at my particular company, but I could see it happening elsewhere.
The other option that's always on the table is get to a certain level in Finance and then lateral into another group (Operations in this case). I think it would be unlikely to be COO through this route, but I guess it is possible.
Realistically, if you want to be a COO your finance background may not be extremely beneficial. You'll need to get as much operations experience as possible.
As far as becoming COO, people were correct to say you need operations experience but most large companies will provide that opportunity if you want it. At my old company (F500 Manufacturing) it was fairly common for SFA level finance people to move into asset manager positions at a factory. They'd do that for 2-5 years and then come back to corporate. Be advised, most factories are located in the middle of nowhere
17. I understand that you can enter a F500 company either after working at the big 4 or through a FMP-type program. I was hoping to get your personal opinions on which is the better route to go (if you know that you want to end up in a F500 company) and any possible advantages/disadvantages of both routes. Thanks!
Both get you there. FMP is going to be more competitive because of generally fewer spots for those opportunities. It's also going to position you better for top MBA programs (i.e. FMP rotation will usually be looked upon more favorably than Big4 experience, all other things being equal). Getting hired at the Big4 is easier, just on sheer volume.
big>18. In the big 4 there is a very big stigma against jumping to industry too soon. The firms constantly preach the benefits of staying for the manager promotion. For a big 4 cpa coming up on 3 years of experience, spread across audit and valuation, do you think the manager title holds any water? Do you think it would be better to jump to industry/corp fin at the SFA level as compared to possibly making the move later and landing a manager level role when you leave the big 4?
It's in their best interest to keep you longer, so of course they say that. That being said...
I actually think the Manager title is pretty important. The main reason is you'll likely make Mgr in 1-2 years in the Big 4, correct? If you lateral into SFA it could take you 1-3 internal positions to get promoted and each job is likely to be 18-36 months. Also, you'll probably end up making more if you come in as a Manager from the outside.
That being said, it could be possible to come into industry as a Mgr without obtaining the Mgr title in Big 4 (although not extremely likely).
To me, Big 4 is now your fastest and most prosperous route to Mgr - I'd take it. That being said, I HATED Big 4 and made it exactly 52 weeks (no bonus payback).