Case study

Finance business partner — Toby Sharpe

Toby studied BSc Aviation Management at Coventry University before joining British Airways' (BA) three-year Finance Graduate Scheme as a finance business partner for their corporate affairs, legal and insurance division

How did you get onto the graduate programme?

I applied to the scheme through the BA Careers website. There were a variety of different assessment stages, including an online skills assessment, longer written answers and a recorded video interview where you had to quickly record answers in a similar format to a normal interview. My final interview was on Microsoft Teams (due to COVID-19) but everything ran very smoothly.

What's a typical day like on the scheme?

One of the best aspects of the scheme is the variety - very few days are the same and we gain a significant amount of responsibility from day one.

My first-year role has been working as a finance business partner supporting the corporate affairs, legal and insurance division. I work in central services finance, which is essential for all the centralised functions in the company, such as people, property, reward and the global learning academy.

I directly manage the budgets and spending for the areas that I partner with. I support quarterly re-forecasting processes to review line area spending and support their business requirements. We conduct wider budgetary reviews to support the business and financial plans. As part of my role, I've had the valuable opportunity to present budgets to two management committee members that I support. This has allowed me to significantly develop my presentation skills.

Outside of month-end or re-forecasting periods, I support business cases, approve purchase orders for any spend and assist with any ad-hoc requests.

What do you enjoy most about the programme?

I enjoy the variety offered by three different placements. This allows us to build a broad variety of financial and business-partnering skills.

In my first year, I particularly enjoyed supporting the financial roll-out of BA Better World, our sustainability programme. This has allowed me to make a difference to a key strategic priority for BA. I'm excited to be given further opportunities to develop my skills as I move to my second placement supporting our global customer care team, which is another key priority for BA.

There are other specific activities on the finance graduate scheme that add value. For example, experience days where we get to visit operational areas and 'audience with' sessions where we hear from interesting guest speakers around the business.

As part of the scheme, we choose between studying three accountancy qualifications (ACA, ACCA or CIMA). The study process forms part of a Level 7 apprenticeship, supported by First Intuition. I chose to study CIMA as I felt it was most aligned with my long-term goals and ambitions.

What are the challenges?

Managing work and study can be challenging at times, requiring resilience alongside open communication with our teams. However, we are well supported with study leave for study and revision sessions.

The responsibility from day one is also challenging but in an exciting way, as you get the opportunity to make a difference to BA immediately. There is very strong support for the graduates from the entire department - many senior positions in the team are held by former graduates.

The key thing is asking as many questions as you need, especially to start with.

In what way is your degree relevant?

Although I didn't study finance or accountancy - I studied aviation management, a specialised form of business management - I knew I was interested in a career in aviation.

My degree allowed me to build a strong working knowledge of many aspects of the sector - I could highlight many relevant projects and coursework that I undertook. For example, I undertook a strategic and financial analysis of another European airline, which allowed me to develop valuable knowledge and skills for the role.

Many of the graduates on the scheme studied a variety of different courses, so it's not necessary to have studied finance or accountancy previously.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I've had the opportunity to support various departments in central finance. I previously helped support the property team for two months and looked after safety and security for six months.

In the short to medium-term, I'm looking to maximise my two remaining placements on the scheme and successfully complete my CIMA qualification, so I become a chartered accountant and can use these skills throughout my career. I hope this will conclude in a successful long-term career with BA.

What tips would you give to others looking to apply for this scheme?

For the application process, I'd take time to carefully review the job description and skills required for the scheme. It's useful considering any relevant skills or achievements to date and how these can be applied to any answers that you give.

An interest in aviation is helpful too, although you aren't expected to have too much background knowledge, such as the difference between types of aircraft.

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