An interview with John Sheehan – Head of Finance, International Paper GBSC in Kraków
International Paper, founded in 1898, is a multi-billion-dollar company and a global leader in the packaging and paper industry. Headquartered in Memphis (United States), we employ approximately 58,000 people and are strategically located in more than 24 countries serving customers worldwide. Annual net sales in 2014 were 24 billion USD. International Paper has been named by FORTUNE magazine as one of „America’s Most Admired Companies.” This is International Paper’s 12th time in the last 13 years to make the list. We are proud to be Among Ethisphere Institute’s “World’s Most Ethical Companies®” (8th consecutive year in 2013).
In 2004 International Paper was among the first corporations to choose Kraków as the home for their Global Business Services Center. Our 450 employees in Kraków provide advanced business services and solutions in the fields of Customer Service, Supply Chain, Information Technology (Business/Process Analysis, IT Project Management, IT Services including Help Desk and end user support, Data Center Operations, Technical Application Services, Telecom, Information Security, Application configuration, development, and support), Finance (Business Analysis, Credit Analysis and Accounting) and Global Sourcing to International Paper businesses around the globe. International Paper is substantially expanding its operations in Krakow and is seeking exceptional candidates to be part of its Finance team. We are hiring both experienced professionals and graduates under the Finance Explorer Apprenticeship Program.
Tell us about your career with International Paper. How did it start?
At International Paper we have two main business lines: Packaging and Papers, and my background is mainly in our Corrugated Packaging business. My education is Finance and Economics and I have spent most of my career in this field. My career at International Paper began in 2004 when I started working as a Financial Controller for our packaging business in Ireland. I spent two years working there in one of our manufacturing sites. Afterwards, I moved to our Headquarters for the Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA) region in Brussels where I then spent seven years working in various roles in Finance and Strategic Planning. Now I am back in Finance, developing the finance organisation here in our Krakow GBSC and sharing what I have learned during my career with International Paper.
What were the main challenges you had to take up during your work? What were the most important milestones in your career?
I think the biggest challenge I faced during my professional career was making the decision to leave Ireland for an international assignment, not knowing what that was going to involve. However, I believe that at some point in your career, in order to grow professionally, you need to be able to take a risk. That’s why I think it is important that people are open to taking such challenges and getting out of their comfort zones. One of the most important projects that I had the opportunity to be involved in, was building out our finance organization in Krakow. I believe that the result has been positive, although we still have plenty of work to do. Currently, thanks to our engaged, multi-functional teams we can build specialist skilled teams to support and become an integral part of our businesses as efficiently and effectively as possible, remotely, from Krakow.
What qualities, skills and predispositions are important in the work of the finance department?
We have a dedicated program for candidates early in their careers enabling them to develop for the type of jobs we offer at International Paper’s GBSC in Krakow. We call it our Finance Explorer Program. Through the program, we have attracted some top talents to the organization, individuals who are open to learn but who, at the same time, after completing financial studies are open to “explore” diverse aspects of what a career in Finance might entail. It is a two-year program allowing the Explorers an opportunity to spend six months in each of four different functions in Finance: Internal Audit, Business Analysis, Credit and our Global Financial Services, linked to our headquarters in Memphis. Thanks to this program participants get an opportunity to work in each of these functions and investigate which function suits them best before moving to a permanent role. Our Explorers work under regular employment contract and get salary with benefits. We are currently running the second edition of the Finance Explorers Program. Recruitment for the third edition of the program will start in the second quarter of 2015.
What should a student or a graduate pay attention to when starting an internship in your company, so that during the internship he/she could learn as much as possible, and afterwards be offered permanent position at the organization?
Our must-have is a strong educational background and fluency in English, other language skills are an advantage. Candidates should be characterized by their curiosity. The roles that we are offering are more complex than traditional Shared Service Centre positions. Therefore we require candidates to learn more about the subject he/she is working on and to build a deeper understanding of the context of their responsibilities and the business they are involved in. We also expect candidates to be eager to look for new information, develop new skills and gain broader knowledge. In a nutshell, we seek people who are open to the idea of continuous learning. Our ideal candidates are patient, open minded and display the ability to work in a multicultural environment as we are supporting multiple countries through English and also local languages.
Why is it worth choosing a job in a large international corporation? What kind of opportunities await young people there?
The main advantage of companies such as International Paper is that we offer diverse career paths in the field of Finance, but also beyond in areas such as IT, Supply Chain, Sourcing and Customer Service. The varied structure of our organization allows us to provide a comprehensive training program to young people. As a result of participation in the Finance Explorer Program successful candidates can find a match in the function that suits them best. We also facilitate the opportunity for employees to make cross departmental moves as an option to expand their professional development and broaden their perspectives. The Finance Explorer Program has proved a very effective tool to identify and grow talents among our younger employees. The most convincing testimony is that all our successful Explorers from the first edition of the program have earned a permanent role with us.
In what way do you support your employees in International Paper?
We offer many training and coaching opportunities for our employees managed both internally and externally. We have a highly qualified internal training excellence team delivering a wide variety of trainings from soft skills, functional and technical skills to long term development programs. Additionally, we support external education for employees and we encourage members of our teams to attend courses relevant to their job roles with the company. We appreciate the personal commitment of our employees in attaining qualifications in accountancy, audit or financial analysis and provide support for such initiatives. We also provide the opportunity to practise newly acquired skills directly in various job opportunities. Furthermore, all employees can count on assistance of more experienced colleagues. We provide international career opportunities to employees displaying strong development and a willingness to travel and further develop their international business acumen.