Finance with purpose
“Learning how to interpret financial results and make efficient decisions at a global giant like ABB is a great foundation for a career in international business."
Why did you choose ABB?
I majored in finance and completed banking and industry internships during college. However, for me, finance is not just about balancing numbers. I wanted to understand more, and dive deeper into what these figures actually mean, how they can drive actions, and what impact they can have on the business and the industry I work in.
When the time came to look for my next role, I searched for a technology leader, and I found a great article about ABB’s work in China. It outlined how they are linking eastern cities where energy is consumed, with power sources in the west of the country where much of our cleaner electricity is produced. High voltage direct current (HVDC), as pioneered by ABB, is the best way of reducing power loss while transmitting energy over long distances.
At the end of 2017, the world’s most powerful ultra high-voltage direct current (UHDVC) transformer, designed, manufactured and installed by ABB in China, passed its stringent tests. It plays a key role in a UHDVC link that will be able to deliver power equivalent to twice the average annual power consumption of Switzerland. That will reduce our reliance on coal fired power in eastern China, and will help to reduce air pollution.
Working on these kinds of projects was exactly what I wanted to do, and ABB seemed like a great place to do it! Plus you get everything else you would expect from a global technology pioneer: international challenges, cutting-edge technology, experienced mentors and world-class training. It was not until I started working with financial controllers in industry that I really began to understand the sector.
Has it lived up to your expectations?
I definitely say yes – and more! The GTP has a long and successful history at ABB, with a very clear structure. There are three assignments: generally beginning in operations, then in your Group function at headquarters and finally in another part of the business which suits your interests.
These assignments gave me a comprehensive understanding of how Finance works at ABB. You learn fast through hands on learning, and your responsibilities grow quickly. It is definitely a challenging program, and you are expected to contribute right from the start – but not without support.
I was really surprised how much help and guidance I received from colleagues, supervisors and mentors. I found my colleagues knowledgeable, experienced and very friendly – willing to share and support whenever issues came up.
What did you experience on your first assignment?
I worked in a high-voltage switchgear factory for ABB’s Power Grid business in Beijing, China.
I remember being a little overwhelmed on the first day. Everything was brand-new for me, and I was seeing the switchgear systems for the first time – they are huge and highly complex pieces of technology!
I began with learning about the structure of ABB, the key performance indicators (KPIs) we usually focus on and took on various tasks: I prepared monthly financial reports, contributed to year-end estimates and worked on a number of special projects like improving net working capital. I also worked on management reporting packages and some Lean initiatives.
That first assignment helped me to settle into the business and taught me how financial indicators really impact production in the factory.
After six months you moved to ABB HQ in Switzerland. How was that?
Working in the corporate controlling and planning team at HQ was a great way to gain a macro overview of the business. I was on the business analytics team and most of my colleagues were previous global trainees, so they knew exactly what kind of challenges I would face and the support I would need.
One of the most important tasks was to prepare monthly and quarterly presentations for the Executive Committee, ABB’s senior leadership team. Other tasks included helping with order backlog conversion analysis and building spreadsheets to calculate bonus payouts in different areas of the group.
Learning how to identify and develop your strengths and weaknesses, while building your network, is essential for long-term success. My mentors worked in the industry business development team, which opened up a field I did not know much about. They gave me a lot of feedback throughout my assignments, and introduced me to another dimension of the Finance function.
For your last assignment, you chose to move to a new country and a new division?
Yes, I chose the Robotics and Motion division in Japan. I wanted to see ABB from a different angle, and to gain insight into another culture. Japan is a close neighbor of China and of course, very advanced in robotics, but I had never been there.
I have found many new and challenging projects to stretch me – for example, helping the team switch to a different enterprise planning platform for procurement and logistics savings. I also got to work on a three-year order growth forecast – a great insight into the specific industries we should focus on to implement our long-term strategies.
In my spare time, I have been travelling around Japan with friends and I am training for next year’s Tokyo Marathon. It is demanding, but it is getting me where I want to be in my fitness – just like the GTP has done for my career!
Name: Michael-MingZhe Zhang
Global Trainee Program: Finance
Education: Bachelor of Science (Finance), Shandong University of Finance and Economics, China. Master of Science (Finance), State University of New York at Buffalo - School of Management.
Interests: Basketball, running, music