Anexia – it’s not just wretched servers and snippets of code: above all, it’s 150 people with hearts, brains and passions. We wanted to present their stories in the context of #joinourrevolution. One of them is Patricia Forster, a mother of three and queen of numbers as a controller at Anexia.
We are based in Carinthia. Especially in the early years, our main task was to look for qualified personnel there, and sometimes it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Carinthia is a victim of demographic change. The good ones leave. Those who do stay do not find enough helping hands to build something and end up leaving too. But Anexia was not frightened off by that, because sometimes you just have to start somewhere. The fact that this has led to success is evident from our company history.
And now we want to tell that story and encourage others to emulate us. We want to create a space for positive news and break the downward spirals of pessimism and negative criticism. There is an alternative – something really worthwhile and innovative can be created in Carinthia too. And there are smart, passionate people living and working here, too. Just like Patricia, who is the subject of our interview here.
Patricia, could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Patricia Forster. I started working for Anexia in July 2016 and I am a Senior Controller. Before that, I worked in controlling for various international corporations for just under ten years. You get to experience various perspectives on controlling by doing that.
What exactly does controlling mean?
In this department you spend a lot of time, almost all of it in fact, dealing with figures. All of the figures come across my desk. I am in the process of preparing various reports and planning budgets.
So controlling does not mean checking – the process that comes after spending money?
That’s right. In fact, controlling takes place before the money is spent, although following up on the spending is also a good thing. But controlling is less to do with checking than with providing guidance. You prepare data and compile reports, which helps to make it easier to come to decisions. It really is more about steering than checking things. But as you said: after the money has been spent, it also makes sense to take a look at the figures and see whether projects were successful.
So what does your office look like?
What does my office look like? Well, what do you expect? Three screens, as is normal at Anexia – a keyboard, a mouse, and Excel is always open. (laughs) But: the good old calculator is also essential.
You are also a mom. What do you need to combine being a mother and working?
Yes, I have three children. The oldest is seven and the two little ones – the twins – are two-and-a-half. I went back to work in the middle of it all, and it all fell into place pretty well. And after my second period of maternity leave, I came to Anexia. I can tell you from experience: above all, you need to be laid back (laughs). You have to be able to cope with stress and organize things in case there is a problem with the kids, if they are sick or have a day off school. Just when I started with Anexia, Marie and Moritz, the little ones, both fell sick. Then you have to organize things quickly and make alternative arrangements. But everything came together really well.
I also think it’s important to have a balance between being a mother and working.
What can Patricia the controller learn from Patricia the mom, and vice versa?
Let me think. From the world of work, I take home the knowledge that I can cope with stress and time pressure. And as a mom, you tend not to see certain things too narrowly. You try to find a quick, pragmatic solution. Not everything runs neatly and according to plan at home. And in just the same way, I try to temper my perfectionism at work with a little pragmatism so that I can maintain a balance and make progress in all areas. Yes, sometimes things go a little haywire with the kids – but that’s one of the nice things in life.
How did you get into the career that you are now following?
I have always liked working with numbers. While others moaned about math in school, I loved it. Along with my high school diploma, I then took bookkeeping courses at the WIFI because it was a subject I was interested in. It soon became clear to me that I should study Business Management. I then financed my studies myself, so I did various internships and jobs. That’s how I got my first job in the area of controlling. And I knew straight away: this is it, this is my career (laughs). I really enjoyed it, so I continued along that path.
For me, numbers were always a passion. While others moaned about math in school, I loved it.
Taking bookkeeping courses at the WIFI alongside your high school diploma because you enjoyed it: not many people are that committed…
(laughs) Yes, for me, numbers were always a passion. What we learned in school did no quite go far enough into the area of accounts for me. I wanted to find out if that was the path that I should follow.
What do you like about your job and what motivates you?
It just suits me, I have an affinity with numbers. My husband always grins at that point: you and your numbers, nothing but figures and Excel all the time. All I can say in return is that numbers are always changing. That’s what makes them exciting. I like to see what happens if you alter one figure slightly. How do the others change as a result? That’s not bad.
In controlling you are never playing alone, you are always passing the ball to someone else or vice versa.
What makes my position at Anexia exciting is that there was no controlling at all in that sense when I started. That totally motivates me. Everything is being built up and I can really contribute with my experience and ideas and help to shape things according to my personal preferences.
You are on your own now. Do you find it unusual not to be working in a team?
Yes and no, of course I often have to go to the Accounting department. We coordinate on all of the basic issues to avoid problems. But the fact that I am on my own does mean that I don’t have the opportunity to share ideas, of course, or to use the team to discuss whether something is right. Now I go straight to the highest level; but that also works well. And as my role is to support various departments and divisions, I exchange ideas with them, of course. So I am never really playing alone, I’m passing the ball to someone else or vice versa. I am never really isolated.
What does an average working day look like for you?
Fundamentally, no two days are the same.
The numbers are always changing, too.
Bringing both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. (laughs) As we are still building things up, a lot of process definition is required. Once that is done, in Controlling you have regular meetings with the other departments and then you have to prepare the monthly results and the budget planning. And certain reports have to be drafted. On the basis of the results, you then consult with others and together you look at areas that can be improved.
So a controller – contrary to expectations, perhaps – does not just sit behind a desk but has plenty of contact with colleagues.
In fact, both are true. You prepare the data, but you do not keep it to yourself. Because you are always discussing it with those responsible. And also if something strikes me as odd when I am preparing the datasets, I always follow it up with the department and check that everything is correct.
In which areas can you get things wrong as a controller? What are the critical aspects?
The essential thing is cross-checking. Coming up with the wrong number is not acceptable. And you can’t just blindly accept a figure. You must always proceed to the basis and check the data carefully. Simply trusting in it is not enough. We always have to check things critically and investigate what comes from where.
It sounds almost like detective work.
Yes, you can’t simply accept a figure that you are given. You should understand what you are doing and do a little digging.
So, we have talked a lot about controlling and your duties at Anexia. You have three children. What do you do when you are not working for Anexia? What fulfills you alongside your work?
With three children, you never get bored. You don’t need to do a lot of planning; the kids do that for you. My eldest likes riding and I go with her to the classes. And the two little ones want a lot of attention too, of course.
My husband works full-time, but starts quite early, so he’s home by mid-afternoon. We therefore have the late afternoon and early evening at our disposal as a family. We play with Lego, play with dolls, cook for the family, do handicrafts, play in the garden – there’s always something to do. And alongside that, I am taking an accountancy qualification at the WIFI. So I am never bored.
Why is it important to you to take this additional course?
Accountancy and controlling complement one another well. I always say: controlling without a knowledge of accountancy just doesn’t work. And now that I am a one-person team, I want to improve my own knowledge in this way. I am better at assessing what is possible and I understand a lot of things better. The legal framework to it all is also important. That’s one side of it. The other is that I enjoy learning something new, something that challenges me. In doing so, I’m also taking time just for myself and for my needs.
If someone wanted to do the same job as you, what would be the right training?
I think a college degree is essential or any training that teaches controlling. You won’t learn enough of the basics in school. But as is always the case, you learn a lot by doing the job itself. I am now noticing myself that adding accountancy is great. You should also have some interest in that area, because after all controlling is based on accountancy.
And a love of numbers, that’s essential. If you don’t have that, I think it’s the wrong choice.
Do you have to be a perfectionist?
Yes, the figures have to add up. But in reports, too, it’s definitely a help if you can work neatly so that they are reader-friendly. If you are disorganized, it also makes things harder for the recipient.
And what can you learn from a controller?
I think controlling teaches you the importance of good planning and develops your understanding of commercial factors. We plan something and use that to guide us. At the end of it all, we check whether it was beneficial or not. If you decide on a course of action, you have to stick to it and then look back at the end of it to determine whether it was the right thing to do. If you change direction all the time, you cannot draw any comparisons. Of course, interim reports can be drawn up in the meantime, depending on the duration of a project: you can analyze them and decide whether you need to change course and what the consequences would be. Often you might want to add on an even better idea. But the more I move away from my original intentions, the harder it is to make comparisons at the end.
Anyone who – like Patricia – wants to prove that Carinthia has more to it than meets the eye will find our current vacancies in Klagenfurt here. At the same time, our other office locations are also continually looking for smart people to support them. You will find a list of vacancies here.