Devil’s Advocate

Joanna Lesicka is Fortaco’s Group Controller. If she challenges you, it’s just part of her job.

Winter is coming. Well, eventually. Although an economic downturn hasn’t yet arrived, it’s Joanna Lesicka’s job to be ready for it.

As Fortaco’s Group Controller, Lesicka describes her job as “the bridge between all functions.” Reporting to the group CFO in Helsinki, she’s responsible for performance monitoring of five factories in the Steel Fabrication Business Unit, plus Group Sourcing and IT. She measures and controls financials and KPIs, and attempts to predict and steer future direction of development. Most succinctly, it’s her role to question the current state of things and push for improvements.

Culture clash?

In her role of Chief Questioner she’s always pushing people to justify their current approach and consider new options. No one likes to entertain the notion that what they’re doing isn’t optimal, and Lesicka’s job is further complicated by challenging the status quo in cultures not her own.

Lesicka is responsible for five factories in four countries with employees from at least six different nations. “And add to that that I’m a woman in a male industry,” she says.

“I need to delicately make the point that just because I question something doesn’t mean I’m the enemy. I’m really there to offer support.” To do her job well, Lesicka has learned the nuances of communicating with the different cultures.

Speaking with nuance

“People in all cultures like to know what they’re doing well,” says Lesicka. “That’s just human nature.”

“If you’re talking to a Finn, it’s best not to propose a specific solution, but show your faith that they’ll come up with one.”

“Poles, on the other hand, like you to be direct and offer specific advice. They also expect you to follow up.”

“Russians are extremely hard workers. It pays to show pride in their work.”

“Hungarians, more than other cultures, appreciate great detail and regular follow-up.”

“It’s interesting that if I send the very same email to four countries I’ll get four different responses. But this can be a plus: these very same differences bring a variety of new ideas for a single situation.”

Universal challenges

If an economic downturn arrives, as many predict, it will impact all of the business. But even if winter doesn’t arrive, there are plenty of other universal challenges.

One of those is that many countries in New Europe are no longer low-cost countries. “Poland and Hungary, for example, have salary inflation of about 10 percent,” says Lesicka. “We have to offset that with productivity improvements and automation. There’s also very low unemployment, which means a small rise in pay elsewhere can mean welders disappear. And with white collar jobs, we’re finding we need to build flexibility in contracts to accommodate seasonal fluctuations.”

Having originally graduated from a technology university with a specialty in finance, Lesicka revels in the challenges of a controller. “I love controlling, because it’s not just about analyzing numbers. With finance, you’re mostly attempting to predict the future based on the past. But in my job to push for improvements I’ve got to connect the functions across the entire business, with the added complexity of cultural differences.”