Elis Pikmets, an alumnus of the School of Business and Governance, has had a diverse and international career experience, graduated in 2008 from the master's programme in Business Administration, majoring in accounting and financial management. We found out how she has applied the skills acquired at TalTech and what her challenges in the chosen field today are.
In which programme did you study?
I studied accounting and financial management in the Business Administration master's programme. Our group was big, it was seen at the lectures held in the large lecture hall. I mostly attended evening courses and the period of my studies was longer than the nominal two years because in the meantime my family grew, and studies were not my priority for a while. I didn't graduate with the group of students I had started with, but I still made friends. Together we did group work or prepared for some more difficult exams. It was a great time and if we meet somewhere today, our conversation will last long.
Why did you decide in favour of this programme?
I have always liked the field of finance, but in the meantime, life made me manage marketing and sales instead. At some point, I still understood that I wanted to return to financial management, and I also wanted to improve my Estonian language. I had earned my bachelor's degree at a USA university, and I felt that the knowledge of accounting in Estonian and based on Estonian laws would be very useful to me.
What do you do today and what/which event attracted you to your current job?
Today, I work for Telia Estonia as a financial director and a member of the board. My journey has been interesting. I started my professional career in the department of finance at the Port of Tallinn, where I was part of the transformation of a company during very interesting times, and in fact, more modern financial management and processes were implemented at that time under Mr Sandor Liive. Then, I moved on to an international wholesale company, where I worked for a while as a manager in the field of marketing and sales of luxury perfumery brands. I have also managed the wellness department of Viimsi Spa. At one point, however, I came back to finance and more precisely to management accounting. After earning my master's degree, in 2008, I applied for the position of the head of the management accounting unit at Elion Companies and I was back in the financial field. In my previous jobs, financial knowledge has been important, and as a manager, I knew well what I needed for making better decisions. Whether the necessary information was always at hand was a different question, but I believe that working as a manager outside the financial field was very useful to me, as it helped me understand how management would work most effectively and what managers need to make better and faster decisions. I had always dreamed about making the financial unit in the company open so that it would support the entire organization and provide assistance to managers at all levels. I have also worked in another country. Before taking the position of the CFO, I worked as the head of the business performance department at Telia Norway, which was a very intense experience and a challenge to myself in a completely unfamiliar environment.
What are the challenges in your current job?
It has been and will always be exciting - the field of IT and telecommunications is constantly developing, and you must be aware of that. In addition, for the past three years, which means that most of the time that I have been managing Telia as a financial director, I have had to deal with the effects of the pandemic crisis, and now also the war and the energy crisis, wild inflation, and recession. I have had to evaluate many different risks and make difficult decisions. As the CFO at Telia, my area of responsibility is significantly wider than classical financial management would expect. In addition to the accounting and business control function, I am also responsible for billing and debt management, risk management, credit control, internal control, and the entire administrative unit - support staff, buildings, and cars. Purchase management and logistics are managed centrally in Telia Group, but I am also responsible for that at the local level.
Struggling through these crises I quickly realised why it is good that my team leads all the above-listed areas. Cooperation is successful if managers with such competence are in the same team and know how to work together. Decisions were made quickly and thoughtfully, and this support and togetherness continue to make me happy. Of course, one part is the knowledge that the school and work experience give, but I guess you cannot learn how to be a leader one hundred per cent if you do not have the prerequisites and if it is not in the nature of a person. I really enjoy working with a team, setting goals, and moving towards them collaboratively. It is this process that is exhilarating, and I have to say that I am lucky to be able to lead and be a part of great teams. I have developed, grown, and created together with them.
What do you think is the strength of this sector in today's labour market?
I would emphasise the words TODAY's job market! To cope in today's complex environment and make the right decisions, it is essential that there are people and a system that help to understand the trinity of cause-connection-consequence and that numbers can tell a story that gives the right direction. Accounting is mandatory in every company, but for management accounting to be born as a system that teaches to see further, helps to root out inefficiency and to find the best balance between revenue growth and costs in the company - this requires special competence and a lot of cooperation with all managers across the entire organization. I think that without a management accounting system today, medium- and large companies cannot manage successfully.
Could you recall any sweet or funny incidents from your university times with groupmates/ lecturers?
Oh yes! First, I would like to thank my management accounting lecturer and my thesis supervisor, Associate Professor Tarmo Kadak. I am pretty sure he played a big role in my turning to management accounting. Eyes wide, I listened to his thoughts on how a management accounting system should be created in the company. He was right that this field will never really be exhausted, but one must recognize and understand the moment from which even more detailed management information no longer creates added value and outweighs the cost incurred to create this information.
I also have a funny story, and it is from the time when the master’s thesis was already completed, and the honourable professor Jaan Alver had been appointed as my opponent. I met him before the defence. We started talking and at some point, I realized that this talk was not about the thesis I had written. Since the professor spoke so passionately, I did not dare to interrupt him and listened patiently, because the talk was interesting and he also discussed the concerns related to the future of the accounting field, and he was annoyed why students still did not research this field. My little daughter was with me, and she found the professor's demanding and specific voice offensive. Wanting to protect me, she climbed into my lap and petted and hugged me the whole time the professor was talking. After we drove home, of course, I explained to the frightened child that the professor was not angry with me, but he was talking very smart and specific, just that his voice was intensive.
Everything was perfect in the defence; I was able to answer all the professor's questions and I earned the highest grade. ...and who knows, maybe sometime in the future I will do research in the field that the professor so passionately referred to.
What would you recommend to young people who are about to make their choices?
Nowadays, it is customary to continue with master's studies right after the bachelor's degree has been earned. I believe that the work experience before the master's studies would still be useful and perhaps give a better sense of the direction one should choose.
Reconciling family, work and school is not an easy task, but the freshness and new perspectives that studying at the university give will outweigh the painstaking effort.