My name is Daniela Iuliana Lungu and I am the happy winner of the Global Challenge Finance Internship with the Pharmaceutical Giant GlaxoSmithKline in Dubai. Because, unlike other students. I will begin with a personal view of what this whole experience meant to me and, afterwards, I will start describing what I did, what I learned, simply, the whole impact it had upon my personal development.
This international internship has given me the once-in-a lifetime opportunity to spread my wings and venture out there in the world all by myself, raise my brand and prove myself globally. I stretched myself. I pushed myself. I stepped outside of my comfort zone by exposing myself to a different country with different people, different value system, different rules, different language and different institutional environment. I had to adapt to my surroundings and embrace change. By delving deeper in the Egyptian, Indian but most importantly, the fascinating Arabic culture, I put on different pairs of glasses and I explored, looked at the world from different perspectives which have opened my mind and broaden my horizons tremendously. It was fascinating to x-ray and scan the world through all these different angles and perspectives. It made more aware of this diverse world we live in and how two people can look at the same thing and understand and value it differently. It rebooted, retrained my brain and the way I think about the world. I crossed borders but not only the physical ones to see this gorgeous “City in the Sky” but also, I crossed these “mental” borders and erased this limited way of thinking that I had before. It was “mind-refreshing”. It was “mind-broadening”. It was more than anything a critical life experience that helped me grow both personally and professionally.
GlaxoSmithKline has been amazing to me! They made the effort to book a hotel apartment for me with transport to and from the airport and transport from the hotel and to the office included. And, to make my welcome even better, they booked a “Marhaba” (the meaning in Arabic is “welcome”) which is a warm meet and greet service at the airport. It was fantastic! As soon as I took off the plane, a very nice and friendly lady was waiting for me. She took care of everything: from carrying the luggage for me to handling the visa process. All I had to do is relax and enjoy this stunning gorgeous airport. I felt privileged in a way because, for example, instead of standing in a huge queue like other people there, I had straightaway access to everything and this lady had my visa stamped and checked in a few minutes. After all this, she walked me to the hotel driver who was already waiting for me there. I very much appreciate the effort that the company made in arranging this warm welcome for me, especially because it saved me of nerve-racking situations at the airport and also, made me feel very welcome to Dubai.
Also, the hotel apartment that GSK has booked for me was lovely! It had everything I would possibly need. It even had a pool, gym and sauna at the very top floor (and this was complimentary). But most important, the hotel staff was indeed very friendly and made me feel very welcome there! They were checking all the time to see if I am good, if I need anything, if I experienced any problems in the apartment etc. In my first day, I did not had the chance to see too much of this gorgeous city because I was very tired and I slept quite a lot. I only had a small glimpse at night when I went out to buy some food and see what shops I have around. I even made a good friend in my first day, a very nice guy from Uganda who fell in love with Dubai a few months ago and then came here to work for a bank. It was really nice meeting him as he worked for one of the Big Four in Assurance (the field in which I want to work) and, therefore, I had the chance not only to have an insight into what is like working for such global companies but most importantly, in Assurance, as this is the career that I want to pursue.
The following day was my first day. When I arrived at the World Trade Centre area where the API Tower (the building in which GSK has its offices in Dubai) is located, I felt like I was in a different world. The skyscrapers along Sheikh Zayed Road seemed like shooting the sky, touching it! Absolutely breathtaking! Dubai skyline is such a wonder! At the office, Jonathan, the Financial Controller kindly introduced me to each member of the GSK Team. They were lovely! Everyone was smiling and being very kind to me, trying to make me feel very welcome. Then, I signed my contract with the company and some other HR formalities, was given my own laptop and my own GSK e-mail address.
In my first week, I was given the task to build from scratch the Finance Roles and Training Matrix which defines the specific roles and responsibilities that each member of the Finance Team has and, also the relevant training that each of them need to complete in order to perform well. This matrix is very important for the following reasons:
- Firstly, by having properly defined roles and responsibilities the risk of fraud happening in a company is reduced. For example, the Accounts Payable accountant cannot have the same responsibilities as the Treasury Accountant because the former issues the payments while the latter settles them. And if the same Accountant would handle both, then he/ she can pay less than it is supposed to and keep the rest to themselves. In other words, these are incompatible functions that increase the risk of fraud. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to separate them (and this is just one example!). In accounting this is called segregation of duties.
- Secondly, this matrix enforces an approval and authorisation system which is vital in designing and maintaining an efficient internal control framework. Basically, what I am saying is that, there are people in the organisation that have to approve/ authorise the transactions before they can occur. A very important point is that they have signing limits; no one (director, business partner, employee etc.) would have unlimited signing or approval authority. And this is very important from an Assurance point of view because it gave me an insight into the control system that they have.
- Thirdly, this matrix would define a backup for each critical task performed and therefore, in case a key employee would leave they would already have somebody else who would already be trained to perform his/her task and avoid the loss of knowledge and expertise that would hamper GSK’s ability to meet its strategic objectives
So, in the first week I tried to understand each Finance Role by discussing them with Ahmed, the Financial Accountant, and by reading all the SOPs that the Financial Controller gave to me. The SOPs (standard operating procedures) are simply a set of rules that help control the organisation. I went to every single one and tried to understand and deduct the responsibilities that each member of the Finance team has. This really helped me in gaining a broad perspective of what is happening in an organisation from a finance point of view. And (hopefully) as a future Auditor, this would come very handy because I will have to go in a company and understand its financial structure and what each person from the Finance team does, in order for me to ask the right questions to the right people.
Ahmed is the new Financial Accountant for GSK Dubai coming from GSK Egypt. As he has not seen Dubai before, we planned to go and visit it together during the weekend. We started our journey by relishing the stunning futuristic architecture of the gigantic buildings alongside Sheikh Zayed Road: the Jumeirah Emirates Towers and Financial Centre buildings. We also went to the world’s largest most luxurious shopping mall, Dubai Mall. However, the best part of the mall was the Dubai Aquarium which is one of the world’s largest aquariums with more than 33,000 animals. It has a walkthrough tunnel where I even saw eye to eye a shark! It was so frightening!
Yes, Dubai is painfully beautiful! Dubai is magnificent! But I wanted more than this. I wanted to discover the people, the culture. I wanted to understand what is behind all this architectural beauty. In other words, I did not want to be just a tourist, I wanted to be a traveller too! Therefore, Ahmed and I went for a Dessert Safari that weekend. It was worth every single penny! A 4×4 Toyota Land Cruiser came and picked us up from the hotel and drove us to Dubai Desert where, for half an hour, we have done Dune Bashing which is basically a pumping ride through the dessert dunes. It was so fun!
Then we had our first stop to take photos of the sunset. The views were absolutely breathtaking! I think the following photo speaks for itself. I felt miles away from all the Sky-Touching Skyscrapers! All those hundreds sparkling dunes of sand complimented so well the beautiful sunset.
Then we went Camel Riding which was another fantastic experience since I have not seen a camel before. I felt like some sort of royal Arab king riding that cute camel.
After this, they took us to a place (still in the desert) where we had our dinner while watching Egyptian and Arabic Belly Dances. At the table, we were seated with a fantastic Indian family coming from UK. We talked about the differences between these three cultures: Egyptian, Indian and Arabic and how they have the same religion, Islam. I tried to put myself in their place and understand how they think and, most importantly, what makes them think in this way. For example, we discussed a lot about the role of the woman in this religion because I have always been intrigued of the fact that the man can have many wives, which undoubtedly shows that the man is superior to the woman. We carried a long discussion about this which made me realize how limited I was in my thinking. The thing that surprised me the most about all these cultures which share a common very important thing: the Muslim religion, was the fact that even if they live in the 21st Century, even if they live in an western world (UK-the lovely Indian family), even though the Arabs have built from nothing the most futuristic city in the world, paradoxically they have not lost their Religion, they are still wearing their saris, the Indians still eat curry, the Arab men still wear their Kaffiyeh and Thoub, all of them still live in tightly bound extended families. In other words, it is impressive how they adapted to this globalized world, how easily they absorb foreign ideas, but at the same time, still preserving their culture.
I even got henna painted on my hand. Henna is a very important part of their wedding ceremonies as it is a symbol of love between the husband and wife. The Indian lady from my table told me that as long as the woman has henna on her hands, she is pampered and cared for and she does not have to do any household duties. Also, another thing that I found out, was that the deeper the colour, the stronger the bond between bride and mother-in-law.
It was such an enriching experience! A definite taste of the true Arabic, Egyptian and Indian cultures! In my opinion, in today’s globalized flat world is critical to be able to keep an open minded, to be aware of the cultural differences, but most importantly, be respectful towards their beliefs and attitudes. Simply, be able to judge a person based on their personality, not based on the way they dress, their skin colour or how many times a day they pray. Moreover, it was truly fascinating to put all these different cultural glasses and look at the world through all these different angles and perspectives. I am saying this, because as a future Auditor (hopefully!) in one of the Big Four, I will have to move across cultures, interact, work with people from all corners of the world and being able to work, think and communicate cross-culturally and globally is paramount!