Numbers, Communication and Innovations.
Thomas Walter’s motivation: Making a contribution to the financial sustainability of Mercedes-Benz. The team leader for strategic divisional controlling oversees the financial activities of Mercedes-Benz AG and, together with his team, evaluates opportunities and risks for the company. In his interview, the certified business professional tells us why his job requires not only a good feel for numbers, but also good communication skills, and how innovations have accompanied him along his entire career.
Thomas, with your team in strategic divisional controlling you always keep an eye out for financial opportunities and risks for Mercedes-Benz AG. What is the greatest challenge for you in doing this?
Today's world is changing at an astounding rate – driven by innovations, new technologies, and regulations. In the past, companies maintained their strategic line for many years. Nowadays, we have to keep a constant watch on changes in the sector. A large company is very complex, so it's always a challenge to consider all possible interactions. The job of my team in Strategic Divisional Controlling is to identify economic factors that influence Mercedes-Benz AG at an early stage, to extrapolate financial risks and opportunities for the company from these factors, and to develop scenarios on the basis of which our management can make sound decisions.
What are these opportunities and risks, for example?
It’s about having transparency on how risky our corporate planning is. With regard to the opportunities, we give special consideration to market and technology changes. A topical example is electric mobility and the question: "How do we have to position ourselves with our EQ models in order to be profitable?" Our motivation is to help management in its ability to correctly assess such factors. This requires not only a good feel for numbers, but also good communication skills.
To what extent is communication important in this?
A large part of my work involves consulting with colleagues from different units who have the required expertise in the various issue complexes – from Development Controlling to Production Controlling and all the way to External Affairs. A number of questions have to be answered: What regulations will affect our products in the future? Which technologies and trends are there on the market? We then use this information to prepare our recommended actions. In doing so, we are not only observers, but actively inspire decision-making processes.
We in Strategic Controlling are not only observers, but actively inspire decision-making processes.
A multifaceted job: What do you especially enjoy about it?
I very much enjoy making a difference together with my team. We set the guideposts for bringing the company through the transformation process successfully with many new technologies, such as electric mobility and digital services. As a manager, my job is to get everyone involved and to ensure that we as a team share a common vision. At the same time, I always enjoy seeing how young colleagues develop further and grow.
What is your team like?
I head a relatively young team, in which everyone has the same business background, but can contribute very different views due to their different specialist areas and previous experience. Overall, there is a lot of passion and power to it. One member of my team is an expert in business valuations, another in data analytics. Our team is a good fit not only professionally, but also on a personal level. This is also something that makes up the work culture at Mercedes-Benz.
You came to Mercedes-Benz right after getting your master's degree. How did that come about?
In 2011, I had just completed my studies in "Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship" at the Technical University in Berlin and the University of Twente in the Netherlands – and applied at different companies. After that I was invited to a few assessment centers…
We in Controlling set the guideposts in order to make the company sustainably successful.
… among others, by Mercedes-Benz.
Yes. The special thing about the hiring program here was that all tasks were designed with a focus on teamwork. It was about solving problems together. This is something that appealed to me from the very beginning. That is why I quickly opted for the talent program at the Group.
How did the talent program at Mercedes-Benz go?
My program took a total of one and a half years, during which I became familiar with very different parts of the company. I was also able to take part in the decisions about my stations. For example, I absolutely wanted to get some experience in Asia. My mentors then organized a stint for me in Procurement in China. I also worked in our French plant in Hambach and later in Product Controlling on the financial planning of the first electric smartEQ. Another station was in the finance department of the Mercedes-Benz car sharing service, which is now called "Share Now“.
With digital mobility services and electric mobility you have acquired direct knowledge of all areas that are moving the industry today.
That's correct. At Mercedes-Benz, I have been accompanied by innovations from the very beginning. This is also an aspect which I particularly appreciate at the Group: The variety of the tasks and the possibility to make my mark. For example, I was given responsibility early on as commercial project manager for one of our first electric vehicles. Later on, in the finance department at CASE I was able to directly support some exciting Tech Invests, in which we are still invested today and are collaborating very closely.
These deep insights into specific topics are also an enormous help for me in my present job in Strategic Controlling: Here we coordinate and consolidate the overall corporate planning – and of course, with an important focus on future issues.
For the last question, we want to know something personal: If you could travel in time, where would you go?
I would like to speak to my grandkids and find out what they think about our way of life and the decisions we are making today!
In person: Thomas Walter (32) loves to organize and try out new things. During his studies, the Baden-Württemberg-born business expert was drawn to the UN organization WHO in Geneva as well as to industry, auditing, and consulting. And because entrepreneurship is almost a must for his master's degree in "Innovation Management & Entrepreneurship", he and his fellow students launched the 'Start Berlin' start-up initiative. Today, teamwork is important to Thomas Walter not only when it comes to developing financial strategies for Mercedes-Benz, but also in his private life. For example, the father of one daughter likes to spend his free time playing team sports like soccer or as a member of the local tennis club.