Keen to study finance?

Published on July 27th, 2012
Keen to study finance?

We chatted to someone who did, to find out what kind of person would enjoy this career, and to get some expert advice…  

Gregory Peter has a pretty big job. He’s about to become the General Manager (the big boss) of 3M in Nigeria… but not too long ago, he was just a regular high school learner at Chatsworth Secondary School in Durban. So how did he transform from regular high school learner to head guy of a big business in Nigeria? And what advice can he give to high school learners who want to make it big when they finish school? We interviewed him to find out…

What subjects did you do at school, and what was your favourite subject?
I did Physical Science, Maths, Biology (Life Sciences), Accounting, English and Afrikaans.

What was your favourite subject?
Accounting – it’s such an important subject. No matter what company you end up in, you need to know how to work with numbers so that you can manage a budget and understand what’s going in and out of your business. Finance is key in every business environment, and if I could, I would make a basic Finance course compulsory for everyone at university.

What did you study after school?
I did a BCom (Bachelor of Commerce) degree through UNISA, and I did a Business Management course at Wharton Business School in Philadelphia, USA.

Tell us a bit about your career since finishing your degree…
I started off working in the financial field, but I soon moved into operations because I wanted to be more involved in the decision-making process… and back then, finance guys were just expected to report on a company’s financial figures. Today, they’re much more involved in decision-making, but it wasn’t like that when I started.

First, I joined Sun International, where I worked in procurement or inventory management – which basically involves making sure that your stock matches up with your monthly sales. In other words, if you’re selling 10 cans of Coke every month, you need to make sure you have 10 cans of Coke at the beginning of the month. You don’t want to end up with too little, and it’s no use buying 50 cans of Coke, because they’ll take much too long to sell.

After Sun International, I joined 3M in a similar function, then I moved into sales in 2004 because I had a financial background. Finally, I became the Market Development Manager of three divisions, which I’ve been doing until very recently. And in a few months time, I’ll be moving to Nigeria to be the General Manager of 3M in that country.

Any advice for learners who are interested in studying finance?
If you see yourself owning a business one day or becoming the head of a department, then it really helps to have a financial background. People in finance are no longer just guys in grey suits – they’re an integral part of every business and they often end up being the CEO’s right-hand man or right-hand woman. If you want to get into this career, you will need a flair for numbers and very good analytical skills. Why? So you can look at a company’s figures and understand what they mean about the company’s success.

If you could meet your high-school self and give him a little advice, what would it be?

I’d tell him these three things:

  1. Make the difficult choices early in life. Complete your studies early, because it’ll give you more time to develop your career to its fullest potential without any distractions.
  2. Do what you enjoy. Specialise in something that will make you happy and something you’re passionate about. Success and happiness will flow from that.
  3. Don’t let negative opinions get you down. If you’re passionate about something, don’t be put off by anyone who tells you that you can’t do it. Believe in yourself and go for it!