Veselina Lilova, Finance Director and Chief Accountant at A1 Bulgaria: ‘A1 provides many opportunities to learn, develop, and be creative’
This year, AUBG held its traditional Job and Internship Fair online. One of the employers recruiting students at the fair was A1, a leading telecommunications and digital services provider in Bulgaria. The company provides mobile and fixed services, high-speed internet, digital and satellite TV, payment services, its own music streaming platform Xplore Music, cloud and IoT solutions to 5 million customers. A1 Bulgaria is part of A1 Group, which operates in seven countries across Central and Eastern Europe.
To learn more about the company and the opportunities it offers to AUBGers, we spoke to Veselina Lilova, Finance Director and Chief accountant at A1 Bulgaria. She has more than 16 years of experience in the finance area and a strong expertise in FCPA, compliance, controls, and internal audit. Veselina started her career as Auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2005 and later on built on her experience and expertise taking various managerial positions in different organizations - Manager Internal Audit, Corporate/SOX at Coca-Cola Enterprises, RTR Operations Function Lead at Cargill, and RTR Director at Cargotec.
She joined A1 Bulgaria’s team in 2018 as Chief of Operational Finance and since August 2020 is Finance Director and Chief Accountant of the company. Veselina holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a master’s degree in Marketing Management from the University of National and World Economy in Sofia. She is also Chartered Certified Accountant, IA Member and holds an Advanced Diploma in Global Business Service.
You joined А1 over two years ago. What were your first impressions at the company?
I come from a very process and delivery oriented background, and to join a company oriented towards results was quite easy. What took some more time was to change the way our team worked towards a more comprehensive and end-to-end view, considering not only the immediate goal, but the long-term effects if something is changed now. I could see that A1 management was ambitious, fast, with clear and to the point communication and that quite nicely linked with my idea of how work should get done.
Now my team is more independent, reliable, self-motivated and enjoys a good reputation in the whole company, and this makes me proud every morning when I come to the office.
What is it like to work at A1? What should the AUBG students expect after they become part of the company? What are the perks and the career growth opportunities?
They could expect quite a diverse and dynamic environment. A1 is a digital company offering many innovative solutions to residential and business customers and therefore we have experts in almost all business fields – finance, marketing, technology, ICT, sales, etc. We are working on various projects with different people, platforms, and systems on a regular basis, so the job is most certainly quite interesting and challenging. We have a strong focus on digitalization, both internally and in terms of services for our customers.
A1 provides many opportunities to learn, develop, be creative, and to put into practice all the skills acquired during academic studies. It is a great place to start your career and build on it in many different areas. We are constantly looking for new people who can bring in new ideas and perspectives, but we also value the expertise and the experience of the colleagues who have been with the company for years. We have many examples of colleagues who have joined the company on junior positions or even as interns and are now taking managerial roles.
The latest project we are working on in the Finance area is the centralization of finance-related activities in a shared service environment, based in Bulgaria. The new team will focus on best-in-class delivery standards and will service international projects as well, with activities ranging from accounts payable through payments, general ledger and close related, including statutory close to accounts receivable and cash. For us this is a great opportunity not only to create more value for the A1 Group, but also to meet and work with young and ambitious professionals and grow together with them.
As for the perks, we offer competitive remuneration based on performance, modern open office environment and technology, flexible workplace and work time, as well as many additional benefits, like health insurance, gym in the office, discounts for devices, kindergarten for employees’ children, and many internal events and initiatives focused on health, family and the balance between personal and professional life.
What job and internship opportunities does the company currently offer -- in both the finance and the other company units?
There are opportunities in almost all areas of our operations as we are diversifying the business and growing fast. Still, in the recent years we have placed a strong focus on the development of ICT products and services for our business customers and we currently have many open positions related to that. Therefore, we have openings for IT professionals who would support us in digitalizing our business processes and the business of our customers, as well as for salespeople who could help us reach the customers.
Another great opportunity would be to build on the finance expertise and join our team and be part of the service delivery for our partners, working on international projects as well. This will involve also reasonable amount of travelling as well as getting to know other cultures and ways of working.
Of course, there are opportunities in terms of solutions as well. For example, we are the only SAP partner in Bulgaria to offer both of its ERP solutions – for small and large businesses. This requires specific expertise in our team as well, so we are also expanding and looking for new colleagues with relevant process and technology background.
What advice would you give to the AUBG students on successfully preparing for a job interview at A1? What kind of people are you looking for to join your team?
My advice to the students would be to be authentic and to make sure they present their best self realistically. We don’t expect them to be fully prepared for the job or to have all answers from day one. We are looking for people who are willing to learn and develop, people with positive attitude, people who are not afraid of change and challenges and are even proactively looking for opportunities to apply and expand their knowledge and skills. They should be also ready to continue to learn and adapt to the dynamics of our business – everything is happening and changing fast and it takes a special mentality to thrive in such an environment, but it’s worth it. In other words, we are looking for people to grow with together.
Your A1 Summer Academy will introduce a Finance component this year. Please, tell us a bit more about that. What kind of tasks and business projects will the finance students work on?
This summer will mark the start of another big internal project and we will be strongly focused on setting ourselves for our new challenge – providing finance services for other companies. Our aim is to make the work more efficient, standardized, and to support our partners in this journey. So, in the context of this project, our tasks will be around documenting and mapping all processes in the finance area, identifying any gaps between the different geographies and looking to close them by changing certain parts of the processes. We will need also to change the existing roles and responsibility lines in our ERP – SAP, and this will require a lot of testing and documentation, but we believe this will be the fundamentals of a long and reliable business partnership.
How has the pandemic impacted A1? How does the company operate at the moment (online, on-ground, partly online)?
We are lucky to be in a business that is of huge importance in such times, as the people and the business needs to stay connected and to be able to work and have fun digitally more than ever before. And yet, the pandemic has affected us as well. During the emergency state in the country last year the traffic in our network increased with nearly 50% which placed a huge pressure on our team, but we managed it successfully and our customers were able to use all of our services without any interference. Keeping in mind the health risks, we communicated actively our online service channels to encourage our customers to stay home.
Collecting payments was also a challenge as we still have many customers who are not using digital payment methods actively, but with the joint efforts of the whole team we were able to support them on that. Considering that the times were difficult for everyone we came up quickly with a digital solidarity campaign providing free services to our customers and supported many hospitals in the country with donations for attracting more people and acquiring specialized equipment. On the other hand, many people and businesses were left out of jobs and without the ability to pay their bills, which has an impact on our incomes as well, so we had to come up with a strategy to mitigate the risks as much as we can.
Internally, I can say that we managed the situation excellently. We have business continuity strategy and policies in place and our Crisis Management Team managed to lead us through the emergency situation successfully. Half of the company entered into “work-from-home” mode within a week, protective measures and equipment were provided to the rest on a regular basis, and we transformed and developed many processes in short time to be able to work from distance and digitally. To this date we have many colleagues still working from home and many measures in place in our offices to ensure the safety of our team and customers.