Wanda Groenewald, Senior Research and Finance Manager
Wanda came to DPAG in July 2020, joining us after running the Finance team at the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences. As Senior Research and Finance Manager, she is responsible for bringing the Finance and Research Administration teams together into a cohesive and streamlined unit and overseeing the department’s financial and research strategy. Interview on 1 October 2020.
Tell us about your career journey so far
I grew up in a small town in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and when I left school choices were limited for ladies, either go into Finance or do a PA qualification. I opted for Finance and moved on to various roles, but what changed my perspective of finance as a profession was my very last role before I left South Africa. I worked for a district council in Kwazulu-Natal and was involved in 100-million-rand worth of projects covering Aids awareness and the Cholera epidemic, providing clean water to rural areas in South Africa. I loved it because I could get involved in the projects and see the real impact my work had on lives. I left that role to move to the UK in 2002 and had a wide variety of roles across both the automotive and pharmaceutical industries. Just over 6 years ago, I joined the Said Business School as a Management Accountant before becoming Senior Finance Manager at the Nuffield Department for Surgical Sciences. Education fits nicely with my ethos of continuous learning and I have studied several interests from Personal Training, IT Network Engineer and studying towards finance qualifications while raising three children on my own. I’m still studying at the moment for an MBA which I will complete in a couple of years.
What brought you to DPAG and what were your first impressions of the department?
The role attracted me here because it’s a much bigger role. After discussing it with Sally, I felt like it was a great challenge and the perfect next step for me.
I’ve only been here four months, and have been trying to find my feet and getting things established. I received a really warm welcome and I’ve met some lovely people.
What does your job entail?
I am responsible for both the Research and Finance teams and I support the Head of Administration and Finance in meeting the Departments strategic targets. Our main objective is to secure a sustainable financial position for the long term.
The first step was to establish the Research Administration and Finance teams and make it more cohesive. We had an Away Day a month ago, and it was a great step forward for the teams to see how their work impacted on each other and understand the departments overall strategy. I now want to build on that and improve transparency and provide a better service to the department.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I have an amazing team and it has been incredibly rewarding to see their enthusiasm and efforts paying off in such a short time. I couldn’t have done this without them being flexible and open to change. They’ve really taken everything on board. We all work well together and know where we need to get to. I am excited about the future and the impact we can make.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
COVID-19 had a major impact on finance processes and we had to quickly implement new ways of working. Suddenly I’m in a situation where everything has to be done remotely and its not like you can run into new people or have a conversation by the watercooler! The first couple of months were very busy while we establish the new research and finance team structure and I started in the middle of financial year-end and finalising the department's financial position for the year was particularly challenging. We are doing a lot of problem-solving to resolve legacy issues. I have been learning a lot during the process. I am still getting used to the volume of work. Balancing a new role and studies is challenging.
Is there a highlight of your career so far?
There are a few but coming to mind is successfully completing the Cholera Project and I was part of a major SAP integration project for an automotive supplier. Also, gaining my finance qualifications. If anybody is in two minds, I’d encourage them to just go for it as it’s so worth it. I received an Employee of the Year award in my first year at the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, I feel really proud of what we achieved and the difference we made.
What do you do outside of work?
I love to travel. I have cycled across Vietnam, from Saigon in the South to Halong Bay in the North, I’ve been to Mexico, travelled all over Africa and Europe. It’s very humbling to see how other people live and it makes me feel grateful for the opportunities we have and the lifestyle we can afford. During the summer break, I’ve been doing some running and spending time in my garden as you can’t go anywhere else! Now, most of my time is taken up by studying for the MBA. I would like to get back to travelling once I’m finished, there is still so much I want to explore!
What’s coming up for your team this year?
I have ambitious plans for the year and I am investing a lot of time in training and development for the team. Our major priorities are establishing robust processes and controls which will contribute to the running of a more structured and efficient team; developing the team to provide expert advice and support and providing excellent customer service to our stakeholders.
We will soon be introducing e-expenses, which I believe will be a welcome change and much less paperwork. The Research Team has been working flat out on grant applications and we received fantastic feedback from the department which is a testament to the team’s hard work and dedication.