Charlene Howard, Group Financial Controller, Isle of Man

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Charlene Howard - Seaboard Overseas Limited

Charlene Howard, Group Financial Controller, Isle of Man

What is your job title and location?

I’m the Group Financial Controller for Seaboard Overseas Limited (SOL) and am based in the Isle of Man, a small island located in the Irish Sea between the United Kingdom and Ireland.

How long have you worked for SOL?

My career began as a senior manager in Seaboard Audit Services at the corporate office in Kansas City in December 2010. I joined Seaboard Overseas in October 2012 and my first role, Group Financial Controller, took me to live in Durban, South Africa for eight months and then I moved to the Isle of Man.

What are your duties?

My “group” includes the trading offices in South Africa, Kenya, the Isle of Man, Singapore, Colombia and Canada. Financial controllers handle day-to-day transactions and month-end financial reporting at each location. I review significant items and work with the controllers to develop accounting practices for new transactions. Additionally, I help them develop and maintain internal control structures within their organizations. I also advise on new U.S. General Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP) as well as interpret tax or regulatory information to the controllers. Most importantly, I field questions, concerns or differences of opinion about reporting requirements, particularly with revenue recognition or derivatives accounting. I also look at new trade and debt structures in advance to identify any accounting or legal implications and liaise with internal and external auditors. Finally, I deliver consolidation reporting to the corporate office in Kansas City each month and I occasionally assist with due diligence for new acquisitions.

Describe a typical day at work?

Because we are a commodity trading and shipping company, there is never a “typical” day. I am constantly communicating with worldwide offices to troubleshoot any financial issues and understand new transactions and trade types as they occur. Staying in close communication with other offices prevents many last-minute surprises. While there are routine items I monitor every week or month, approximately half of my time is spent solving problems or analyzing new developments.

What are some of your Seaboard career highlights (i.e., the things you are most proud of or efficient processes you’ve implemented)?

I have been very pleased with the integration of new office openings since I began my career at Seaboard Overseas almost five years ago. I also think the company does a great job developing and training people. Additionally, there have been improvements in the quality and timeliness of financial and management information. I think this is primarily due to improving teamwork and communication between trading, operations and accounts.

What do you enjoy most about working for Seaboard Overseas?

The diversity of people within our Group, and the cultures in which we operate and transactions of the business. Working for a trading company there are new challenges every day.

Did you have any hesitation in taking the job?

I have spent the vast majority of my career in different locations overseas such as Kazakhstan, Russia, Mexico, Peru and Brazil. So there was no hesitation in being posted to South Africa. However, Isle of Man did give me pause because it’s a smaller location, but the professional and personal experience here has far exceeded any expectation.

What surprised you most about the job or location?

I had just completed time in Seaboard’s Audit Services division, so I was prepared for the job and its technical challenges. Also, Seaboard Overseas is a growing and diverse company so the pace of change certainly makes my job interesting. In terms of location, I was quite surprised by the vibrant community in Isle of Man. It is a small island with a lot to offer.

What education and/or skills from the past have prepared you most for your current role?

As a group financial controller, I think the formal education, technical skills and management ability are all a “given.” More informal people skills are important in building and maintaining business and networking relationships across international borders. Flexibility and adaptability is also key, as is the establishment of open communication where people feel comfortable bringing issues to you. Success in global roles takes a sense of adventure and curiosity and an ability to bring structure to chaotic circumstances. You simply cannot be rigid or set in your ways. As the financial controller for a large international group, you must creatively provide organization, structure and routine within a dynamic and ever-changing environment.

Why did you choose to work in the agribusiness commodity industry?

I have always loved Africa so the company’s African operations is what drew me to Seaboard Overseas.

Which publications (industry, business, technology) do you read regularly?

I take the advice of our traders as to the best publications to read for current trends and also keep abreast of shipping industry developments.

How do you spend your free time?

Sailing! I love to race sailboats as well as cruise them. And living on the Isle of Man, I’m surrounded by the Irish Sea, which is a good playground.

What advice would you give to a potential candidate for your role?

Be certain that an international role is a good fit for you; otherwise you are doing a disservice to yourself and the company. Living abroad takes passion. When you decide this is a career for you, dive in 100 percent. Life is too short to play it safe.

If a career at Seaboard Overseas sounds interesting to you, please take a look at Seaboard Overseas Careers.