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5 Questions with Publicis Groupe CEE Lioness: Judit Vincze
Advertising Agency
Budapest, Hungary
Publicis Groupe Hungary's chief financial officer on new challenges, the importance of building a strong team and accepting you did you best

As part of Publicis Groupe Central & Eastern Europe (CEE)’s 'Embrace Gender Equity' initiative that was launched during this year’s International Women’s Day on March 8th, the company created a special series 'Publicis Groupe CEE Lioness' designed to showcase and spotlight its many female talent and leaders across the CEE region, celebrating their experiences and important roles they play within the company. Get to know the Publicis Groupe CEE Lionesses through their stories in this series.

1. Can you share your story with us, how have you got to where you are today in your profession?

Judit: When I graduated from the College for Foreign Trade in Budapest, I had absolutely no clue about my career path. As I enjoyed the student life very much, I decided to further my studies at the University of Economics.

At the same time, to be independent from my parents as soon as possible, I decided to start working in the summer. My mentor suggested KPMG, as they were actively seeking local, recent graduates with good command of English then.

Following an interview with one of the partners at KPMG, I was offered a position immediately with a salary that at the time, seemed remarkably highly to me – almost equivalent to what my parents were earning with their experience.

It was also suggested that I could begin studying for the ACCA (Association of Chartered and Certified Accountant) international financial qualification. The company would fully support me, covering all the costs, including the expenses of training courses in England prior to the exams.

This was a unique opportunity that turned out to be much more than a summer assignment.

A year of balancing full-time work and ACCA studies proved to be challenging enough for me, so I opted not to continue my studies at the Economic University.

Those years at KPMG were demanding where I accumulated lots of valuable experience, yet at the same time, it was full of fun as well.

We were a young team of fresh graduates, working with expatriate colleagues on audits while studying intensively.

One of our audit clients was Saatchi & Saatchi, and the CEO of the agency eventually offered us a job as a team. After several unforgettable years at KPMG, I found myself at Saatchi and Saatchi.

At that time, Saatchi & Saatchi lacked a proper financial system and financial controls, so we had to build everything from the ground up. More years of hard work, challenges, and memorable moments followed. I really enjoyed the advertising world of the '90s. At that time, advertising and marketing was completely new in the post-communist Hungarian market, it was a time of discovering and learning together. The team was young and full of energy, with lots of positive spirit. With a blank page on our hands, we were all ready to build something new. I began as a financial assistant, before becoming the controller, and in the year 2000, when the expatriate management left the country, I was promoted to the role of chief financial officer (CFO).

Initially, I was only responsible for Saatchi & Saatchi and Zenith, soon after, the Starcom brand joined our portfolio.

In 2013, I was offered the role of Central & Eastern Europe (CEE) regional chief financial officer for the Zenith brand, overseeing operations in Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

When the Publicis One structure was introduced in 2016, I took on the responsibilities for all the Groupe’s agency brands in Hungary. Since 2018, I assumed my current role as the (Central Cluster) chief financial officer overseeing the finance function in Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary for Publicis Groupe.

While my journey with the Groupe is a long one, it is never boring, as I have consistently been given new responsibilities and challenges.

2. What has been your most memorable experience in your career so far?

Judit> One of the most memorable experiences in my career occurred during one of the Zenith CEE regional forecast meetings. Typically, the CEE CEO would present the overall business overview by country, and I, as the CFO, would provide the financial analysis for each country.

However, on this occasion, the CEE CEO wanted a unique approach. He requested that I deliver the entire regional overview for both the business and finance, all on my own.

During the presentation, he didn't allow any questions or comments from others; I had to present the regional overview independently. His objective was to assess my preparedness and my understanding of the business and regional strategy, and my ability to adapt and improvise.

Thanks to the fact that we were working closely with the CEE CEO, and I also had a close working relationship with the local CEOs, CFOs on a day-to-day basis, I was well prepared and well-informed, so the presentation went very well, and I received congratulations from everyone at the end of the presentation.

It was an unforgettable experience. Through it, I learned a lot about myself. Obviously, I was scared at the beginning, as I was forced out of my comfort zone. However, I had to admit, I enjoyed it a lot by the end as I could prove to myself and my boss that I am well prepared and could adapt to the situation easily.

3. Similarly, what was the most challenging moment and how did you overcome it?

Judit> Over the years, I encountered numerous challenges in my career.

Building a financial and control system from scratch in Saatchi and Zenith in the '90s was particularly challenging, especially since there was no precedence.

The first year being in a CFO role at the age of 30 wasn't easy. I was a strong controller before, knowing the accounting and financial system inside out, but working on a CFO level was entirely different.

I was often naïve and inexperienced in many situations, but my CEO partner and I were a very good team, both newly promoted to our positions, and we learned our lessons together.

A few years later, the CEE regional CFO position for the Zenith brand brought entirely different set of challenges. It was a test to prove that I can be a valuable partner to the regional and local leaders and not just a financial control on top of their head.

Pitching for the county CFO position when the Publicis One structure was introduced was also not simple, especially when competing against local CFO colleagues whom I loved and respected. 

How did I overcome these challenges over the years?

I always try to give my best at the time. I am humble and ready to learn and adapt quickly. My motto is rooted in the belief that a finance function, at any level, should exist to facilitate and seek the optimal solution within the framework of established rules, rather than block things.

4. What are your most important tips on achieving success?

Judit> Always be well prepared, but also be open to revising your approach if necessary. Sometimes, the best solutions emerge from adapting and refining your ideas.

Be an active listener. Pay attention to others. While in silence, you can learn new things. When you're talking, you just repeat what you already know. Listening to others can provide valuable insights and perspectives.

Build a Strong Team. Surround yourself with loyal and capable people. Listen to their input and harness their collective skills. With a strong team, you can achieve far more than you can alone.

Be open, flexible, and entrepreneurial in your approach. Think beyond financial figures, have a commercial mindset, and consider the broader business landscape.

5. What are your tips for younger female talent embarking on the journey you’re already on?

Judit> Balancing the roles of being a mother, a wife or partner, and a professional in a management position is very difficult. It's crucial not to be too hard on yourself if, sometimes, you feel like you're falling short in one of these areas. It's unrealistic to expect that we can always deliver 100%, in every aspect of our lives simultaneously.

Just accept that you did your best at the time, even if it didn't meet everyone's expectations.

Support from your family can be a significant help.

Having many responsibilities in your life, flexibility is essential. Some days in your career won't allow you to plan your entire day; you'll need to adapt and prioritize what's most important in the next two-three hours. There will also be days when everything aligns perfectly.

Years will pass so quickly, and it is so good to have all these memories, both good and bad ones, that have contributed to your personal and professional growth. Enjoy the journey and the person you become.

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